What a Whirlwind of a Year

photoA couple weeks ago was my alma mater’s graduation day, and a couple weeks before that was my one-year “run-iversary” (I consider mine May 4, the day of my last collegiate race, because I couldn’t tell you what day I started running!). And somewhere in there was my official one-year anniversary at Runner’s World. Seriously, say what? It’s been a whole year?!?

The last time I spoke with my Dad, he said, “Can you believe how much you’ve experienced in just one year?”

After falling right back in sync with my college teammates like nothing had changed, like the year had been shortened to maybe a month, I genuinely can’t believe how different a runner I am today. I’m thankful to report that I’m still just as in love with the sport as I was a year ago. I’d even venture to say that that passion has grown deeper. Career-wise, to say it’s been eye-opening is an understatement.

So here’s what happened this year and a bit of what I learned along the way:

  • I helped cover two major marathons that (unexpectedly) turned into major nationwide events: At the New York City Marathon press conference, I sat beside one of my professional and running idols Amby Burfoot as NYRR CEO Mary Wittenburg announced the cancellation of one of the world’s most famous marathons. After the Boston Marathon, my post was published on runnersworld.com, and the positive feedback I received played an essential role in the healing process. Interviewing witnesses of the tragedy further helped me process all that had happened. After both events, I watched the stellar RW staff pull together two of the most powerful issues I’ll likely ever be a part of in my career. They are the very definition of professionals. I can only aspire to be even a little bit like them in the future. And in both instances, I witnessed the running community unite to support each other and complete strangers. All around, very powerful experiences.      
  • I ran FOUR marathons! I still remember the spring of last year when I registered for my first marathon. I spent the rest of the day in sheer disbelief that I’d just paid $80 to run 26.2 miles…voluntarily. Turns out, it became one of my all-time favorite experiences so far in life. 104.8 miles later, I can say I learned: that following my veteran colleagues’ advice will more than pay off, to respect the distance (feeling like crap at mile 10 sucks) but then discover that mystical “marathon magic,” that the running community is far greater and more awe-inspiring that I ever imagined, and that runners can endure far more than the 26.2 miles in front of them.
  • I started this blog! Beyond helping me grow as a writer, this digital diary has introduced me to SO many incredible runners. Having a platform to share experiences with others and compare notes on all things running has been way too much fun. (I now understand why y’all do it! =) ) I get totally engrossed reading blogs, virtually taking part in your running world. I’ve learned so much, and I’ve grown as a runner and person. I really can’t thank y’all enough for the words of support and encouragement. I hope you know that you have inspired me, too!   
  • I took up running naked (meaning sans watch, not actually naked, hah) most days and adopted what my boss calls “secondhand training.” It’s been a pretty drastic, but freeing change that’s helped me enjoy running for what it is, plain and simple. Rather that worrying over my paces or what workout is coming up on the calendar, I’ve embraced the spontaneity and learned how to love racing again. Let me put it this way: I PR’d after a day (and night’s) worth of St. Patrick’s Day shenanigans, just four hours of sleep, and arriving to the race maybe five minutes before the gun. Compare that to my college self who would hyper-worry over every pre-race meal and warmup drill. Personally, I like modern-day, let’s-just-have-fun-and-see-what-the-day-brings Megan.

And for some not-nearly-as-life-changing, but still pretty sweet highlights:

  • I ran up the Empire State Building and got my butt whooped by Kelly Ripa along the way.
  • I ran my first long-distance, over-night road relay and learned what it’s like not to shower or sleep for 30 hours straight.
  • I met the U.S. women’s marathoning trifecta: I ate Dunkin’ doughnut-holes with Shalane Flanagan, told Colt that his mommy Kara Goucher is one of my running heroes, and ran into (and probably scared the s*** out of) Desi Davila at our hotel at the Walt Disney World Marathon.
  • My current track record for throwing up after a marathon is 50/50. So there’s that.
  • I won the media heat of the 5th Avenue Mile. (It’s not as impressive at it sounds, honestly).
  • I got Nick Symmonds’ sweat on my jacket when he hugged me at the Millrose Games. He’s an incredibly nice guy, and it was very cool getting to meet him in person. (And seriously, where can I sign up to be a contestant on The Bachelor if he ends up being on the show?)
  • I lost whatever upper-body strength that I once had (and likely–hopefully?–channeled that “strength” toward those absurdly long marathon training runs).
  • I ran over the Golden Gate Bridge at midnight and through a closed-down Times Square.
  • I learned how to snot-rocket in motion.
  • I freaked out my 10-year-old self when I met “Figure it Out” (from Nickelodeon, remember that 90s kids?) host Summer Sanders and was meters away N’SYNC member Joey Fatone.
  • I’ve held an Olympic gold medal. Literally made my heart race.
  • I can now run or race at all hours of the day or night, thanks to Disney’s 5:30 a.m. race starts and the midnight relay legs.
  • I’ve done a lunch run in a tutu and did a (totally legit) stair-climb race at RW HQ.
  • I began blogging for–and therefore became friends with–Lauren Fleshman. Love this girl and everything she represents. ‘Nuff said.
  • I’ve almost gotten over being star-struck around elites. This past year, I’ve met or been in the presence of: Bernard Lagat, Meb Keflezighi, Evan Jager, Kim Smith, Alysia Montaño, Hannah England, Anna Pierce, Matt Centrowitz, Leo Manzano, Stephanie Rothstein-Bruce, Jenny Simpson, Brenda Martinez, Mary Cain, Jordan Hasay, Molly Huddle, Amy Hastings, Derrick Adkins, Dean Karnazes, (…and I’m sure a few more) and the legends Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, Joan Benoit Samuelson, and Katherine Switzer. Crazy.

Since it was such a whirlwind of a first year in the “real world,” I wanted to take the time to collect all that happened in one place so future me can go back and remember it. Looking back on this year, all I can say is that I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunities my work has given me and the people who I work with who have made me a better, happier runner. It’s opened my eyes to how truly unique the running community is, and I’m reminded every day of how lucky I am to be a part of it. Runners are a different, but brilliant breed. This year–maybe more than any in at least my life time–this fact was all the more apparent. And I got a front-row seat. What a whirlwind.

Here’s to another incredible year!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Keep your head up, keep your heart strong.” – Shalane Flanagan

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

Friday Faves | Lots of People Being Awesome

I’m writing this week’s Friday Faves tonight because I am catching an early plane to California (again) in the morning for the Golden Gate Relay! Sheeesh I’m turning into Bart Yasso. Here’s some cool stuff from this week:

  • Seriously wish I had these mad 10K cheering skills back in college. Alexi Pappas, I salute you chica. Jordan, no wonder you are SO fast!
  • Via @levelrenner, Marathon Sports on Boylston is BACK!Screen shot 2013-05-02 at 8.52.57 PM
  • RW Gear Guy Jeff Dengate totally photo-bombed me at the Bixby Bridge: BJM7w0WCIAAGt1qMuch like actor Kevin Spacey did in Boston Common this past week. Hysterical: images
  • My boss David Willey’s AWESOME response to the NY Post’s infuriating, ignorant article:
  • 10 Tips For Running the Big Sur International Marathon AND Why You Shouldn’t Be Nervous For Your First Marathon via my girl Hannah. Exactly right.
  • And because this is so freakin’ funny (and sounds like something you’d hear at RW HQ, too). Thanks for sharing Nick!:

Also, this Saturday is my one year “Runiversary” a.k.a. the day I started running for myself. =) Stay tuned for a post on that (and a Golden Gate Relay recap) soon!

QUOTE OF THE POST: Don’t cry over the past, it’s gone. Don’t stress about the future, it hasn’t arrived. Live in the present and make it count.