Dreaming of Dry Roads

unnamedYes, I realize that last time I blogged, I wrote about how the snow ain’t so bad. But two weeks later…

I’ve had enough of this winter!

Let me explain why I’ve changed my tune:

For yesterday’s long run, we did 13.75 miles on our hilliest, most challenging loop. Whether it’s balmy and humid or bone-chillingly cold, this quad-busting route hurts like hell. BUT, even when the inclines leave you wheezing, it rewards you with these breathtaking views of the open, rolling farmlands dotted with old farmhouses. The roads are empty. It’s amazing.

Other than my first 10-miler on a treadmill, I can’t remember the last long run I did during this training cycle that didn’t involve navigating through snow and ice. So I asked the guys if we could do the crazy hill loop because I wanted to get in a real, quality distance run for once. (No) thanks to yet another snowstorm on Saturday, we spent what felt like 13 miles of the 13.75-mile run on either a slick sheet of ice or beach sand-like snow. Not amazing.

Sure, the farmlands blanketed in white were stunning as always. But it was hard to appreciate the views when I was focused on just staying upright. Deep down, I know that the tricky terrain is a bonus workout that’s actually making me stronger. But moving at a snail’s pace up and down hills is doing absolutely nothing for my confidence. I really want to believe that these tough runs will translate into a solid spring marathon just like the slow and steamy summer runs make for a fast fall marathon. My frozen fingers and toes are crossed.

I know I could be doing these runs on the treadmill. But honestly, I just don’t have it in me to sacrifice my daily dose of fresh air when I’ve been cooped up inside even more than normal these days. At this point, though, it feels like a lose-lose situation. Extra kudos to everyone who has made the commitment to get those workouts in regardless. Teach me your ways!

The yucky part of it all is that, since I’m not running Boston as a goal race, I’m feeling even less inclined to get all of my runs in. Rather than doing four or five treadmill miles during a snow storm, I’m opting out of the workout entirely. I just can’t get into a rhythm with my training.

That said, here’s my silver lining:

Since I apparently can’t get enough of this marathon business, I’m hoping that my involuntarily scaled back training routine right now will benefit me later on this year when I’m gearing up for my goal race in October. Even though it feels like I’m cutting myself short, maybe the extra rest will keep me from burning out when I’m actually training for a PR.

I’ve still managed to do my strength routine once a week. I’d like to be going twice per week, but I’m okay with not skipping it entirely for now.

I’m trusting that, come spring and some dry, heavenly roads, I’ll feel fit and more like myself again. I had one fantastic five-miler a couple weeks ago on a warm-ish day. Here’s to hoping that more of those will happen when this Arctic tundra decides to thaw out.

The forecast says Sunday will be sunny with a high of 47 degrees. Hopefully I’ll have a decent run that’ll re-inspire me and get me mentally back on track!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “When it’s pouring rain and you’re bowling along through the wet, there’s satisfaction in knowing that you’re out there and the others aren’t.” – Peter Snell

Hey, The Snow Ain’t So Bad!

Screen Shot 2014-02-01 at 1.10.13 PMEarly Sunday morning, the temps were in the teens and, after Saturday’s snowfall, the roads still looked like God had poured a giant slushy over them. The parking lot where we usually meet was empty–mind you, this lot is never empty on Sunday mornings. On this dreadmill-worthy day, clearly we were the crazy ones. While I waited for the guys to show up, I sat in my car, toasty and not exactly in the mood to emerge into the slippery Arctic tundra for my 10-miler.

At 7 a.m., the guys arrived and started doing doughnuts through the snow in their compact SUVs. Naturally. Prerun shenanigans like this are honestly one of the few reasons I actually wake up and get my run done at all. They never fail to make me laugh, pull me out of my it’s-far-to-early-for-this-madness funk, and get me excited to run. I love them for it. Find running friends like these guys, and you’ll never skip a run again.

We lurched onto the roads and right up this steep hill beside the lot, spinning our tires… I mean… trainers the whole way up. Yep, that warmed us up! But man was this going to be a rough run. We ran through quiet, sparkling-white neighborhoods with only our voices and the crunching snow beneath our feet to break the silence. Then we reached wide open farmland with the sunrise breaking on the horizon. Stunning moments like these are what made me fall in love with Pennsylvania and remind we why I run.

A few days later, the guys decided to hit the trails at lunch. Initially I resisted the idea, preferring the finally dry roads over the potentially slippery, snow-covered trails. But I gave in to the peer pressure, so off we went… and it was amazing.

The woods had transformed into the definition of a winter wonderland. Armed with trail shoes and Yaktrax, we powered through the powder, breathing deeply and breaking a sweat despite the freezing temps. Like kids on a snow day, we devolved into goofiness (not like we don’t on a regular run), laughing the whole way up and down the mountain. The run was worth every exhausting step.

I stumbled upon a quote this week – summed up these runs perfectly:

“Nothing’s better than the wind to your back, the sun in front of you, and your friends beside you.” – Aaron Douglas Trimble

Now don’t get me wrong, I love winter. But this edition has made me seriously wish spring would hurry up and arrive already. I’m so over sliding through my training runs.

But these two runs were the best I’ve had in a while. When the rest of the world stayed cozy and warm inside, we were out embracing the snowy beauty that was SO much better than the view I would’ve had on a treadmill. I’ve got the guys to thank for that. Hey, the snow ain’t so bad after all!

QUOTE OF THE POST: (see above!)

Gearing Up for Boston to Big Sur

Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 5.12.19 PMIf you’re wondering where I’ve been for the past few months since Marine Corps, I’ve been recharging the batteries with some active downtime. I ran on my own terms, which meant running whatever distance felt right on a given day, or… not running at all. After months of rising early (and reluctantly) for long runs, staying cozy in bed on Sundays felt ahhh-mazing. I started a new core- and butt-busting gym routine with my coworkers. Dialing back on my running gave me more free time to work on my weak spots. That’s what off-seasons are for, right? I’m already feeling stronger. And finally, I went on hiatus from blogging because, honestly, I needed to take a break from analyzing every workout.

Heading into week four of training for my second Boston Marathon (and six days later, the Big Sur International Marathon), here I am feeling restored (running-wise) and ready to dust off the proverbial cobwebs of this blog. But this time around, even though I’m only ankle-deep in my training, it feels different.

One reason I’ve put off writing this post is because I’m not really sure how to put into words how I feel about this training cycle and what I want to learn from it. One thing I do know is that unlike last year, this race won’t be about setting a PR. It’ll be about joining 36,000 other runners to reclaim the Boston Marathon. I want to run for those who can’t. I want to run to celebrate all of the good that has emerged from the bad. And I want to really feel the emotional highs and lows during the race. What I don’t want is to cloud all of that with my own goals and expectations. Like last year, though, in the epic setting that is Highway 1 along the coast of California, I’ll run Big Sur to embrace how incredible our sport is and to remember why we run in the first place. I think Big Sur will always be a sort of redemption run for me.

With that said, I think Sunday’s long run may have offered an answer:

At 7 a.m., I found myself shivering in the darkness. I was so NOT in the mood to do my 14-miler in 18-degree temps. I wondered, Why, why do I do this to myself again? I’ll admit, my attitude stunk and it stayed that way for most of the run. Even the guys’ goofiness couldn’t shake me out of my frozen, unhappy state. But with a couple miles to go, the sun finally broke out from behind the clouds, drenching the creek and snow-covered trees in warmth. It was stunning. That moment alone lifted my spirits and made the run worth it.

So what do I want out of this training cycle? Rather than focusing too much on mile spits or how many workouts I squeeze in per week, I want to soak in my surroundings, feel the fresh air move in and out of my lungs, and do my best not to resent my ability to push my body and feel it in motion. I want to appreciate those beautiful moments like the one I experienced Sunday morning. During my downtime when I wasn’t running as much as usual, I discovered that I felt most like myself while I was running. Not running made me want to run. (Surprise, surprise, right?) I want to tap into that feeling as often as possible from now on!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “To run outside surrounded by a beautiful natural setting where the air is crisp and cool, the sun is shining, and all I can do is admire my surroundings and listen to my body in motion.” – Jonathan Steckel, an RW Challenger

P.S. Dr. Jordan Metzl created the wicked-tough workout I mentioned above. Called IronStrength, a video series of the routine can be found over at Runner’s World dot com. Here’s a taste:

– 6 sets jump squats (x15), rotatory planks (5 each arm)
– 3 sets rows from plank (x10), pushups (x10), situps with weights (x10)
– 3 sets lunge plyos (x10), alternating sides of hamstring plyos (x5 front, side and rear) in between.
– 3 sets mountain climbers (x10), legs down (x10)
– 4 sets deadlift high pull (x5), biceps curls on single leg (x5), overhead press on other leg (x5)
– planks (60 secs; side, down, side)

Rest and Re-Inspiration

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

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

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

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

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

RW1213_COV_spread

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

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

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

Race Report | 2013 Marine Corps Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo 2

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

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

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

Race Report | 2013 Runner’s World Half & Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And with that emotional start, we were off!

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

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

photo 3photo

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

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

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

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

Smarty pants.

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

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

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

MCM Training | The Final Countdown

A quote from Lauren Fleshman - my mantra for MCM.

A quote from Lauren Fleshman – my mantra for MCM.

This morning I finished my last real long run of 15 miles before diving head-first into the “taper crazies” a.k.a. “maranoia.” After two weekends with my twitter feed full of amazing race results, I won’t lie, I’m itching for it to be my turn. I’m so curious/excited/anxious to see what I can do two weeks from now on October 27 because I know I have a solid race in me. I feel like I’m due for a good marathon, one where I’m running smart from the gun, smiling at the spectators, and just cruising along, enjoying and embracing the ride (at least until mile 18 or 20!). It’s been just over a year since I ran my first 26.2, and I haven’t run as fast since. BUT I’ve got four marathons worth of experience and a solid 14 weeks of training under my belt, so I’m feeling confident that good things will come.

Since Steamtown was my best marathon yet, the goal for this build-up was to replicate last year’s training but supplement it with strength, yoga, and speed sessions. (Here’s my first post about my game plan). I’m pretty pumped to say that that happened. Sure, I wasn’t perfect from start to finish. But this time around was a vast improvement over last year. I’m feeling fitter overall and have been able to finish many of my long runs with some race pace miles instead of slow-painful slogs that defined the end of those runs last year.

To recap this cycle, I flipped back through the pages of my Believe I Am training log (and my log from last year) to see how it all shakes out by the numbers:

(2013 Marine Corps Marathon Training | 2012 Steamtown Marathon Training)

Total Mileage: 475.5 (34/week) | 456 (32/week)

# of Workouts/Speed Sessions: | 3

I did my best to do one speed session per week (not including race weeks) to maintain the quicker leg turnover I gained over the summer. Not only did it change things up a bit, but those sessions got me to push myself harder than I would on long runs. I also managed to eek out a post-collegiate 5K and mile PR and a 10K PR. And PRs are always good confidence boosters!

# of Two-a-Days: 5 | 1

I typically take two days off per week, so doing these doubles allowed me to sneak in a few extra miles and teach my body to run on tired legs. Most of these runs were quicker efforts, too. I learned that I’m a big fan of two-a-days, and I definitely plan to integrate them into my training in the future! Read about my first double that I did with my local running store here.

# of Gym Workouts: 16 | 0

I went from not being able to do a push-up or two to knocking out eight+ controlled, arms-tucked-in ones. I’ve also reached a new bench press PR of 80 pounds. I can’t say I’ve ever really had this much upper body strength, and it feels good to not be so one-dimensional with my fitness. I’ve also discovered how to enjoy planks–which I used to avoid like the plague–and will happily do any variation of them.

# of Yoga Sessions: 9 | 0

I can’t stress how much yoga benefited me this cycle. My Monday yoga sessions became a staple post-long run recovery tool, helping me stretch out, loosen up, build strength, and relax. I really believe yoga and running go hand in hand.

Screen shot 2013-10-13 at 4.20.17 PM

Races: 4 – Steps4Stellar 5K, Hood to Coast, Saucon Rail Trail 10K, Fifth Avenue Mile |
4 – Revolutionary Run 10K, LVRR 5K, Falmouth Road Race (7 miles), Fifth Avenue Mile

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I wasn’t sure I how felt about chronicling this training cycle from start to finish, but I won’t lie, it’s been worth it. I’ve been able to jot down what when well, work through rough patches, and keep myself honest with my goals. It’s amazing to look back and read about all that went down in just 14 weeks, from the high highs to the low lows. I plan on re-reading it all in the days before the race, too, to remind myself to trust in my training. I hope to go into Marine Corps with the same mindset that I had before Steamtown – I was genuinely happy, purely excited to just see what I could do. Not a single negative thought crept into my mind. I stayed calm and in control. I didn’t become intimidated by the distance. I just kept pressing forward. I ran smart. I ran by feel. I started slow, reigning in the horses so I’d have some juice left for the end. I didn’t stress about the outcome or worry over every mile split. I just ran. That’s what I’m hoping to do at MCM.

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Between now and the big day, I’m doing my last training run at the Runner’s World Half & Festival. My parents and youngest brother will be in town, which is beyond awesome. My dad is going to run…no crush his first half-marathon, and words can’t express how much I can’t wait to see him accomplish this goal he’s worked toward for months. Just thinking about it literally fills my heart with joy. Ahh!

I’ll write a recap of the weekend early next week and possibly share one last update before the race. Can’t wait to kick off the next few weeks of racing!

QUOTE OF THE POST:   ontheline500