Race Report | Saucon Rail Trail 10K

Screen shot 2013-09-02 at 5.36.37 PMIf there’s one thing I’ve learned from my year of post-collegiate racing, it’s this: After crossing the finish line, head directly toward the nearest trash can or open field because I’m… about to throw up. (Don’t mind me, it’ll pass! Just gimme a sec…)

My coworker Meghan, who also won her age group at the 10K today (RW represent!), wondered out loud why we keep racing when, frankly, running so hard that you want to throw up at the finish really isn’t that much fun. Why exactly did we choose to race 6.2 miles in 90% humidity when we could’ve stayed in our cozy beds and let the thunderstorm lull us back to sleep?

Because it’s fun to test ourselves. It’s fun to be able to justify a post-race root beer float (and possibly a doughnut). It’s fun to write “PR” in your training log and decorate it with highlighters. It’s fun to endure those tough miles knowing that you might catch a second wind down the road. And it’s fun knowing that everyone around you is hurting just like you are and that they, too, made the decision to get after it instead of sleeping in today.

I know this isn’t a revolutionary realization, but today’s race reminded me that feeling like crap during a race–because let’s face it, it’s inevitable–IS FUN.

I’ll be the first to admit that there were many weekends in high school and college where I absolutely dreaded racing. Sometimes I’d be so nervous that I’d cry during warmups. Ugh.

I was afraid of the pain I knew was coming. I was afraid of the outcome, good or bad. I was afraid of what others would think of my results. I was afraid of letting myself down. You don’t need a glaring newsflash to know this isn’t a good way to go into a race.

But this morning I stood on the line with 10,000 meters ahead of me, anxious to find out what I could do. The difference between today and most of my racing career, though, was this: I was excited to see what I could do, too. I wasn’t afraid. I was confident. Granted, this wasn’t a goal race by any means, but I knew a PR and an age group (or maybe even an overall) award were within reach.

Before now, even that tiny bit of self-imposed pressure had the power to ruin a race before the gun fired. And because every race felt like the end all, be all of my running career, I was blind to the bigger picture.

A starting line is a runner’s opportunity to do something great, something meaningful. By stepping over that line, you make yourself vulnerable to both success AND failure. That moment is never wasted if you dare to cross it fearlessly in the first place. The key is to learn and grow from both outcomes. Strive for and cherish the good races; remember to accept and move beyond the bad ones.

Today was one of the good ones. I knew my legs might still feel Hood to Coast and Saturday’s 16-miler. I knew it was friggin’ humid outside. I knew that I usually avoid 10Ks at all costs. BUT I felt surprisingly fresh during my warmup, and I had a summer’s worth of speedwork and steamy lunch runs under my belt. I had nothing to lose, everything to gain.

The first three miles felt smooth and under control. I was definitely a bit fast, but lord knows I can’t go out slow and run negative splits for the life of me. I played cat and mouse with the other women around me, sticking to their hips, surging ahead before they’d pass me back. We went back and forth for the entire second half of the race. It hurt like heck, but that didn’t matter. I was competing. And it was fun. 

I even dug down deep for the final .2, missing third overall female by a second. And yes, I rushed through the chute to go gag in private and spare the poor spectating kids from witnessing a potentially nasty, but necessary scene. (Thankfully, it was a false alarm today!)

I pushed myself this morning, and it was worth it.

Annnnd an apparently meaningless 10K can inspire me to hash out the finer details of my running career. Who knew? (I certainly didn’t before I started writing this post!)

Here’s to hoping I choose to fearlessly cross many, many more starting lines knowing that I very well may end up looking like this (taken after Big Sur in April) when I finish: photoQUOTE OF THE POST: “What I’ve learned from running is that the time to push hard is when you’re hurting like crazy and you want to give up. Success is often just around the corner.” ― James Dyson

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

1150250_10101725276174613_2136966220_nJust about this time last week–it’s nearly 7 p.m. in PA at the moment–Van #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. 🙂 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–God forbid I start slower to actually let myself warm up a bit–and 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:

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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–I got a nasty gash on my shin during a night run a few years ago–so 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–our fearless driver–you 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–we left Bethlehem at 3:30 a.m.–we landed in Seattle at 1:30, somehow still wide-awake and (almost) fully functional. We met up with a group of teammates–yep, we found each other via twitter–and 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

Race Report | Golden Gate Relay

181476_10151414110247467_324454237_nI thought it would be appropriate to write this report in my current post-relay (and red-eye flight home) state of exhaustion and mild delirium because that feeling pretty much sums up my experience at the Golden Gate Relay. (So forgive any typos, lack of coherency, etc. – I’m whooped!)

For a bit of context, between our start time of 9:30 a.m. on Saturday through our finish time of 2 p.m. Sunday, I got maybe three hours of “sleep.” But those hours were logged in the back seat of a frigid van at 2 a.m. after a six-mile run with howling wind and the van lights incessantly turning on and off that kept me from falling into a deeper sleep. And I was one of the lucky ones on my team!

But sleeplessness aside, the relay made for one unforgettable weekend.

Before I dive into the nitty gritty details, here’s a quick snapshot of the race itself by the numbers:

12: Members per team (I was on Team Runner’s World/belVita) divided into two vans (I was in Van 1, Runner #6)

191: Total miles between the start in Calistoga in Napa Valley south toward the Santa Cruz finish by the ocean (Here’s a map.)

36: Total number of legs run, with each leg averaging between 3-8 miles (my legs were 4.3, 5.8, and 2.9 miles long)

28 hours, 30 minutes: The time it took our team to finish the course

111: Our place (I think?) out of 178 teams

Countless references to: “Chicken skin,” the magnificence of Twizzlers and Ritz Bits, the band One Direction, the bewilderment caused by the blazing, soul-crushing heat, followed by the freezing cold darkness, then the gail-force winds experienced, the desire to own these gems, roadkill, and the sharing of sweat, which lead to this quote:

To be honest, I was pretty anxious going into this race. After an already exhausting few weeks, heading back to California to log next to no zzzz’s, stay grimy (and stinky) for longer than is socially acceptable, go for hours without a genuine meal, live in a van all weekend, and do it all with a group of strangers was as far out of my Type-A, control/neat-freak comfort zone as Pennsylvania is to California. I’m admittedly awful at trying new things (I’m very content living in my own little bubble), but I am trying to pop it. I just couldn’t pass up this opportunity. 191 miles later, I’m happy to report that even after a rough first day, I became more and more thankful that I decided to participate.

922881_10151414109492467_237126252_nThe race began in stunning Napa Valley vineyards. But all beauty aside, it became clear from the gun that the already blazing temperatures were going to make for some sweat-soaked, unpleasant first legs. I was the last runner in our van, so I got to hear five alarmingly similar stories of how miserable everyone’s runs were. I was less than excited for my first four-mile go-around.

It didn’t disappoint. My legs spent the first two miles trying to figure out what was happening to them after a week completely off to recover from last weekend’s marathon, and my tummy fought me through to the finish. Not to mention the heat. I HATE the heat. Thankfully, my team quickly became a well-oiled machine when it came to mid-leg water (and moral support) stops!

Somehow I was still able to manage just under eight-minute pace before I handed off the bracelet. My van was then rewarded with our first big break and a late lunch from Panera. We weren’t too thrilled to already be so sweaty, but we were hopeful that our next two legs would be cooler.

On our way to the next big exchange with Van #2, my allergies (cue ceaseless sneezes the rest of the weekend) and a dull headache began to set it. Awesome. I popped some meds and tried to hide my discomfort. It wasn’t cool feeling yucky so early in the race, and I was not exactly inspired by my first run. Buhhh….

282263_10151414109942467_1303385300_nBut come the next big exchange Saturday evening, things started taking a turn for the better. A breathtaking sunset brought surprisingly cooler temperatures (thank God) and pitch black darkness. We were all suddenly bundling up – how strange, hadn’t we just been searing on the pavement a few hours earlier?

The roads were now dotted with glowing, blinking runners. At each water stop and exchange, it was entertaining trying to figure out if your runner was approaching. (Our Gear Guy was mistaken for a girl – TWICE! Ha!) I also loved realizing how strange we all must’ve looked running in the middle of the night, decked out in nerdy safety gear and bib numbers. This was clearly unlike a normal race with blocked off roads and spectators. Spotting the highlighter yellow-colored directional signs became even more of a challenge, too, adding a bit more excitement and adventure to it all.

After a rejuvenating cup of warm chicken noodle soup and a handful of Twizzlers, I started to get excited for my next leg of the race. I was eager for a bit of redemption from my crappy first run, and I was looking forward to finally seeing (and running over!) the Golden Gate Bridge. Plus, the tune from my teammates had changed drastically – they were all having amazing second runs.

Come 11:45 p.m., it was my turn to run. From the start, I could already tell how much better I felt compared to my first run. I took off down the road, hesitating at each intersection just in case a directional sign was posted. Those moments when you couldn’t see another runner, van or sign were a little unnerving, but it made it that much more exhilarating. I pounded up the hills toward the bridge, reaching it still feeling awesome. It was absolutely incredible running over the lit up Golden Gate Bridge. I had it all to myself (just two bikers zipped by going the opposite way), and I tried my best to take it all in. I crested the top and flew down the other side toward the exchange. It was way too much fun. My pace reflected that, too. I ran 7:32s for the hilly six-miler.

946914_10151414109937467_131096407_nThis sounds super obvious and cliche, but while I was running over the bridge, I couldn’t help but realize how cool and gratifying it was that our team had carried our bracelet on foot so far already together, slowly but surely making progress through those 191 miles. I’d only known my teammates for a few hours, but the unity I felt with them already, alone on that bridge, was striking.

After handing off the bracelet back to Van #2, we got our second big chunk of time off. I managed a few restless hours of sleep–my travel pillow paid for itself that night–before we pulled ourselves together for the third and final leg. Gail force winds greeted us this time, but the sunrise and now mild temperatures made for more happy miles. Two of my teammates powered up the start of the toughest portion of the course, setting up my three vertical miles to the top. I got no reprieve on the way up, but those crazy hilly training miles again paid off. Whoot! Cheers from my teammates greeted me at the top, then I handed off the bracelet one last time. With that Van #1 was DONE. We were so completely excited when we returned to the van, which was an incredible moment for all of us. =)

While Van #2 brought us home, we downed some ridiculously satisfying pizza and soda and cleaned off three runs-worth of grossness (trust me, my hair alone was terrifying at this point). Best. Feeling. Ever.

We hopped back in the van to go to the finish line on the beach so we could run in as a team. When our final runner arrived, we ran as a group through the finish line. I think we all couldn’t believe just how far we’d run in just two days. Despite the wind sandblasting us, we celebrated by putting our medals on each other. It was pretty memorable.

That night when we all said our goodbyes (we were from all over the country), I couldn’t believe how close we’d grown in such a short time. It all was totally worth it in the end, and I was thankful for having had the opportunity to experience it. Running tends to create close bonds, and this relay only expedited that process. I never thought I’d say this, but I can’t wait to do a relay again! (*ahem* NUUN HOOD TO COAST! Yay!)

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Here are some more shots taken by my teammate Mindy Rickert:

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QUOTE OF THE POST: “Runners just do it – they run for the finish line even if someone else has reached it first.” – Author Unknown

Race Report | Big Sur International Marathon

484561_10200887983740417_1146771719_nTo say the Big Sur International Marathon course is stunning, breathtaking, surreal, awe-inspring, and downright b-e-a-U-tiful is an understatement. Holy freakin’ smokes. I still can’t really believe that I ran on it. For this reason, I included three slideshows (one for pre-race, race, and post-race shots) to try to somehow capture its magnificence. To be honest, the photos only capture a fraction of the route’s grandeur. More on this later – had to put that out there because you can’t really start a Big Sur Marathon recap without saying that this place might just be heaven on earth. Anywho…

Our Big Sur taste-buds were whetted with a drive down Highway 1 in, get this, a red Mini Cooper. We took in the sights, dipped our toes in the Pacific Ocean, flirted with some high school boys chucking Red Vines at us while we were stuck in traffic, and took a pit stop for the world’s most delicious strawberries. Umm…can we stay…like…forever? After a full day of travel on Friday, we arrived in Monterey exhausted, but completely excited for the weekend.

I had very mixed emotions about this race. I desperately needed to escape the endless stream of all things Boston Marathon. (That laughter-filled first road trip on Highway 1 thankfully provided that.) But for that very same reason, this race took on a whole new level of significance. Running Boston to Big Sur wasn’t just a fun physical challenge anymore. For me (and for every runner on that course Sunday morning), it symbolized the beginning of the healing process. It was one of the first steps toward proving that the running community is strong, resilient, and just can’t be stopped.  We might’ve been hundreds of miles away, but you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing a Boston Marathon race shirt or jacket. It was a powerful sight to say the least. For many reasons, I knew this race would be unlike any I have ever run.

After expo-ing all day Saturday (where I met a Challenger who’s a fellow El Pasoan! AHH!), the girls and I got dinner on the wharf. We had the most eccentric, hysterical waiter who literally tempted us with strawberry-topped desserts by waving them in front of our faces before serving one to another customer. (Yes, I gave in and ordered some. Nom.) We visited the sea lions on the dock–cue the aargh, aargh, aargh sounds!–before the highlight of the evening: the course tour. Our gear guy Jeff drove Hannah, Beachy and I from the finish to the start and back. And let me put it this way, I spent the whole ride exclaiming, “We get to RUN on this tomorrow! WOW! Look at that!” I was beyond excited to put my bib on and run.

Pre-Race Photos

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On race morning, after getting excited at all of our Runner’s World Challengers in the lobby, we loaded the buses for our hour-long ride to the start. The darkness and eerie fog made this drive unique from my two other pre-marathon bus rides. It only fueled my anticipation for the race.

When we arrived, the runner’s village was buzzing. I’m seriously growing to love this road-racing atmosphere. It truly is a celebration. The girls and I tied our #Run4Boston yellow and blue ribbons in our hair, applied some last-minute Body Glide, snapped some pre-race shots, and made our way to the start.

While we waited for the air horn, the official starter, a representative from the Boston Marathon named Ron Kramer, took the microphone. He spoke about what this race meant for Boston, then began a moment of silence for the victims followed by an uproar of applause for all of the heroes from that day. The crowd then joined together to sing the National Anthem. Another powerful moment. The crowd was ready to run.

The always exhilarating rush of nervous excitement carried me through the first few miles. I’d decided to run this race “naked,” in other words, without a watch, because I didn’t want to be glued to my GPS screen. The goal was to listen to my body, soak in the sights, let my mind wander, and just run. I ran with my colleague Jen for the first four or five miles, taking an easy pace before we reached the coast.

Surprisingly, I felt really good, so I decided to pick up the pace and have a little fun. A convoy of cars, one of which carried my coworkers Bart Yasso, Amby Burfoot, and our brand editor Warren, provided some early words of encouragement. Once we reached the ocean, I was instantly struck by the beauty surrounding me. The sun was out, the air was cool, the ocean a gorgeous shade of blue that perfectly complemented the towering green mountains on my right. It wasn’t long before I yanked my phone out to snap some photos. I held my phone the rest of the way, taking photos while I ran. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • The taiko drummers whose beats echoed through the entire valley before we started our ascent up Hurricane Point at Mile 10. This was like my high school drum line on steroids. Check ’em out (and excuse my awkward moment of bliss at the end):
  • The glorious downhill afterward that carried us toward the famous Bixby Bridge and the equally famous piano man just after the halfway point. He played “A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri when I ran by. Imagine running in that epic setting listening to this:
  • Literally feeling those crazy hill-filled training runs pay off. I cruised up every hill and loved every downhill. I had no clue what pace I was going, but it didn’t matter–I was having a blast.
  • The hysterical mile markers along the way (there are a few in the slideshow). Those Californians have a sense of humor, that’s for sure.
  • Running into Beachy and Cait and a few of the Challengers along the way. Out of all of the people in the race, it was awesome seeing familiar faces!
  • The too-yummy-to-be-real strawberry I ate at Mile 24. Again, can I just stay here, please?
  • Seeing Boston Marathon race shirts and bibs on literally every inch of that course. Along the way, one such woman commented on my ribbons. We chatted briefly about Boston, then she perfectly summarized our feelings about running this race after Boston. She said, simply, “This is a happy run.”

Race Photos

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I continued to feel great until, you know, “The Wall” around mile 20 or 21. All the fun I had with the hills came back to bite me. I started cramping in my quads and hips, so I slowed my pace and settled into survival mode for the final miles full of more rolling hills in the Highlands paired with some yucky road camber. I was thankful I didn’t have my watch to see how much I’d slowed down. After what we’ve called “an insult” of a final hill, the course ended with a downhill toward the finish line. The satisfaction of finishing a marathon never ceases to amaze me. It’s addicting. On Sunday, I finished for those who couldn’t in Boston.

I was greeted by Bart, Warren, and the Boston Marathon representative afterward. He asked me if I was able to finish Boston, then congratulated me on my races. I tried to thank him for being there, but I’m pretty sure it was some garbled nonsense. I was spent. Still, after spending much of the race reflecting on all that happened in Boston, it was again, another powerful moment.

I wobbled over to our tent, pulled on some dry clothes, snagged a smoothie, and headed back toward the finish line area to wait for Hannah to finish. Before I knew it, I spotted her cruising toward the line, smiling while she ran. I can’t tell you how awesome it was to witness her finishing her first marathon. It’s such a life-changing moment, and it was incredible to see her months and miles of hard work pay off. Read her full recap here.
Post-Race Photos

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Overall, it was indeed, unlike any other race I’ve ever run, and I fully intend to run the Boston to Big Sur double again next year if I get the chance. Jen described my feelings about this race perfectly when she said running is a passport to adventures you wouldn’t otherwise have. Exactly. I ended up running 3:43:14, just under three minutes slower than what I ran in Boston 13 days earlier. And I loved every second of it.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “And that’s what you’ve taught us, Boston. That’s what you’ve reminded us — to push on. To persevere. To not grow weary. To not get faint. Even when it hurts. Even when our heart aches. We summon the strength that maybe we didn’t even know we had, and we carry on. We finish the race. We finish the race. And we do that because of who we are. And we do that because we know that somewhere around the bend a stranger has a cup of water. Around the bend, somebody is there to boost our spirits. On that toughest mile, just when we think that we’ve hit a wall, someone will be there to cheer us on and pick us up if we fall. We know that.” – President Obama, excerpt from his speech at the Boston service

Race Report | 2013 Boston Marathon

I’ve divided this post into two parts: the first will address yesterday’s tragic events at the finish line of the Boston Marathon; the second will share a few of the happier moments from the weekend because, frankly, I’m weary of reading about the sadness that now surrounds what was meant to be a euphoric, celebratory event. I’ve desperately needed a reason to smile, so, in an attempt at some shred of normalcy, I wrote up a quick race report that will hopefully make you smile, too. So, here we go…    

This was taken early Monday morning on the walk to the buses. I'm just about where the first bomb struck.

This was taken early Monday morning on the walk to the buses. I’m just about where the first bomb struck.

I sat this morning at the airport in Boston in a sort of grief-stricken stupor, trying to wrap my brain around all that’s happened in the past 24 hours. I awoke this morning to the TV replaying that infamous clip taken at the finish line. I begged my Dad to turn it off. I’d seen it on loop all afternoon yesterday while I was holed up in my hotel room just a few blocks away from the explosions, and I simply couldn’t take it anymore. A work friend put it perfectly, “I was gonna call my feeling this morning a ‘bad news hangover’ and realized the better word for it is ‘grief.'” Exactly. I put on my yellow Boston Marathon shirt–runners from around the country are wearing race shirts in support of the victims–and headed to the airport. Outside our hotel were a handful of military personnel clutching assault rifles. When I arrived at the airport, the police debriefed me. It all felt like a horrifically bad dream.

The airport was full of Boston Marathoners, all of whom were hobbling thanks to yesterday’s 26.2-mile effort, a journey that for some was cut short. But I’d venture to guess that they, like me, were trying to hide the aches pervading their legs because that post-race pain now seemed incredibly insignificant when others have lost their lives. Our hearts hurt more.

How fortunate are we that our races played out just so so that we were spared from the disaster? I’d finished maybe 40 minutes before the cannon-fire-like booms rang through the city, and my Dad had been sitting in the grandstands right across from the first bomb for over three hours. My editor Tish was on Boylston just before the second explosion, and my colleague and ’68 Boston Marathon winner Amby Burfoot was just three-quarters of a mile away before he was stopped and instructed to go home. Other friends were just meters away covering the race. (By the grace of God, all of us are safe and accounted for.)

What had been an impatient search for my father turned into a frantic one after the explosions. The crowds around me started piecing together what had happened just a couple of blocks away. I noticed a few people near me were crying. Panic started to set in. I hadn’t brought my phone with me, so I used strangers’ phones to try to contact him again. Thankfully (and miraculously), I spotted him across an intersection, saving both of us from what I’m sure would’ve been very unnerving and scary period of worrying about whether either of us were safe. When I started to process it all during the rush back to the hotel, realizing just how close we had come to the danger, I grabbed my Dad and buried my face in his chest, crying and terrified. How very fortunate we were.

I’ve spent the entire day surrounded by the tragedy. Between the man sitting beside me on the plane reading a newspaper with graphic photos of the scene on the cover to countless conversations with coworkers, my parents, and strangers at the airport, it’s all I can think about. After talking through it all day, here’s where I’m at with it all tonight:

Since this was my first Boston, my coworkers have spent the last few months showering me with stories about the unique magic that surrounds this race. I, like I’m sure every runner on that course, pictured the weekend and the race going off without a hitch, imagining turning onto Boylston, crowds screaming, then crossing the famous finish line triumphant. That this event, one that epitomizes jubilant celebrations of perseverance far deeper than finishing the race itself, is stained forever sickens me. This is not how it was supposed to happen. This is not how it played out in my head for months on end. This is not right.

I think this is why my brain is tricking me into thinking that somehow it’s not a big deal. That it wasn’t an earth-shattering, life-changing event. It’s put up a sort of barrier that’s guarding me from fully taking it all in. But then I see photos from the scene and read about those victims who didn’t make it, and it all hits me again. Realizing that so many of my close friends could’ve easily been one of the victims triggers yet another wave of emotions that I’ve been trying to suppress all day. I just can’t believe that this insane event hit so close to home. Much, much too close.

With that being said, I’m trying to focus on the positive as much as possible. That all of my friends are safe and sound fills me with an enormous amount of relief. My faith in the resiliency of the running community could not be any stronger, and I know we’ll pull through this. Though I worry about how this will affect the sport that touches every aspect of my life, I’m confident that we’ll endure and persevere. Heck, it’s what we do.

So here’s my Race Report of the 2013 Boston Marathon. Rather than a traditional recap, I wanted to share with you a handful of moments that filled my heart with joy:

  • Crying happy tears when I said bye to my Dad before loading the busses. I was so incredibly thankful to have him there to experience it all beside me. Knowing that I’d see him at the finish line made me that much more excited to start the race.IMG_0064
  • Making friends with strangers. I chatted with a Canadian woman on the bus who was running her second Boston and later, in the athlete’s village, a triathlete who was a Boston newbie like me. I also made friends with a woman in the corral who wanted to run the same pace as me, and we ran the first half of the race together. We pulled each other along, and even though I lost her around mile 14, she’s the reason I held my goal pace for as long as I did. If you’re reading this, chica, THANK YOU!
  • Spotting my coworkers Warren, Jeff, and Budd by chance near my corral just before the start. They had run the course backwards, and we hadn’t made any plans to meet each other. Finding them was completely by chance, and their last-minute words of encouragement gave me an extra dose of confidence. 529303_10151848507834838_1346390581_n
  • Witnessing the road packed full of a colorful stream of runners moving together with a common goal was powerful and moving. Mix in the spectators that lined nearly every inch of the course, and the feeling of celebration across states, nations, races, ages, backgrounds, you name it, was palpable. Talk about being a part of something much bigger than yourself.
  • The spontaneous YMCA dance mid-race. More than half the runners did the dance while running, and it was way too much fun.
  • Even though I am so not a baseball fan, I appreciated the couple of spectators with whiteboards displaying the score of the current Red Sox game. That’s dedication right there.
  • Seeing encouraging chalk-written words on the streets for Shalane and Kara. Knowing that they’d covered the same streets that I was on was incredibly cool, and they made me hopeful that the girls had had success further down the road.
  • The odd Dr Pepper craving that plagued me for the last 12 or so miles. (This was quenched later that night.)
  • Passing over each timing mat knowing that I was sending my Dad text messages about my progress. I loved knowing that I was sending him little messages telling him I was getting closer and closer to the finish.
  • The bagpiper near mile 20 that made me think of about whole family.
  • The couple times I heard “Thrift Shop,” which made me think about my brother who discovered that song (and played it for me multiple times) long before it was popular.
  • Making the final right onto Hereford, left onto Boylston. I’d been struggling during the second half of the race, but I was relieved to have a little juice left to actually run the final half mile.
  • Finding my Dad in the grandstands right before crossing the line, waving to him and blowing him a kiss. It’s a moment that I’ll remember and cherish forever. LOVE YOU DAD!
  • Finally, the outpouring of support and love from friends and family. It meant the world to me, and I thank you all so much!

Over the past 24 hours, I’ve read dozens of articles and blogs about the event. Here are a few that struck a chord with me:

So Close, Yet So Far, by Amby Burfoot

Bombing in Boston, by Lauren Fleshman

My Thoughts About Boston: Now What?, by Rebecca Pacheco

Eyewitness to Bravery, Horror, by Peter Sagal

The View From the Finish Line Photo Bridge, by Charlie Butler

Boston Marathon: Undone, by Dimity McDowell

An Old Soul Aches for a Simpler Time, by Kelsey Cannon

Love. Strength. Boston., by Pavement Runner

I also have to give a shout out to my amazing, dedicated coworkers who tirelessly reported their hearts out since all hell broke loose yesterday. Check out their work here.

QUOTE OF THE POST: Via @andrewchaklarge-2

Race Report | 2013 NYC Half

nychalfOn Tuesday, I made the last-minute decision to race Sunday’s NYC Half because heck, I’d be in the city anyway visiting friends, and I figured it would be a perfect pre-Boston training run. Plus, throughout this marathon build-up, my impatience for the big Beantown weekend has made me desperate to put my singlet and a bib on. (Side note: I’m seriously loving the fact that I’m beginning to want to race now. I used to dread race days because of the anxiety they would cause, but now all I want to do is cross every finish line I can get my feet on.)

After getting maybe three hours of sleep on Saturday night–thank you St. Patrick’s day for that brilliant decision!–I pulled myself out of bed, nibbled on a Picky Bar and tried to rehydrate a bit. My friends (who by the way are SO sweet because they got up early to take me to the start) and I hopped on the subway at 6:30 a.m. and arrived at the Central Park starting line just in time for the 7:30 gun. (I literally shed my layers, ran to my corral, hit up a porta-potty, and started the race, all within maybe ten minutes. Definitely NOT my usual pre-race routine, that’s for sure!)

The game plan for this race was to feel out the first few miles and go from there–if I felt good, I’d try to race it; if not, I’d settle in and enjoy the ride. Deep down I wanted to shoot for a PR. My fastest half is my first one I ran in Philadelphia in 2011. It was just after my cross country season ended, and my fitness from that got me a 1:35:01 finish time. I remember running a few sub-7:00 miles, and I wasn’t sure if I was at that level now. Regardless, nabbing a PR was on my radar. Why not go for it if the opportunity presented itself, right?

Sure enough, I actually felt pretty good. Despite having to weave through crowds for the first three miles, I easily hit 7:10ish pace, running through the 5K in 21:59. Central Park was absolutely stunning that early in the morning, which kept me happy and distracted. At this point, I decided to see if I could hold that pace for as long as I could.

ts2Once we finished a full six-mile loop through the park, we turned onto 7th Avenue. And holy wow was it breathtaking. The entire road was closed off for almost a mile, and I got chills taking in the view while I ran in the middle of the street between the towering buildings toward Times Square. For me, Times Square means insane chaos in the form of distracted masses of tourists and speeding taxi cabs. But this morning, the road was ours and the usual blaring NYC soundtrack was replaced with screaming spectators. I even got an unexpected shout-out from a friend on the sidelines! Needless to say, my pace picked up a bit, and I ran the fastest mile of the race.

The course then turned toward the Hudson River for a miles-worth of freezing headwinds before we started miles eight through 13 on the Westside Highway. This was my least favorite part of the course, but I was excited to still be (somewhat comfortably) hitting around 7:10 pace. The PR was becoming more and more of a possibility, so I turned my focus toward maintaining my pace for as long as I could. Around mile nine, I gave myself a recovery mile and eased up a bit because that speedy 7th Avenue mile was coming back to bite me in the a**. Thankfully, the slower mile paid off, and I was able to drop it back down to the low 7s at mile 10. Along the way, I caught a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty in the distance–how cool?!?–and we ran right beside the new Trade Center, which was a humbling experience to say the least.

When we reached mile 11, I did the math and figured out that I would be right at my PR if I ran 8-minute pace for the final 2.1 miles. I was still miraculously cruising along at 7:10 pace. A PR was definitely within reach. Talk about an awesome feeling.

I pushed the pace a much as I could for the final meters of the race and crossed the line in 1:33:31. I PR’d by exactly a minute and a half.

Post-race with the ever-incredible Kyle who graciously lugged my gear from the start to the finish. Thank you!

Post-race with the ever-incredible Kyle who graciously lugged my gear from the start to the finish. Thank you!

After the race, I spoke with my mom, and she pointed out that I was still able to have a great race despite not doing my usual, super-OCD pre-race routine. She reminded me of how in high school and college I used to get so anxious literally days before a race. I’d waste far too much energy on my nerves, and I’d freak out if I didn’t get in the proper warmup or eat the right thing. But today, all of that went out the window. I went into it with a “just get out, have fun and race if it feels right” attitude.  I ended up snagging my first PR in over a year.

Though I certainly don’t intend to repeat what I did yesterday, it’s nice to know that I can still race well even if some curveball gets thrown my way. Once again, I learned that having the right atitude about a race–especially in the final few days beforehand–plays SUCH a big role in its outcome. (This should be obvious, but as we all know, it’s an incredibly frustrating and hard lesson to learn.) Once the race starts, just focus on running. Go with how you feel at that moment, not how you think you should feel. (So what if I only got three hours of sleep? I actually felt smooth and fast!) Don’t sweat the small hiccups that you’ll inevitably experience because they’ll just weigh you down.

Overall, I’m SO happy I decided to run. The NYC Half is definitely in my top three road races I’ve ever done, and I’d highly recommend running it someday. Yesterday I realized that I’m in as good as, if not better, shape than I was in college. Now I’m even more pumped for Boston! Just 27 more days people! 27 DAYS!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams.” – Paulo Coelho