Race Report | 2014 Boston Marathon

In the days leading up to April 21, I genuinely couldn’t articulate¬†how I felt about returning to Boylston Street for the first time since last year to race again. I couldn’t tell you how I’d react. I couldn’t tell you what it meant to me or what I thought it meant, in a broader sense, for the rest of the 36,000-person field.¬†It was all a lot to wrap my brain around, a lot to process. I wanted to express my feelings about it – anyone could tell you I wear my emotions on my sleeve – but I was at a loss for words. I still don’t want to believe it all happened.¬†I felt numb.

And I know I wasn’t alone in feeling that way.

So when I arrived a week early to cover the marathon for work, I took a long, slow walk down Boylston that Sunday evening, welling up in front of the Forum and Marathon Sports in the shadow of the finish line photo bridge. I felt so much sadness in a place meant for sheer joy and triumph, the weight of the past year and the tragedy that happened right where I stood bearing down on me.

While I quietly absorbed it all on the otherwise bustling sidewalk,¬†applause suddenly erupted about a block away from me. The One Run For Boston, a cross-country relay to raise money¬†for the One Fund, had reached the finish line. Though it wasn’t Marathon Monday, their expressions were those of sheer joy and triumph. They were taking back Boylston. Replacing bad memories with better, brighter ones. Restoring what was lost last year. I couldn’t help but smile and cheer for them.

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 2.57.06 PMThat’s when I understood the purpose¬†of¬†the week before me: Make happy memories.¬†

And April 21 would be¬†the day to finally — and truly — begin to move forward.

For me, the¬†journey from Hopkinton to Copley Square was the climax of an incredible week. The race was,¬†by no means, my best (my quads called it quits at mile 18), but my performance just didn’t matter that day. My goal was to¬†enjoy¬†and embrace the experience of being part of something much bigger than myself. No time goals. Just run.

Here are the highlights:

The Bus Ride: I joined my RW¬†colleague Mark, who had decided to come out of marathon retirement to BQ for this race.¬†Though most of the trip was quiet — save for the round of applause one guy¬†received¬†after his, shall I say,¬†epic pit stop while we waited in traffic¬†— the atmosphere in the bus was buzzing. You could sense everyone’s anticipation for the day we’d all been waiting for since April 15, 2013, at 2:49 p.m.

The Chance¬†Reunions:¬†Last year, I made friends with a woman named Feryal in my corral. We both had the same goal pace, so we ran together for the first 14 or so before I waved her onward. Though I results-stalked her after the race, we haven’t stayed in touch. But get this: Right as we arrived at the Start Village, we found each other! Yes, out of 36,000 people, we reconnected, snapped a photo (below, left), killed time before the race together, and finally exchanged emails. I couldn’t believe it.

Not to mention I also ran into two of my former collegiate competitors and had a reNUUNion with my Hood to Coast teammate Meghan.

StartVillage

The (Not So) Chance Reunion:¬†Andrea (above, right), my best friend and speedy “big sister” on the Lehigh track/cross country team, BQ’d in her first marathon. We’ve been running together for years, and though we didn’t plan to run together at the race, I couldn’t have been happier to have her in Boston to share the experience with me.

So the four of us — new friends and old — hung out together before the race. What a special way to start the day. So much smiling and happiness to go around.

The Spectators:¬†It’s not news that the crowd turnout on race day was massive. Between the spectators (a.k.a. a start-to-finish scream tunnel) and the wave of runners, the race felt like a 26.2-mile long block party. Everyone was happy. Everyone was having a ball. The Boston Marathon showed its truest, most brillant colors that day. After riding the Struggle Bus hard last year, I made a point to really appreciate the spectators this time, no matter what shape I was in. So yes, THANK YOU random spectator you yelled at me around mile 20 to keep on keeping on while I walked through a water stop. Needed that.

Megan Hetzel 2The Big News:¬†I stopped to¬†walk at (what I think was) exactly the same spot I walked last year (I think it’s because there’s a rare patch of shade around mile 18)¬† and ran into a friend named Chris. Like last year, he¬†graciously asked if I needed anything, then told me that MEB WON! I was just about to board the Struggle Bus, but that news literally gave me some much-needed motivation. Thank you Chris!

The November Project:¬†About a half-mile later, I ran past The Tribe. If you’ve never heard of them, I suggest you read this first. Since I was in Boston for a week, I got to attend all three workouts. And let me tell you: Those 6:30 a.m. workouts¬†were the highlight of my week, hands down. At sunrise, I made new friends, hugged absolute strangers, laughed and danced in Harvard Stadium (despite it being mother f-ing COLD outside), the list goes on. If this group doesn’t reignite your faith in humanity, I don’t know what will.

The Finish:¬†When we ran under the Massachusetts Ave. underpass, a woman near me yelled, “This is where they all got stuck last year. Keep it together!” Her words gave me chills. Then as we made the fabled right on Hereford, left on Boylston, honestly, I nearly lost it.¬†I don’t really have the words to capture how I felt other than I was brimming happy tears. I felt weightless, riding such a high filled with sheer joy and triumph.

It makes my heart race just thinking about it now.BostonFinish

The Post-Race Celebration: After inhaling a Gatorade, Dr Pepper, and a bag of Chex Mix, I got to experience Boston after the marathon. My friends and I joined the throng of runners, all rocking those highlighter orange jackets and their medals, milling around town celebrating the day. Random people and runners alike all shared words of congratulations. The whole city was happy, basking in the perfection of the day. Man, it was awesome.

At the¬†Runner’s World¬†party the Saturday before the marathon, RW’s Mayor of Running Bart Yasso¬†told us that this would be one of the biggest moments in running history. He was exactly right.

And yes, happy memories were made.

Image by Robert Reese

Image by Robert Reese

QUOTE OF THE POST: “And we’re taking back that¬†street, and we’re taking back that finish line, and we will not be denied our running freedom ever.” – Dave McGillivray¬†

P.S. Because I couldn’t really squeeze everything that happened into this post (I would have to write a novel!), feel free to check out my Instagram feed or my profile over at RW to see what I worked on all week!

Race Report | 2014 NYC Half

Screen shot 2014-03-18 at 9.45.40 PMIf I learned anything from the NYC Half this year, it’s BRING THROWAWAY PANTS.

Also, I think I’m in love with half-marathons… Yep, I definitely love ’em.

Like last year, I went into this race with the goal of running by feel. If I felt good, I’d go with the flow and race it. If not, no biggie. It’s only a training run for Boston to Big Sur.

Well, it’s hard not to get jazzed up when you’re surrounded by over 20,000 other runners in Central Park on a chilly March morning, especially when you get a surpise boost of encouragement from twitter friends! (Thank you Jocelyn, Corey, and Mary!) And God knows I’m not able to relax during the first few miles of a race. Gotta go guns blazing, right?

After freezing my buns off for half an hour before the race (re: throwaway pants are essential), off we went, heading north up the east side of the park. The gradual inclines warmed me up pretty quick (thank goodness), so I settled into a comfortable but quick pace. At the top of the park, we ran a hairpin turn before heading into the Harlem hills. Personally, I love hairpin turns. Marine Corps had one, too. I get SO pumped up being able to “watch” the race for a bit and keep an eye out for familiar faces. I spotted elite runner Desi Davila Linden and Corey again, which was so happy on so many levels. The energy among the runners and spectators was electric.

Screen shot 2014-03-18 at 9.45.19 PMAfter the biggest hill at the top of the park, the next two to three miles brought more rolling hills before we exited onto 7th Avenue. I’ll admit, I started to regret pushing it so hard in the park. The hills wore me out. But like last year, the epic, towering view down 7th Avenue was just incredible. It’s literally so breathtaking and awe-inspiring that you can’t really wrap your brain around the fact that you’re running down the center of one of the most famous streets in the world. And you don’t even have to dodge tourists.

It goes without saying my pace quickened quite a bit at this point of the race.

Halfway down 7th, a band started playing YMCA. If you read my blog, you’ll know that the same song played during the Boston Marathon last year. It’s one of my favorite happy memories from that otherwise awful day, so hearing it again at this race left me brimming with emotions, some good and some bad. April 21 is going to be full of moments like this one, I know it.

A brief turn toward the Hudson River brought us to the Westside Highway. At this point, there’s just over five miles to go, and they’re all flat as a pancake. Still high off my jaunt through Times Square, I found a rhythm running around 6:45ish pace. I still, surprisingly, felt comfortable and in control. This is why I love half-marathons.

I felt like I was actually racing rather than surviving. And since 13.1 miles seems short now compared to a marathon, I wasn’t afraid to push the gas pedal a little more. I kept ticking off the miles, soaking in views of the Statue of Liberty, then running in the shadow of the now-complete Freedom Tower before deciding to gun it the last two miles.

At this point, I knew a sub-1:30 was just out of reach, but I was primed to run a PR. A final push through the finish clocked me in at 1:31:05, an almost 2 minute, 30 second PR. Talk about the runner’s high. The whole race was one long hit of the runner’s high.

To top it all off, I ran into an old teammate of mine from Lehigh AND Jenny from Hood to Coast, who had also just crushed her race with a sparkly new PR. So much happiness!

Sunday reaffirmed how awesome this race is and left me feeling much more confident going into Boston and Big Sur next month. Michele summed up my feelings perfectly:

Yes. Exactly. All of those miserable, slushy miles were worth it.

QUOTE OF THE POST:¬†“You’re off to great places, today is your day. Your mountain is waiting so get on your way.” – Dr. Suess

Rest and Re-Inspiration

After two full weeks of absolutely no running (save for a certain brush with Ryan Hall’s f-ing¬†fast¬†marathon pace), I’ve spent this week slowly coaxing my legs back into running. Winter decided to arrive during my hiatus, and despite a few “niggles,” it feels wonderful to breathe in that cool, fresh air, break a sweat, and laugh with the guys again.

I decided to commit to 14 days of rest because Marine Corps left me feeling a bit banged up. I’ve been marathon training for the better part of the year, so the lingering aches gave me a good excuse NOT to run to let my body heal. Besides, MCM fell smack dab in the middle of the madness that is “working” at the RW Half, MCM, and NYCM on back-to-back-to-back weekends. All of it was incredibly exhilarating and inspiring‚Äďheck, I LOVE everything about races‚Äďbut it’s also exhausting. My brain and body needed some downtime. Badly.

So while I’m here dusting the cobwebs off this blog,¬†I have to say that even though I wasn’t out on the roads, running still managed to find ways remind me why our sport is so tremendously incredible. For instance…

I’m officially “in real life” friends with Iron(wo)man and mother-runner Michele Gonzalez¬†(right), who raised over $10,000 for Superstorm Sandy relief efforts last year; Pam Rickard, an ultrarunner whose comeback story is best summed up by¬†this Facebook post; and Summer Sanders (left), an Olympic swimmer, one of my childhood idols (thanks to a certain TV show), and now an incredible, speedy! runner. Words can’t really express how impressed, amazed, inspired [insert more similar words] by these women. They are the embodiment of why runners are awesome.Summer-Michele

I got a dose of the November Project, the highlight being a high-five with co-founder Brogan Graham, who’s gracing the December cover of RW. The bear-hugging, no-excuses, potty-mouthed “tribe” that began in Boston has injected a whole new level of badass-ness that’s shaking up what it means to be a running group. Get a better sense of who they are here and why they’re the shining light in an otherwise rough year for the running community here.

RW1213_COV_spread

And finally, I spent a weekend witnessing, for the first time, the magic of the New York City Marathon. It’s truly eye-opening to see runners from around the world literally take over the city, to see them streaming into Central Park from dawn until dusk, and to watch the elites cover 26.2 miles with precision, strength, and in Meb’s case, courage, from the gun to the tape. I bumped into Shalane and Julie, who again reminded me that the pros are just (blazing fast) regular runners. The list goes on… I left the city with my mind made up: I need¬†to run New York next year.

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 6.05.18 PMBasically, I can’t help but smile at all that went down over the past month or so. And trust me, this post touches on a fraction of it all. I couldn’t be more thankful. Thanks everyone.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Running is not, as it so often seems, only about what you did in your last race or about how many miles you ran last week. It is, in a much more important way, about community, about appreciating all the miles run by other runners, too.” – Richard O’Brien

Race Report | 2013 Marine Corps Marathon

photo 1I learned a valuable lesson during my fifth marathon:

Take every single negative thought and turn it on its head.

Constantly refocusing on the positive from start to finish led me to a 2 minute 51 second PR and what was probably my first negative split in any race ever. The defining moment came at Mile 14, but let me rewind a bit.

Back in April when I was halfway between Hopkinton and that famous right turn on Hereford Street, I was hurting. I’d realized early on that it just wasn’t my day, and the thought of running another 13 miles was daunting. Rather than easing my pace so I could soak up and enjoy the incredible atmosphere, I wallowed in the fact that I wouldn’t be setting a PR that day. I spent the rest of the race feeling frustrated and sad that I wasn’t having an amazing race at the fabled Boston Marathon.

On Sunday in Washington, D.C. when I reached the half-marathon mark, however, I thought: I only have 13 miles left. I can run 13 miles in my sleep. That’s nothing! New legs baby girl!

I remember consciously noticing at that moment how drastically different my perspective was between the two races. The realization that I felt good and wanted to run the next 13 miles literally set a fire under my butt.

I’d averaged around 8-minute pace for the first half, coming through 13.1 at 1:45:08…and then I ran Mile 14 in 7:36, holding my pace in the 7:30s (and one 7:25!) for eight miles. I dropped to low 7:40s for the next two miles before I ran out of steam for the last three. Even then I hovered just above 8-minute pace.

When I decided to shift gears, I honestly wasn’t sure how long I’d last. But my legs kept churning along, much longer than I would’ve ever expected. Trying to negative split was uncharted territory for this runner that likes to start guns blazing only to crash and burn at the end. After struggling to keep an even pace with the hills and crowds throughout the first few miles, I’d finally found my rhythm.

Early on in the race, I made the decision to mentally break up the race into 10-mile segments that I divided into shorter distance goals. Why 10 miles? Because my cut-back long run during training was 10 miles. The distance felt easy even though I ran it fast. I remember thinking how crazy it was to say that I had to run only 10 miles. Here was my train of thought:

After the first “short and easy” 10, I focused on 13.1.¬†When I got there (happy halfway!), I wanted to get to 16 so that I’d “only have 10 left” (10 is nothing, right?). When I reached 16, I focused on 20 so that I’d finally be in the twenty-somethings AND the single-digits. From there, I broke it down into one- or two-mile chunks to the point where, at Mile 25, I thought, Only eight minutes left. You can do anything for eight minutes. Keep pushing.

For whatever reason, this thought process worked for me. Chipping away at the distance mentally rather than thinking about it as a whole kept my mind busy and sane. I took comfort in the fact that my breathing stayed relaxed, my stomach wasn’t acting up, and my legs were still (somehow) maintaining a decent clip. Fun fact: I felt good at Mile 18, the point in my first marathon where the wheels started to fall off. In this race, I managed a little over four more miles before I hit that point.¬†I genuinely couldn’t believe it.

So you better believe that I soaked up inch of the 26.2-mile journey. The sights from atop bridges and beside monuments were awe-inspiring and serene in the early morning light; out at Hains Point, the quiet, lonely moments punctuated only by footsteps were sobering; the endless tunnels of spectators and Marines were pitch-perfect and made me laugh when I needed to smile; the drum lines and bands got me pumped up like they have since high school; seeing my coworkers at the hair-pin turns was unexpected and way too much fun; it was all incredible.

I finished in 3:26:32. I couldn’t be happier.

photo 2

QUOTE OF THE POST: “That was so far!” – words repeated in a tone of both disbelief and astonishment by my first-time-marathon-crusher/coworker during the car ride home¬†

To read about my training leading up to the race, click here. To everyone who supported me along the way, THANK YOU!

P.S. I ran the Marine Corps Marathon through the Runner’s World Challenge, an online training program that comes with race weekend perks (think private porta-potties and the epic view (above) at the post-race party) at a few big races around the country. As an RW editor, I love going to these events because it gives me the opportunity to meet more inspiring runners! I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity. Check out photos from our event here.

Race Report | 2013 Runner’s World Half & Festival

Unlike my usual Race Reports, I’m dedicating this post to my dad and brother who raced at the 2013 Runner’s World Half & Festival. I’ve always been “the runner” in my family, but this weekend proved that that’s so not true anymore. Here’s why:

A few weeks after the Boston Marathon this year, my dad texted me this: photo 1

Honestly, this text nearly brought me to tears. For years now, my dad has hopped on the running wagon only to fall off of it (no) thanks to roadblocks life decided to put in his way. There was no doubt in my mind that my dad could do it (back in January, I wrote about how I secretly wished he’d run the RW Half), but I knew all too well how god-awful it is to train through the summer in Texas. Not to mention a lot can go wrong in six months. Getting to the start line of a race healthy for anyone is a miracle. He had a long road ahead of him.

photo-2But sure enough, weekend after weekend all summer long, my dad reported successful early-morning long runs that started before the sun crested the top of the mountain and weekly 3.1-mile afternoon runs that got progressively faster despite the rising afternoon temps. He challenged himself with hills, pushed through the sweltering heat, learned the importance of hydration on long runs, and didn’t get bogged down or discouraged by the not-so-great runs. I might not have witnessed it in person, but his commitment and focus on his goal of completing a half-marathon was apparent and incredibly inspiring.

photo

Before we knew it, there he was at the expo, picking up his bib with my mom and brother in tow.

Later that night, we attended Dave McGillivray‘s keynote speech. Dave, the race director of the Boston Marathon, not only rocks a wicked Boston accent, but has notched countless running feats throughout his lifetime. (He runs his age in miles on his birthday, he has run across the country more than once, he has finished the Boston Marathon for 40+ years in a row, the list goes on…) The philanthropist had us laughing and crying, all the while teaching us life lessons he’s learned while pounding it out on the roads. I wish I could bottle up his talk and re-live it before ALL of my races. It certainly set the tone for the next day.

On race morning after we pinned on our bibs, my dad and I set off for the start line. The air was crisp, the clear-blue sky was bathed in sunlight – it was the PERFECT day to run. We lined up at the front so we could take it all in. The crowd’s energy was electric. A few minutes before the start, my dad and I snapped a couple pre-race photos and gave each other good-luck hugs. I can’t really put into words how much it meant to me to see my dad on the brink of accomplishing this goal he’d worked so hard for all summer long. It made my heart swell with happiness. Instead of crying nervous tears, I cried happy ones. (Click on the photos to enlarge!)

And with that emotional start, we were off!

The game plan was to finish my race, which doubled as my last long training run before Marine Corps, then run the course backwards until I found my dad. After I finished my run, I snuck back on the course, and it wasn’t long before I saw him cruising past a water stop just before Mile 12. He was crushing¬†it.

With just over a mile to go, the two of us set off for the finish line. Then, with one last hill behind us, we made our way through the tunnel of cheering spectators, spotting Mom and my brother before crossing the finish line. He did it.

photo 3photo

My dad ran every step of the race at his 5K pace from January. He not only finished 13.1 miles, he demolished them.

Seeing my dad’s goal become a reality in the form of a hard-fought finisher’s medal was incredible. I’m literally in awe of the perseverance it took for him to get from “the starting line” he crossed on that day back in April when he texted me to the finish line of his first half-marathon. His accomplishment is the reason why running is awesome. My dad is my inspiration, always has been, and always will be.

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photo-1On Saturday morning, my youngest brother Kyle lined up for the start of the 5K at the Runner’s World Half & Festival. Had you told me that the kid who once quit soccer because he “didn’t like to sweat” would be voluntarily running a 5K, I wouldn’t have believed you. Unlike my other (older) younger brother and I who both dove headfirst into soccer (and eventually running for me) early on and obsessed over athletics more than pretty much anything else in life for years, Kyle tried different sports on and off, but nothing really stuck.

However now that he’s gotten a bit older, he started running for the track and cross country teams at his middle school. Just like I did when I was his age, he’s getting up at the butt-crack of dawn to log some miles at practice before going to school. What’s amazing about my brother is that he already knows how to run just for himself. He doesn’t get bogged down about what others think of his performance. He focuses only on improving from one race to the next, enjoying the camaraderie of his teammates along the way. He knows he’s not the best on the team, but that doesn’t matter to him. I think he just likes to run. Yup, he figured that out about 10 years before I did.

Smarty pants.

It makes me so happy to see my brother enjoy the sport I’ve been passionate about since I was his age. My hope is that it becomes something he enjoys doing for the rest of his life, in whatever way, shape, or form that may be.

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I have to take a second to do a quick shout-out to everyone in the “twitterverse” who I met in real life this weekend: Jocelyn, Ashley, the #RunChat dudes Scott and David, Jaime, Pam, Marcia and more! Y’all are so dang cool, and I seriously wish we all lived closer to one another so we could run together all the time. But hey, thank goodness for twitter, right? Thank you guys so much for coming to our event. I’m so thankful that we all got to connect in person, and I hope that our paths cross again many more times in the future!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “In running, it doesn’t matter whether you come in first, in the middle of the pack, or last. You can say, ‘I have finished.’ There is a lot of satisfaction in that.” – Fred Lebow¬†

Race Report | Hood to Coast With Nuun Part II (The Race)

1150250_10101725276174613_2136966220_nJust about this time last week‚Äďit’s nearly 7 p.m. in PA at the moment‚ÄďVan #2 of Nuun‘s Team Watermelon was gearing up to kick off our first legs of Hood to Coast. Thanks to the memories created in that (thankfully not too stinky) van, it’s been seven days, and I’m still feeling the #HTChangover. Damn.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of facing over 24 hours of van “sleeping,” Stacy’s and gummy bears doubling as dinner (although there was no complaining in my corner of the van about it!), and three mini races. And that’s just the start of it. A relay is like sleep-away camp crammed into 200 miles worth of running. ¬†Even though you’re up for hours, the time flies by. You witness the sunset, and, though that nighttime run was exhilarating, you welcome the sunrise. At times you can’t keep your eyelids open. But after each leg, without fail you’re wide awake, high on life and endorphins. Somehow, when it all comes to an end, that van feels like home away from home and your teammates feel like family. Parting with both leaves a lump in your throat.

So now that I’m back to reality, I’ll try to capture what Hood to Coast with Nuun was really like without writing a novel. Onward to the ocean!

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After Van #1 crushed the first six legs down Mount Hood for Team Watermelon (and then were subsequently renamed Team Holly Roberts), our first runner, Meghan, got Van #2 on the road, rockin’ our team’s green sparkly skirt. We joined the parade of vans, slowing to cheer on Meghan with our duck boat quackers and cowbells. And then… she yelled this to us before we drove off to the next exchange:

Oh yeah, we were off to a good start. ūüôā Before I knew it, I was up to bat.

Leg 8 – 4.55 (Finish Time: 29:54, 6:36/mi)

Leg8

I knew going into Hood to Coast that I wanted to try to challenge myself and really race. However, when I saw that my projected time was in the 6:XXs, I thought, Man, there’s no way in heck I’ll hit that pace!¬†My brain’s in slow marathon mode, so 6-somethings seemed fast. But once I got my bib on and saw Meghan cruising toward me baton in hand, the track runner in me took over. I set off out of the exchange‚ÄďGod forbid I start slower to actually let myself warm up a bit‚Äďand focused on keeping a steady pace, notching as many “road kills” as I could. (Side note: It’s sweet passing people in a sparkle skirt. Ask my teammates; they’ll agree!)

I felt alright, but it took most of the run to work the kinks out of my legs. I’d already been sitting in a van too long. Then just when I needed it, my van drove up beside me, music blasting, cowbells clanging. I’ll never forget seeing Casey grooving to the music while the girls cheered. I wish I could’ve captured their awesomeness from my perspective, but instead, here’s my (overly excited) reaction:

563422_10151604678307467_1956912036_n

Yup, b-e-a-Utiful.

I realized during my run that I had inadvertently trained for Hood to Coast while training for¬†Marine Corps. For over a month, I’ve been doing speed workouts and two-a-days almost every week. Yes! Talk about a confidence boost. Maybe I could race this thing without killing my legs.

The sun was already setting when I finished, but I was thrilled when I caught a glimpse of Mount Hood in the distance from the exchange lot. It gave me chills to think that the girls had run alllll the way from its peak already. And this was only the beginning!

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1149027_10151604679727467_578312417_nWith the baton (a.k.a. slap bracelet) handed off to Laura, we set off for the next exchange. I took the opportunity to break open the trail mix and gummy bears, which made for a quality sugar rush to build on my post-run high. I also dove into the huge bag of Nuun tubes, otherwise known as the “Nuun bar.” We were all still very giddy with excitement each time our baton was handed off, not to mention the high-energy craziness that is getting to each exchange on time despite the darkness and vans-on-vans-on-vans traffic. It’s absolutely nuts, but Casey navigated like a pro from the gun. We all reported great first runs and it felt sweet marking off that first checkbox on the window.

One down, two to go.

Our first big break around 11 p.m. meant real food. It also meant my energy levels were taking a nose dive. We stopped at a bar/kid-friendly restaurant (it even had a play area, which we turned into a stretching spot) near Portland, briefly considered drinking a beer, thought better of it, then ordered some pre-run-friendly dinner. Mid-relay meals are always tricky: you want to eat a lot, but it has to sit well in your tummy for your next leg that’s only four or five hours away. I settled for some¬†margarita pizza and kept chugging Nuun like it was my job so I’d stay hydrated. Dinner was delicious, but all I could think about was sleep.

I curled up and passed out the second we hit the road toward the next big exchange. I think I managed a couple hours of sleep before it was time for Van #2 to take over again. I was incredibly groggy, but I forced myself to wake up so I’d be alive once Meghan finished her leg. Our second round meant empty one-lane roads through the wilderness. Not only was it pitch black, but there was really nothing out there but the runners, vans and nature. It was wild.

Leg 20 – 5.75 (Finish Time: 44:18, 7:50/mi)

Leg20

My second leg was insane. Running in the darkness with only a flashlight or a passing van’s headlights to guide you is equally terrifying and thrilling. The adrenaline rush kicked in quick, which meant I, again, probably took off too quickly, especially because this leg was longer and quite a bit hillier. I’m not a huge fan of running in the dark‚ÄďI got a nasty gash on my shin during a night run a few years ago‚Äďso I had to work to stay focused on the road ahead of me. Man, was it spooky running at 4:30 a.m. in the middle of nowhere.¬†It’s silent other than the sounds of your footsteps and breathing.

The whole way up, I was so thankful for PA’s gigantic hills. They’ve made me actually enjoy running hills, so I had fun getting after it from start to finish. The only downside to this leg was running on a gravel road for the last few miles. It made seeing the now rocky ground that much harder, and I got a mouthful of dust that made my teeth feel gritty. Breathing was okay, but now I was grimy on the outside and inside. Yuck! The few times I was able to look up, though, and all I could see was a string of headlights climbing the road ahead of me. It was surreal and awe-inspiring. Definitely one of those pinch-me-can’t-believe-I’m-actually-doing-this-right-now-moments. Ahh it was incredible.

I was able to finish strong thanks to that lovely downhill, and with that, my favorite leg of the relay was over.

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I absolutely loved the second third of the race because the runners pretty much owned the road. By now it was daylight, and other than the vans, there were no other cars in sight for miles. So here we were, among thousands of other runners, racing through the night and into the sunrise from Mount Hood to the Pacific Ocean. It was a remarkable human feat to witness and be a part of. You were near other runners the entire time, so it really felt like you were racing, not just running along alone with a bib number on.

We also became familiar with a other vans, some of which were flat out fascinating and creative. My favorite was the Superhero van, which had six huge flags emblazoned with superhero logos attached to its rooftop plus a cape coming off the back of it. The Bed Intruder van was also hysterical. Oh, and if you thought “Spit don’t swallow” on Van #1 was dirty, we saw plenty of vans with slogans that were way worse than ours (“My wife is doing my third leg” and “It’s too late to pull out” to name a few). That’s Hood to Coast for ya folks!

Since we had to follow the course for our second chunk of downtime, we got to cheer on a few of the girls from Van #1. We blasted Taylor Swift for Hannah, sang Ke$ha a capella for Mallory, and blew our duck quackers like crazy from the side of the road. Oh, and did I mention the now sun-soaked Oregon countryside is GORGEOUS!?!1239575_10151604681407467_1540288286_nI also loved this section because we had no cell service for over eight hours. It felt amazing to be able to unplug and take it all in. Every second of it. It also sparked the #tweetsfromwhenwehadnoservice hashtag. What can you expect from a bunch of bloggers without internet?

And then….the real traffic set it.

Leg 32 – 4.09 (Finish Time: 27:40, 6:42/mi)

Leg32

To make it to my last exchange on time to catch Meghan, I had to hop out of the van and run a half mile or so with Lisa. The quick jog was a blessing in disguise because I got to shake out and warm up my tired legs. Lisa also offered some wonderful words of encouragement that stuck with me for the whole run. This inspiring mother runner is a saint, that’s all I need to say.

I wanted to leave everything I had left out on the road for that final leg. My legs definitely felt the first two runs, but I tried to dig down and hold my pace as long as I could, soaking up every second. For the last time, my van pulled up beside me, this time blasting Justin Timberlake. Ahh, it made the run. Team Watermelon #Van 2 = My heroes.

I pushed it up one last insult of a hill toward the exchange, and with that, my three checkboxes were filled. The moment was incredibly bittersweet, rewarding, but sad. The race was almost over.

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For the final four legs, the name of the game was hurry up and wait. Traffic made getting to each exchange on time even harder, but our ever-patient driver Casey handled it all with skill. The warm sun was out now in full force, and Laura, Lindsay, and Lisa absolutely crushed their legs. We all squealed with excitement when we saw the Pacific Ocean peaking out from between the mountains.

1234842_10151604681882467_1212920787_nOnce Devon set off on Leg 36 screaming down the mountain toward the beach (left), our drive became a mad dash to the finish. Casey’s patience finally (and hysterically!) broke while we inched down the road to the shore. When we arrived, we all hopped out and sprinted through to the finish in time to meet Devon who had just crossed the line. We had made it.

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Ending our 200-mile journey on the coastline of the Pacific Ocean, toes in the sand with a cold beer in hand, was perfect. I think it’s safe to say that we all took in every second of it, appreciating the significance of what we’d just accomplished and experienced together. Though we came from all over the country, here we all were watching the sunset over the ocean and the fireworks later that night together, not as strangers, but close friends. It was hard to believe that just a few days earlier, we were struggling to even remember each other’s names.

This relay encapsulated so many of the reasons I love running. We might’ve come from different backgrounds, but running unified us. It didn’t matter that our ages, abilities, lifestyles and goals weren’t the same. We’re all runners and that’s what mattered. We got to explore the Pacific Northwest on foot, which was even cooler than the Duck Boat tour through Seattle. We got to meet our online running community IRL (a term that Mason learned means “in real life”). I thought the girls were inspring enough through their blogs and social media, but they’re even more amazing in person (not that that’s surprising!). It makes me so happy that I can now call them my friends, not just my “twitter friends.” Running is usually considered an individual sport, but relays like Hood to Coast elevate what we do to another level with greater meaning. We couldn’t have done what we did without the tireless effort from every member on the team, gutting it out in our sparkle skirts from the first leg to the last.¬†Again, I can’t thank everyone at Nuun for making it all happen.

With that, I can only hope that our paths will cross again! I’m SO thankful for the opportunity and yes, for social media that’ll keep us all connected until that day comes!

Here are more photos from the race:

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Want to read about my pre-race adventures in Seattle? Check out Part I of my Hood to Coast Race Report.

#HeardInVan2:¬†“I feel like f-ing David Copperfield!” – @devonamills

“I can’t justify paying for chocolate.” – @shoenerd13

“Use your indoor duck!” – @devonamills

Race Report | Hood to Coast With Nuun Part I (Pre-Race)

Before I dive into the Nuun-tattooed details of my epic journey in the Pacific Northwest, I gotta take a second to express my sincere gratitude and thanks to everyone at Nuun for giving me the experience of running Hood to Coast. It was the opportunity of a lifetime that is only getting sweeter the more I think about it. Megan, you pulled off the¬†Herculean¬†feat of corralling 36 women through what I’m sure was logistical hell. But it went off without a hitch and you did it all with a smile and a sparkly skirt. Casey‚Äďour fearless driver‚Äďyou navigated that gigantic van with finesse (and just two curb kills!). Thanks for putting up with six crazy women, inspiring us with that pep talk before we left, and those delicious beers afterward. And Mason, thanks for making it all happen. You made us all feel welcome from start to finish, and I truly appreciate everything that you did for me and the other women. THANK YOU!

Hello Seattle! (a.k.a. The Land of Over 400 Starbucks)

1238155_10151604672272467_1710004976_nMy Hood to Coast journey began with the day that never ended. After a butt-crack of earliness departure with Hannah‚Äďwe left Bethlehem at 3:30 a.m.‚Äďwe landed in Seattle at 1:30, somehow still wide-awake and (almost) fully functional. We met up with a group of teammates‚Äďyep, we found each other via twitter‚Äďand went to Nuun HQ before taking a quick walking tour of downtown. We hauled ourselves up the hills toward the very first Starbucks, through the Public Market, and down beside the ferris wheel by the water, getting to know one another along the way. The trip had barely begun, and I was already having a blast.

Meeting a group of 35 other run-bloggers, some of which we knew by their Twitter handle instead of their real name, was almost like speed dating. I loved how we all quickly accepted that no one really knew everyone, but that didn’t stop us from striking up conversation over a few beers and bowling balls later that night. Heck, here was a group of women all passionate about one thing: running. And it bridged that awkward gap between strangers and friends faster than Team Cherry Limeade tore through 200 miles.

The first night in our hotel room, Lisa M., Lisa, Jenny and I all marveled over the fact that though we hardly knew each other, we already felt like close friends. We swapped running stories, compared notes about training (I learned that my fueling needs some umm….work), talked boys and marriage and kids, you name it until we had to cut ourselves off so we didn’t stay up too late. My mom said it seemed like we were all modern-day pen pals, which is totally right.

I might’ve only spend a few days with these women, but I can’t tell you how much I learned from them. They all carried themselves with confidence, poise, and grace. Since I was one of the youngest in the group, it was so neat to hear them talk about their experiences being mothers and wives and how they balanced it all with their running. Their advice and words of wisdom will certainly stick with me when I start following in their speedy footsteps.

The Nest and a Run Around Green Lake

1157453_10151604673172467_162739095_nOn Thursday morning the Nuun crew took a field trip to the Oiselle nest. Over the past year, I’ve been absolutely intrigued and impressed by what this tiny, innovative company has grown into. Between signing Lauren Fleshman and then having mid-distance stud Kate Grace make her mark at track Nationals, Oiselle is shaking things up in a good way. They’re not just in it to make stylish women’s running clothes (which ROCK by the way – I’d wear the Lux Layer we got all day every day if I could); they’re a group of real runners looking to inspire women and make a positive impact on the running community as a whole. So… you can imagine my excitement when we got to visit Oiselle.

Off the bat, we met the one and only Sarah Mac Robinson, a fast-as-I’ll-get-out runner whom I’ve followed on twitter for a while. She was as awesome and bubbly (and tall!) in person as I expected her to be. (And yes, I totally geeked out at her!) She took us on a quick run around Green Lake before bringing us back to meet Oiselle founder/CEO¬†Sally Bergesen and the rest of the flock. Needless to say, I love the company and the women that make it happen that much more. Keep doing what you’re doing ladies!

The Duck Boat and Captain “Phlip”

1003390_10151604677567467_1825669548_n-1Before running the mother of all relays, we took part in the mother of all tourist activities: A duck boat ride through Seattle. Complete with quakers and a driver with a… colorful (?) sense of humor, a duck boat tour takes you through the city before literally driving into the water. Before we knew it, he had the whole “crew” waving plastic swords and toilet plungers at people on the streets, all while screaming “UFF DA!” whenever we passed one of the 400+ Starbucks that are sometimes literally across the street from one another. It was an admittedly cheesy, but hysterically fun way to sightsee.

“Water Our Melons” & “Spit Don’t Swallow”

1174896_10201349571353846_1084161609_nThose were the slogans that adorned Team Watermelon’s vans. (Believe it or not, they are hardly dirty compared to what we saw later on the course. Ha!) Thursday night, the teams transformed our white vans into fruit-covered masterpieces. We didn’t really decorate our van for my first relay, so it was way too much fun drawing a giant watermelon on the side of a van with my teammates Devon, Meghan, Lisa M., Lindsay, and Laura¬†(and our driver Casey!). It was team bonding at its finest and it set the tone for the race.

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Speaking of the race, here’s Part II of my Hood to Coast Race Report!

More photos from the pre-race fun:

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#HeardInVan2:¬†“I’m just so happy to be here, that was so amazing!” – @runwiki¬†after completing her first leg

“We have an 8th person in our van. Her name is Stacy.” – @shoenerd13

“I found my strong at TJ Maxx.” – @TwistNRun