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

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Friday Faves | Uplifting Moments

Here are a few things (a bit from this week and a bit from last) that made me smile, laugh, and warmed my heart:

  • I don’t know if I could love this cover of Boston Magazine any more. It’s downright perfect. Read about its conception from the magazine’s editor-in-chief here, and read Hannah’s interview for RW about it hereBostonMagCover_0
  • Speaking of shoes, some speedy women wore these kicks at the Boston Marathon:
  • Perfect. Y’all deserve a Boston Marathon spectators-sized round of applause.
  • Across the pond at the London Marathon…amazing support.BIZrP6CCcAA9di9

And the non-Boston related favorites of the week:

  • My girl Hannah at @fithappygirl is running her FIRST marathon at Big Sur on Sunday! Suppressing excitement over this. =D Read her pre-race post here.
  • This unexplainable video that’s produced many much-needed laughs this week:
  • And finally the belated BIG news: I’m on the Hood to Coast Nuun Relay team! I can’t tell you how excited I am to a) meet the rest of my awesome teammates and b) go to Oregon! AHHHHHHH! Happy news!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “I learned, one, you shouldn’t ever quit. And I learned, two, you’ll never be able to explain it to anybody.” – Jim Ryun

P.S. Headed to the Big Sur International Marathon today! Stay tuned for a Race Report!

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

Friday Faves | BOSTON, BOSTON, BOSTON

Here I am, typing this out from my hotel room in BOSTON! I cannot really wrap my brain around it all, but it’s slowly starting to sink in. (I snagged an official jacket earlier this afternoon (see below) – I feel so “official!”) For obvious reasons, this week’s Friday Faves is all about Beantown. I’ve included a bit of what I’ve seen today, too! Here we go!

  • Via @whitrunsthis:
    large
  • While I waited to interview Serena Burla, I chatted with Kara’s husband, Adam, while he held Colt during Kara’s interviews. I told him how neat it was to finally “meet” Colt in person and asked him if Colt recognized his mommy on TV during her races. (He does! *Cue cuteness overload!*) It was incredible seeing the pro runner + motherhood dynamic – all I can say is Kara does it with grace.
  • Insanity. Enough said.
  • Thanks to the ever-wonderful RW Facebook fans and Twitter followers, I pulled together this Boston Marathon advice-filled article full of insanely inspiring tips from Beantown vets. Gave me chills!
  • I found out what’s written inside these amazing uniforms for Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher today. In Shalane’s, it reads “Dare to be different.” In Kara’s, “Courage to believe.” LOVE.

    oawib

  • THANK YOU TED! =)
  • I wrote about the awesome Americans flying under the radar on Monday, Stephanie Rothstein-Bruce and Serena Burla. Check it out here.
  • This is sort of Boston-related, but I HAD to share: Lauren Fleshman is officially writing for RW! The tweet below includes a bit of the awesomeness (and click the link to read it, too!)
  • And here are some shots from the weekend so far!
Kara's Boston Banner!

Kara’s Boston Banner!

The finish line is being set up! So ridiculously cool.

The finish line is being set up! So ridiculously cool.

The girls at the press conference. (Ignore the dude's head!) This was the first time I've seen both of them together, and man, they giggled the entire time. It's obvious how close they are!

The girls at the press conference. (Ignore the dude’s head!) This was the first time I’ve seen both of them together, and man, they giggled the entire time. It’s obvious how close they are!

The jacket. And man is it schnazzy.

The jacket. And yep, it is pretty schnazzy.

Stay tuned for updates throughout the weekend–probably more on twitter than here depending now how busy I am–and my race report early next week! To everyone running Boston, GOOD LUCK!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Here’s my mantra: ‘Every mile is a gift.'” – Amby Burfoot, winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon.

Friday Faves | Boston…Because, Heck, We’re Only 15 Days Out!

Sorry everyone, this is a day late! (Crazy busy day at work yesterday, but I digress…Better late, than never!) Here are a few things that got me excited this week:

  • For starters, Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher ROCKED the 10-K at Stanford last night. (Shalane nabbed the World A-standard, and Kara was just over a second off of it! Whoo!) I’ll definitely be thinking about what’s happening a few miles down the road in Boston during the race. These ladies certainly have a shot at doing something special on April 15!

    And this, which makes my inner track nerd freak out a little:

  • I successfully snot-rocketed WHILE running yesterday. Guess I finally got over my fear of getting it all over my face. A killer cold’ll do that to ya, huh? On a related note, my coworkers are snot-rocketing masters:
  • Truth:
  • Even Shalane gets the marathon taper crazies!
  • I think I might just have to start doing this, too.
  • And to close, what an awesome perspective:

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.” – John D. Rockefeller

Race Report | Walt Disney World Goofy Challenge

goofyback

The back of my Goofy Challenge medal.

1 Marathon

1 Half-Marathon

2 Days, 4 Theme Parks

39.3 Miles

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

desi

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

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

Now, on to the races:

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

The Half-Marathon:

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

pre-race

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

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

Prerace

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

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

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

The Marathon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

finishline

Could not have been happier to finish!

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

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

medals

The bling – well worth the 39.3-mile effort.

kilt

Now that’s MY kind of racing skirt!

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

Robert

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

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

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

bib

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

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

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

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My Weekend With Shalane Flanagan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read my other Race Reports here