Race Report(s) | RW Run-Up & Empire State Building Run-Up

Ninety floors and some 1,500+ steps later…what I was thinking this week?!?

Here are my recaps for the two run-ups I, well, ran up this week:

Awkward pre-race photo for the win?

Awkward pre-race photo for the win? (Photo cred to Cait’s awesome sunglasses camera!)

Runner’s World Run-Up

Not to be outdone by the ESBRU, my fellow RW staffers and I held our own run-up at RW HQ. (Yep, all four floors of it!) And boy was it glaringly apparent right off the bat that my stair-climbing technique needs some serious work. (This wasn’t surprising since my steeplechase career proved my overall lack of coordination.) Overwhelmed by the excitement (and hilarity) of the start, I completely forgot to go two steps at a time and take advantage of the railings to pull myself upward. Before I knew it, I was bringing up the rear at the finish of our fake race. Thankfully, I have a 86 floors to nail down that technique and take on the media heat tomorrow. Plus, I’ve got some experience throwing elbows at the start from cross-country! Editors of Vogue, I’m ready for you! Check out the video of our event here.  

Empire State Building Run-Upkelly ripa

Holy wow was this race unlike any other that I’ve ever run. I learned that stairs are so NOT my friend. But I also realized that it’s seriously satisfying to say that you’ve run up that ginormous building, especially when you’re  standing alongside it taking in it’s massiveness. That feeling–plus the stunning (but brief) views of NYC at the top–made the experience totally worth it.

There it is! The lights were orange in honor of the race!

There it is! The lights were orange in honor of the race!

The race itself? It was *cough* intense.

I lined up at the front of the media heat–my toes were literally on the starting line!–and I immediately noticed the padded doorway into the stairwell no more than 10 meters away. Talk about a dead sprint into a narrow door frame! I felt the usual mix of excitement and adrenaline while I waited for the gun, but there was an added layer of anxiety as I eyed that ominous-looking gray stairwell. What was this going to be like?!? I tried to distract myself with the fact that Kelly Ripa and Natalie Morales had just lined up beside me–how cool?!?–and I attempted to look not like an idiot while the press took pre-race photos of us. (See above photo!) New goal? Beat Kelly Ripa.

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The Rodale crew pre-race!

The sound of a horn unleashed the mad rush to the doorway. I actually had an awesome start and was one of the first into the stairwell. (Yay, my years of cross country paid off!) But, like at the RW Run-Up, the craziness thwarted any effort to establish a steady rhythm. I went from one-stepping to two-stepping to using my arms to pull me upward to power jogging without the railing. It wasn’t coordinated or pretty at all.

By Floor 15ish (yeah, I still had 60+ floors to go), my adrenaline had worn off and my stair running turned into a plodding march of survival. The dusty, dry inside air had me breathing heavily and my quads were screaming already, which had me wondering Hadn’t I just run a marathon? Where did all that endurance go? I swear to God I’m fitter than I feel right now! I settled into a two-step hike, using the railings only to keep me upright because I couldn’t figure out how to use them to pull some of my weight. Stupid lack of coordination. I stared (more like glared) down at the steps to avoid the urge to look up at what floor I was on, much like I used to ignore the lap counters when I ran track. I still had way too many floors to go. It was like you could literally feel the weight of the building on top of you.

Around the 40th floor, Kelly Ripa started bearing down on me, and before I knew it we were sharing each staircase. She had a teammate cheering her on, urging her to keep going, and I tried to pretend he was yelling those encouraging words to me. (It was incredibly quiet and lonely throughout the entire race, so there was not much to distract me from my blaring omg-please-let’s-stop-how-many-more-floors?-this-is-insane-consumed thoughts.)

I held off Kelly for maybe 20 floors, but she was rocking this powerful and steady pace. My pace certainly hadn’t picked up any by this point, and she finally passed me somewhere in the 60s. I concluded that she is basically the Energizer Bunny. You go girl!

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Done and done. Heck yes!

When we were within a few floors of the finish, I started to feel hints of cool air circulating down the stairwell. Sooooo close! I tried to trot up the last few steps–I wanted to go out with some shred of dignity!–and finally reached the open and wonderfully flat landing at the top. I was rewarded with a blast of cold, fresh air and an awe-inspiring view of the city. I staggered through the finish, totally relieved and happy that that wild ordeal was over.

I bumped into Kelly again after the race, and I mumbled something along the lines of, “Awesome job! That was crazy right?” and she told me she agreed. We high-fived each other (I’m sure my mum is totally jealous of me right now! haha) before I was herded into the elevator.

I ran it in 18:29 and was the 5th female in the media division. One news story described it as a “vertical marathon,” which is entirely accurate. I learned that going up is a much different experience that going forward, and that my runner’s strength didn’t exactly apply to 1,576 steps. Overall, I’m SO glad that I got the opportunity to run it, but I think I’ll stick to my marathons for now and leave that craziness for the pros like our Gear Guy Jeff Dengate (who, by the way, won the media heat!)

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The bling!

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QUOTE OF THE POST: “It’s not a stair race, it’s a race to the top.” – Jeff Dengate 

Read my other Race Reports here

Race Report | Walt Disney World Goofy Challenge

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The back of my Goofy Challenge medal.

1 Marathon

1 Half-Marathon

2 Days, 4 Theme Parks

39.3 Miles

Can’t really believe that I completed that this past weekend at the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend as a Goofy Challenger. What that medal doesn’t include is: two back-to-back 2:15 a.m. wake-up calls, three days of standing at the Runner’s World Challenge booth checking in runners, a late night of bowling with RW coworkers (bowling + runners’ glaring lack of coordination = many, many hysterical gutter balls!), and one epic afternoon appeasing my inner eight-year-old riding Space Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean at the Magic Kingdom. Busy, busy, busy!

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The RW ladies and Desi Davila. See, I told you she’s so small! I’m a giant compared to her! Ha!

We also stayed at the Yacht Club Resort a.k.a. runner nerd heaven. The place was literally jam-packed with running elites and legends. While I was checking in, 2012 U.S. Olympic marathoner Desi Davila was waiting behind me (!) and yes, I had a small heart attack. What’s new? I saw her again the next day leaving an elevator, and I completely geeked-out at her with word-vomiting excitement. You’d think that I’d be better at handling these brushes with fame, but man, I’m pretty sure I scared her a little. Ooops, sorry Desi! (Thankfully, I ran into her again later that day, and I got the chance to redeem myself and prove that I’m not actually a crazy person.) I have to say, she’s an absolutely awesome (and tiny!) person, and it was incredible getting to hear about her comeback post-Olympic injury. She’s going to dominate once she’s healthy again, I’m sure of it! (Side note: I’ve now officially met the U.S. Olympic Marathon team trio: Desi Davila, Shalane Flanagan, and Kara Goucher. Ahh! I can tell you that they are all such amazing and inspiring women, and I’m so grateful for the opportunities to get to meet them!) I also ran into and spoke with Bill Rodgers for a bit, and I spotted Frank Shorter, too. All in all, it was pretty surreal sharing a roof with these people.

Now, on to the races:

Above all else, the goal for the weekend was have fun and embrace the experience. I wanted to earn all three medals, and it didn’t matter how fast I did it. If I had to give you a time goal, it would be to break two hours in the half and four hours in the full, but that was by no means a serious goal. I’m just a very Type A kind of person, and deep down, I have no ability to just run. I need to work on that – not every race needs to be run for time! Anywho…

The Half-Marathon:

[Pump-up song of the day: “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You” from Mulan]

pre-race

The guys wore those hats for the ENTIRE half-marathon.

Despite absolutely dreading waking up at the butt-crack of earliness, thank God I’m the type of person where once I’m up, I’m up. Cait and I (she was doing the Goofy, too) snapped a pre-Goofy photo (left – with coworkers Robert and Jeff), and then we and the other RW Challengers loaded the bus to the start at 3 a.m. I was quickly designated the group’s cheerleader. I blasted Disney songs (and sang along with them!), while I attempted to make my energy infectious and pump everyone up for the race. Heck, we were at Disney World about to run an incredible race, how could you not be ridiculously stoked!?!

Prerace

Cait, Hannah and I trying to look tough before the half-marathon. This was at 4 a.m.

Once we got to the corral, I was flat out giddy with excitement. We got to start within feet of the actual line, and we were spitting distance away from NSYNC’s Joey Fatone and Drew Carey! How cool is that?!? Had I told my 12-year-old self that I’d be this close to a member of NSYNC, I wouldn’t have believed it! Then Mickey Mouse gave us the countdown, a burst of fireworks lit up the sky, and we were off! I ran most of the race with my coworkers Cait and Hannah (who ran a HUGE PR!). (right) Cait and I decided to take it easy and conserve our energy for Sunday’s marathon, running around 8:30 – 8:50 pace the whole way. We made our way toward the Magic Kingdom, passing by loads of costumed characters (my favorite was the Pirates of the Caribbean ship that played music from the movie). Then we turned onto Main Street, and holy wow was it awe-inspiring. The road was packed with screaming spectators as we ran up to Cinderella’s stunning castle. That moment alone made the lonely highways to and from the castle worth it. Hands down. We pushed it to the finish (after nearly running over a crossing armadillo – seriously!), and just like that, we were a third of the way done with the Goofy Challenge. We ran it in 1:54:13. To quote The Big Bang Theory – Bazinga!

The only glitch in the road was that my achilles and heels were totally feeling the last three days of standing. I iced them that afternoon to get ’em ready for day two!

The Marathon:

[Pump-up song of the day: “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” from The Lion King]

I’ll be honest here – when my alarm went off at 2:15 a.m. again on Sunday morning, the immediate realization that I had to run a marathon (a whole 26.2 miles!) in a couple hours was horrifying. What the heck was I thinking getting myself into this? I turned up the Disney music to shake that feeling away because I’d promised my RW Challengers that I’d be as upbeat and happy on Sunday as I was on Saturday. Oh I just can’t waaaaait….to be kinggggg!

Then come race time, talk about déjà vu. The first eight-ish miles of the race were exactly the same as the half-marathon course, and it was somewhat eery covering the same ground at the same time two mornings in a row. Again, the Magic Kingdom’s stunning views took my breath away, and then… it all came crumbling down…

Around mile 10 (yeah, just 10! 16.2 miles left!), everything below my knees began to ache. My shins, my ankles, my achilles, the bottom of my feet, everything. SO not fun. (My coworkers and I later agreed that this pain might have been caused by the course’s pancake-flatness and subsequently repetitive stride pattern.) It was pretty unsettling to feel that yucky that early in the race, and I wondered, How did I feel so good for the first 18 miles of Steamtown? This was already shaping up to be a very different experience from my first marathon.

As I made my way through the course (it was mostly on highways, punctuated by jaunts through the Magic Kingdom, the Animal Kingdom, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot, all of which were pretty neat to run through), my thoughts shifted toward tweaking my stride to make my legs hurt as little as possible. I also tried so hard to just keep running because I really didn’t want to walk. Let’s just say those middle miles were consumed with thoughts like Why the heck am I doing this? This sucks. Please get me to the next park so I can distract myself. Stop hurting legs! Think positively. There is still soooo much left to go. Can I be done, please? Pretty please? With a cherry on top? Don’t walk, just keep running. Ouch, ouch, ouch. Hey look, there’s Buzz Lightyear! Ouch, ouch, ouch.

Once I reached the Wide World of Sports Complex, I decided I’d walk the water stops from then on. Looking back, I think this was the best decision I could have made, and it was definitely a turning point in my race – not only did it give my legs a break, but the idea of rewarding myself with a walk break and water kept me motivated and moving between stations. I learned that walking is definitely NOT a bad thing in marathons.

finishline

Could not have been happier to finish!

I realized – to my utter relief – that the end was near when I got to Hollywood Studios around mile 23. The crowd support was through the roof, and even though I was still in an epic amount of pain, I started to sense a bit of that “marathon magic.” Pretty fitting that I truly felt that at “the most magical place on Earth,” right? I was overcome with joy at the realization that I and everyone around me were going to finish this thing. I’d compare this feeling to the “runner’s high” – it’s elusive, but it’ll show up just when you need it to! Ahhh it was totally awesome. With renewed energy, I shifted gears and tried to finish as strong as I could. I crossed the line in 3:55:28, and then Bart Yasso snapped this photo of me (right). Despite having a mostly awful race, I don’t think I could’ve been more genuinely happy.

Now that it’s over, I wouldn’t consider this race a bad race at all. First and foremost, I learned to respect the distance. Marathons are not easy. Period. I needed to experience this, and was glad I did. I also learned that you can feel that “marathon magic” even in crappy races, that pace and finishing times are not always the most important thing, and that finishing alone is a huge accomplishment. Lessons (thankfully) learned. Side note #2: How cool is this bling?!? (I spent the rest of the day with these clanging around my neck!)

medals

The bling – well worth the 39.3-mile effort.

kilt

Now that’s MY kind of racing skirt!

Post-race, I got to celebrate with some of the most incredible runners ever: the Runner’s World Challengers! I mingled with the @TwinsRun twins, Malinda and Leah, who are so passionate about running and Disney it’s contagious. They even raced both days in super-cute costumes! Their outfits rivaled one Challenger’s kilt! (left) I also witnessed a mother and her daughter complete their first marathon together, which was beyond neat as well.

Robert

This guy was responsible for many happy tears from me after the race!

But what managed to bring me to tears was Robert’s race. Robert (right) battled throat cancer last year and came back to break four hours and QUALIFY FOR BOSTON! He was visibly euphoric, and I can tell you that that moment will stick with me forever. We had waited together in the corral before the race, and I can say that words really don’t do justice to describe how kind and wonderful and inspiring this man is. He told us how after treatments last year, he literally started from square one (think only being able to run the length of one side of a block), and then worked his way toward this goal of a Boston qualification. Stories like his remind me of why running is just plain awesome.

Overall, the weekend was an exhausting but exhilarating experience, and I’m pumped to say that marathon numero dos is in the books! Now, time for some rest and then let the Boston training commence!

bib

My bib with our staff trip hashtag #RWGoofTroop. Awesome.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “There are times when you run a marathon and you wonder, Why am I doing this? But you take a drink of water, and around the next bend, you get your wind back, remember the finish line, and keep going.” – Steve Jobs

Disney runners: What was your favorite part of the race?

Read my other Race Reports here

Greatest Hits of 2012: This Year’s Highs (and Lows)

Between graduating from college in May, landing my dream job at Runner’s World soon after, and starting my life in the “real world” over 2,000 miles away from home, I’d say 2012 was a pretty darn pivotal year for me personally. Running-wise, I crossed the finish line of my last collegiate race and my first marathon. I got to meet one of my idols, make friends with some of the best bloggers around, and enter the blogging world myself. I ran about 1,500 miles give or take a few. Looking back, this year had SO many highs (and its fair share of lows), all of which helped me grow and develop as a runner. Here’s a look back at my year of running along with what I learned along the way that I hope to apply this year.

After a disappointing senior cross country season, I was determined to turn things around and snag an indoor 3-K PR. Despite having the slowest seed time in the fastest heat at the Patriot League Championships in February, I managed a three-second PR, running 10:22.08. Don’t know why, but I always seemed to find my groove when I raced indoors. Getting over a crappy season to run a solid indoor season was a definite high-point of my senior year.

> You can always bounce back from a slump, so trust that you will break out of it. Stay positive and don’t get discouraged. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming!

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Just before the start of my final collegiate race – that’s me second from the left.

As pumped as I was coming off of my indoor season, my body and my brain decided three months too soon to call it quits for my outdoor steeplechase season. I tried so hard to fight past the slump–no one wants to have a crappy final season…go out with a bang right?–but come each race-day I just couldn’t pull it together. I was still hitting my splits and feeling great in workouts, but my time (frustratingly) hovered around 11:52 all season… nearly 35 seconds slower than my PR from the year before. Ooof. My coach still sent me to the league championships, and I was so thankful for the opportunity to don my Lehigh uniform one last time (left). Even though my last collegiate race was one of my worst, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly blessed for the ability to run every single season of my collegiate career. Four years, 12 seasons, countless races. Still can’t believe it’s over…

> Cherish every race that you get the chance to run, even the bad ones. Relish the moment, accepting each barrier you have to hurdle along the way. You’ll come out stronger at the finish line regardless of your time or place.  

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A box of costumes arrived at the office one morning, so naturally we had to do our lunch run in them. 

Now, on to bigger, better things! The summer brought my first runs in my life that I got to do just for me. In other words, in my 10+ years of competitive running, I’d never done a run that wasn’t a training run or workout prescribed to me by my coach. Ahh it felt insanely incredible. Rather than following a training plan, I did what my boss calls “secondhand training” – whatever my coworkers wanted to run each day, be it a tempo run or easy four miles in a tutu (right), I tagged along. Most days I even went without a watch. I was content with whatever distance we ran and didn’t get bogged down by our pace. Along the way, I began to regain my passion for running, and it was invigorating.

> Lacking structure and embracing spontaneity when training can be one of the most refreshing things you can do. Shed the watch and daily expectations and just run.

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This moment still gives me chills and will stick with me forever!

Then came my first marathon in October. (You can read my full, nitty gritty recap here!) For the first time in a long freakin’ time, I had a race that came together perfectly – I felt strong and smooth, the uncontrollables worked in my favor, and I hit my best-case-senario goal. BEST. FEELING. EVER! Not to mention I qualified and got into the 2013 Boston Marathon a couple days after! Pure euphoria.

> Practicing a positive mindset and cementing a reasonable game plan for months in advance can make executing it come race day a cinch. Shedding the negative energy during training makes it that much easier to knock it out mid-race. 

Despite my coworkers warning me about about post-marathon exhaustion, I was struck by how much the race sucked the life out of me. I felt like I was back to square one again, out of shape and slow as ever for over a month. So not fun. It wasn’t until the day of the would-be New York City Marathon in November that I had a run where I felt like I was myself again. After such a high post-marathon, the recovery period was a yucky low. Now I know what to expect, and I fully intend to let my body fully heal before I try to run again. Mental note for next time!

> Rest is a good thing. Yes, you might lose some fitness, and yes, it sucks missing out on lunch runs with friends. But you’ll make your next build-up that much smoother and keep injuries at bay. Patience young grasshopper. It’ll pay off later.

I desperately needed to get out of the slump, so I decided to commit to the #RWRunStreak, which means running at least one mile a day between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. I cherish my off days, so taking this on was a big deal for me. But hey, I needed to get back in shape for the Walt Disney World Marathon in January. Not only did I have some of the best runs I’ve had in a while, but it got me back on track, and it was one of the best decisions I made all year. I made it a full 26 days straight, and I couldn’t believe I stuck to it.

> Making a commitment real by telling friends about it on social media or writing it down in your training log can be just the kick in the butt you need to get out the door for a run and stay committed toward reaching a goal. It’s amazing what encouragement you can get from friends.   

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What a year! =) Looking ahead to 2013, I have three marathons on the calendar so far for the spring and, since I’m already a bit top-heavy, I’m only going to run one in the fall. I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but my goal is to get faster and stronger so I can race for time rather than race to finish. I also hope to keep up this blog and start widening my circle of running friends on the web. The online running community is so incredible, and I want to be a part of it! So 2013, bring it on! I’m ready for ya!

What were your running highlights this year?

P.S. This just came up in my Twitter feed. TOTALLY going to try it! Happy New Year’s everyone!

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QUOTE OF THE POST: “When we understand the privilege of what it means to be an athlete, we are in touch with, and rejoice in, our physical, mental, and emotional strengths and our endless possibilities.” – Gloria Averbuch

Putting a Face to a (Social Media) Name

I’m quickly realizing that one of most favorite parts about working at Runner’s World is the opportunity to meet runners from around the country (and world). Between the slew of races and events I’ve attended this fall, I got to meet running blogger extraordinaire Dorothy Beal, and her yogi counterpart Rebecca Pacheco. Between the two of them, I finally got the inspirational kick in the butt to get this blog started. If you’re not already following them on social media (see Twitter handles below), get on it. Stat.

Dorothy first tweeted at me out of the blue to congratulate me after Steamtown. I have to say I honestly didn’t know who she was beforehand, but after “stalking” her blog a bit, I was immediately hooked, especially after watching the motivational video she did for Saucony. Not only is she fast, but she’s fast after having kids! I’m nowhere near ready to have kids of my own, but it’s neat to read about her experiences so I can have an idea of what to expect when I get there. She’s also got one of the most poignant mantra’s I’ve ever heard: I run this body. It speaks to every runner and is powerful on so many levels.

A couple weeks later at the Marine Corps Marathon, we got to meet in person! She was there to interview Shalane Flanagan for her blog, and I was hanging around talking to Shalane’s husband while she was doing a signing for Nissan. I couldn’t believe it when Dorothy recognized me from my Twitter photo. I really didn’t think anyone really followed me on Twitter, so it was awesome when she said she’s enjoyed reading about my transition into the “real world” all summer. We immediately hit it off. We geeked out about Shalane for a bit–Do we seriously get to hang out with her? Ahh!–and then I introduced her to a few RW staffers at our expo booth before she went to interview Shalane. I don’t think I’ve met a more positive person, and it was so cool getting to forge a new running friendship. (The best part? She sent me one of her “I Run This Body” t-shirts that I’d been drooling over for weeks. I love that she gave me the opportunity to be an ambassador for her message!)

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I met Rebecca at a Lucy Activewear event in San Francisco in early November. She’d become friends with one of my (super speedy) coworkers and was recruited by RW to be our yoga expert at the event. Rebecca is so quirky and warm-hearted that it’s contagious. Not to mention the fact that she’s got some seriously mad skills when it comes to yoga. (I’m 100% NOT flexible, so seeing what she’s able to do is even more impressive. I need to be doing more of this.) Plus, she’s a runner, too! Even though we’d just met, Rebecca didn’t hesitate to share insightful words of advice about pretty much everything, from boys to starting this blog. Her words were dose of wisdom I needed to gain some perspective and direction on what I hope to do with my life and career. It’s not every day that you meet someone who can do that over 48 hours. Freakin’ awesome.

Follow Dorothy at @MilePosts and Rebecca at @omgal. Do it now.
QUOTE OF THE POST: “The obsession with running is really an obsession with the potential for more and more life.” – George Sheehan

My Weekend With Shalane Flanagan

Back in August early on a Sunday morning, I pulled myself out of bed not to log my marathon training miles, but to watch the women’s Olympic marathon. With my caramel macchiato-infused coffee in hand, I watched my American idols, Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher, cruising up in front of the pack, clipping off mile splits faster than I can clock a single one. After seeing Bernard Lagat race in person back in college–and then taking to the track to plod through my own 3-K–I can say pros really do make it look, well, pretty darn effortless. These women, even as they navigated the cobblestone streets in London, ran with the same grace, agility, and seemingly superhuman strength. Like I always do when I watch elite races, I sat dumbfounded.

Having been a competitive runner most of my life, I’d like to think I have a reasonable understanding of what it takes to run fast–I’ve completed my fair share of mile repeats and tempo runs. But because I can barely begin to fathom the level of commitment and sacrifice it must take to reach their impossibly speedy level, women like Shalane and Kara simply amaze me. Period. How the heck do they run so fast? Over the past few years after having watched them compete and read (and reread) their stories in Runner’s World, they have become my idols. Or, as I like to explain it to my running-illiterate parents, I revert back to my 12-year-old, soccer-playing self, saying, “They’re like the Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain of running! Get it?”

Now you can only imagine how I felt while I waited to pick up Shalane from the airport before the Runner’s World Half & Festival a couple months later in October. (She was our one of our special guests for the weekend, and I’d been assigned to be her assistant for the weekend. Seriously. Talk about work perks.) The level of nerves in my belly rivaled pre-race jitters. Believe me when I say I spent the previous month composing myself for this moment–I really didn’t want to freak the poor woman out with my hyper excitement over meeting her, a three-time Olympian and American record holder. No biggie, right? Like she always does, my mum brought me back down to earth with a text saying, “Remember, she puts her underwear on the same way as you!” Thanks for that mom.

As the stream of passengers filed through the terminal, Shalane was easy to spot. (Side note: It’s no secret that professional running is so glaringly detached from other sports, and yet it seemed crazy to me that no one on her flight seemed to realize they were flying with an Olympic bronze medalist. Then again, it was late at night in Allentown, PA’s tiny airport.) She was toting a navy blue U.S.A.-emblazoned suitcase, to which she confirmed that it was indeed the one she brought to London. I tried to wrap my brain around that fact as I loaded it into my trunk.

On Friday afternoon, after spending the day at a RW blogger meet-and-greet and later a signing, I picked up Shalane in the hotel lobby for a shakeout run with participants of the event and local runners. Off we went, running down to the towpath where the run was to be held. On the way, Shalane mentioned that she didn’t know what to do with her hotel key, and I said I’d hold it for her. She said she sometimes sticks it in her sports bra even though her guy friends think it’s gross because it gets sweaty. I told her, “Heck, I do that too! Cards are just about the only thing I can store down there!” We laughed. Flat-chested women for the win!

On Saturday morning, Shalane had to log a 90-minute workout before her first commitment for the day. She hopped in my car at 7:30 a.m. so we could head over to Lehigh University’s athletic campus for the run. She mentioned that a wedding party had kept her up the night before and that she had called the front desk to ask them to quiet down the partiers. She admitted that she told them she had a race (rather than a workout) to run in the morning, because she knew they wouldn’t take her seriously if she had said “workout.” I’ll have to keep that clever little trick in mind for later. She also told me she wasn’t exactly excited for the workout, wishing it would just be over with and done. I thought, “Halleluiah! Even the elites don’t like waking up at the butt crack of earliness to log tons of miles!” It was so wonderful to realize that she’s so refreshingly…normal.

It was a stunning autumn morning, cool and misty, perfect for running. We warmed up together for 30 minutes, pausing only to hit the porta-potties where Shalane exclaimed after shutting the door, “YES! There’s toilet paper!” Yes, every runner appreciates toilet paper.

Near the end of the warmup, our pace had progressed to the point where it felt like a tempo run. Ooof. Then she told me she was going to kick it up a notch to start her workout, saying, “Catch ya on the flip side!” And off she went. I slowed down to a walk, trying to catch my breath. Talk about an out-of-body experience. I had just run alongside an Olympian, someone I’ve looked up to for years. Did that seriously just happen?

The trail was out-and-back, so I waited for her at the end so we could meet up and cool down back to campus. A while later in the middle of the workout, I spotted her bright-pink top and blonde hair charging soundlessly toward me. The moment struck me because it mirrored the London Olympic Marathon’s pace truck’s camera angle from which I watched her race just a few months earlier. Except this time, she was actually running at me on a trail that I’d done workouts on last year in college. Pure, utter craziness. Seeing her smooth stride was incredible, and, to be honest, it made me feel like I look like a baby giraffe when I run. After her workout, we cooled down a mile back to the car… at 7:10 pace no less.

Come lunchtime, we were both in desperate need of caffeine. Little did I know, Shalane literally “runs on Dunkin.” Deprived of her obsession on the West Coast in Portland, Oregon, I took her to the joint by Lehigh’s campus. (She even tweeted about it, and we went again on Sunday before she left so she could satisfy the craving.) We both ordered her favorite–“French Vanilla regular with cream and sugar”–and an assortment of doughnut holes because heck, she ran a crazy-hard workout this morning!

We had some time to kill, so we sat in the car and started talking, downing our pumpkin-flavored doughnut holes and coffee. She told me about she and Kara’s plan to race in Australia in December so they could snag the 10-K A-Standard for the 2013 World Championships early before the Boston Marathon in April. Then the topic moved on to having children. Between Lauren Fleshman’s recent blog post on the topic and the fact that she’s best friends with Kara Goucher, it was fascinating to hear her perspective. She said she hopes to continue racing professionally through the 2016 Olympics in Rio and then maybe a year or two after that, saving starting a family with her husband, Steve, until after she’s done. She said she has no problem following in the footsteps of fellow pro-runner Deena Kastor by being an “older” mom. Then we spoke about how she met Steve at the University of North Carolina, and I confided in her that I wasn’t quite so lucky in college in that department. Love it. Once we were reenergized on caffeine and sugar, we decided to explore the expo where we picked out some sparkly headbands that added the perfect touch to this photo that we took on a green screen at the RW Booth: Image

Who would’ve thought I’d be “sharing the RW cover” with Shalane Flanagan? It was especially wild because I life-size photo from her 2010 real cover was just a few feet away.

After more signings and a panel, she decided she would crash early. She was incredibly conscientious about her rest, explaining that on trips like these, she has to take extra measures to take care of her body so she avoids getting sick. This sounds obvious, but this is something we should all try to do on race weekends. Smarty pants.

On half-marathon morning, Shalane–wearing her signature white compression socks–and I headed over to the start. Shalane had decided earlier that weekend to run the half as a training run, shooting for 7:00 to 7:10s. Because I was just two weeks post-marathon, my “goal” was to try to stay with her for as long as physically possible, then drop off and enjoy the ride. As we wove through the runners to get to the front of the corrals, the announcers kept asking the crowd if they’d spotted Shalane, and we giggled because, well, we knew where she was!

Besides my over-excitement for just being at our event that we’d been working on for nearly a year, it was so neat to be there alongside Shalane. Once the gun went off, the two of us set off through the streets of Bethlehem toward Lehigh. We were flying. We rounded a turn heading into the first hill at mile 1 at 6:45 pace. Ooof. Much too fast. At the top off the hill, I was already spent and dropped back from Shalane to settle into my own pace. Yep, she’s fast, not like I didn’t know that already!

The race was absolutely awesome. I’ve run through those streets countless times for Lehigh cross-country training runs, and to get to race through them was incredible. Along the way, I ran into old Lehigh friends, spoke to RW readers, and even ran alongside Dean Karnazes for a few minutes. I finished in 1:37:52, which was much faster than it felt, so I was thrilled. I soon learned that Shalane had paced the female leaders for much of the race and let the winner break the tape. How freakin’ cool? I don’t think there really is another sport where an Olympian can run alongside a regular runner. Talk about reasons why I LOVE this sport! The thought of it just gives me chills.

Seeing that moment reaffirmed what I’d come to realize over the course of the weekend. Running bridges the gaps between all ages, shapes, sizes…the list could go on. I realize that sounds epically cliché, but it was truly eye-opening to see it right in front of me. I realized that an elite like Shalane really wasn’t “superhuman”–like the rest of us, she sometimes dreads those early morning runs and doesn’t mind occasionally rewarding herself with a doughnut hole or two (or three) after a workout–but that her commitment and dedication to her passion is what has elevated her to the level she’s achieved. Talk about inspiring, right?

Before I dropped Shalane off at the airport, I admitted that I needed to geek-out at her for a second and that she needed to sign my race bib – the perfect memento for a perfect weekend.

If you got to hang out with an elite runner, what would you ask them?

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Every time I fail I assume I will be a stronger person for it.” – Joan Benoit Samuelson

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