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

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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

Packing List For Hood to Coast With NUUN

htc_300x300*** Update: This might be a tad old, but I have to say, this list totally worked. Comment below if you have any relay-related questions!

Okay, I can’t believe we’re only a MONTH away from the Hood to Coast relay with Nuun! It’s one of those things I forget about, then remember again only to become more and more excited. Oregon. Team Watermelon. So soon!

To keep me occupied until Hannah and I are finally on our West Coast-bound plane, I’m starting up this packing list (to build on this one, which also includes some tips) so I don’t forget anything. (I’m excluding the obvious things like toiletries, because, hey, we all know we need Body Glide!) I’ll keep adding to it as I think of things, and share your relay essentials, too!

1. iFitness belt (or something similar) – I carried my phone and emergency info in this just in case I got lost or had to stop. I also attached my bib to it so I didn’t have to pin/unpin it between legs.

2. Travel pillow – Sleep is key. This’ll help make that uncomfortable van a tad more cozy and make dozing off easier on the plane.

3. Car charger for your phone

4. Small towel and/or moist towelettes/baby wipes  Showers are rare, so a sweat rag is a must.

5. Flip flops – To wear between legs and in the shower if we get access to ’em!

6. Cozy clothes – Bring a sweatshirt/long sleeve shirt and sweats to change into when you’re done running. Again anything to make that van more comfy is essential.

7. Headlamp/reflective vest – Your van should provide this, but if you don’t feel like sharing sweaty gear, bring your own!

8. Three sets of running clothes – Unless you really want to pull on that stinky sports bra for round two. Pro tip from Lisa @runwiki: “Put each running outfit in a gallon-sized zip lock with the leg number on the outside. Then after you run a leg, put the wet sweaty clothes back in so that they don’t get your dry, non-running clothes wet.” ***YES! Pack your base layers (socks, undies, sports bra, singlet, and shorts) for each leg in ziplocks. Then after each leg, change into your next fresh set ASAP. Anything to keep you from feeling grimy is key.

9. Plastic grocery bags – To double as a laundry bag and keep dirty clothes separate from clean ones.

10. A layer for any weather – That means a water-resistant jacket, a slightly heavier top, maybe tights, etc. The weather can change drastically over the course of the race, so come prepared. Don’t get stuck running in freezing wind in just a singlet. 

11. 2 pairs of running shoes – Just in case it rains! (Via Jess at Blonde Ponytail)

12. Compression socks

13. Cap/sunglasses

14. Colgate Wisps – An easier solution to the toothbrush/paste and water bottle method. (Via Kimberly @healthy_strides)

And as tough as this may be (girls, I know we like to pack like this), bring only the essentials in as small a bag as possible. You’re sharing a van with six other people (and their stuff, too), so you’ll want to pack as lightly as possible.

What else should I add to the list? Let me know in the comments section below!

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

Big News! I’m Running Hood To Coast With Team Nuun!

htc_300x300Now that life has finally started slowing down, I ecstatic to formally announce that I’m going to be on Team Nuun for this year’s Hood to Coast relay! I couldn’t be more thankful and honored for the opportunity to create new, real-life bonds with a group of seriously inspirational women runners. And now that I’ve done my first relay, I know exactly how epic they are. In the words of Kristen Wiig from SNL: “I’m so FREAKIN’ excited!

If you’ve never heard of this race, Hood to Coast is a 198-mile long, 12-person relay from, get this, the top of Mt. Hood to the Pacific Ocean in Seaside… in OREGON! (I’ve been dying to go to Oregon forever now, so this fact alone makes me pretty darn happy). Not to mention it’s been dubbed the “Mother of all Relays.” Talk about the perfect setting for some Nuun-fueled scenic running and friendship forming!

Here are the official Nuun teams – I’m on Team Watermelon (heck yes!): 934997_10100500019249470_494126289_nLearn a bit more about my awesome teammates by checking out their blogs below:

Team Watermelon – 

Mallory – Run Eat Run Eat

Kara – Welcome to Karadise

Hannah – Fit Girl Happy Girl

Sarah – Run Far Girl

Catey – Random Thoughts from the Zoo

Meghan – Shoe Stories

Lisa – Run Wiki

Lindsay – Twisted Running

Devon – Dev on Running

Team Lemonade – 

Leslie – Triathlete Treats

Lisa – Lisa Runs for Cupcakes

Jolene – Journey of a Canuck Mom on the Run

Andrea – the MF Dre

Kristen – Defy Your Limitations

Kimberly – Healthy Strides

Karen – Reason to Play

Jesica – runladylike

Jenny – We Wander and Ponder

Holly – Leaps of Faith

And here’s a shapshot of what my legs will look like (I’m so ready to take on that “very hard” middle leg!). Let’s go Van #2!Screen Shot 2013-05-07 at 11.13.08 AM

Thanks again to Nuun for selecting me to your team! I really can’t express how excited I am to take part in what I’m sure will be an unforgettable weekend!

Now I’m certainly no relay expert yet, but since my first is still so fresh in my mind, here are a few tips, tricks, and FYI’s I learned at the Golden Gate Relay:

  • Invest in a travel pillow! It’s pretty small and will make the unfortunately very uncomfortable van a bit more bearable when you’re attempting to sneak some sleep in between your runs.
  • Also invest in your own headlamp…unless you’re into using a still-damp one from your teammates. Yuck! We’re going to get to know each other very well, but sharing sweat is a little too personal.
  • Pack for any kind of weather regardless of what the forecast says. I experienced both blazing heat and freezing, gail-force winds in a 30-hour period. It was lovely.
  • Bring cozy clothes and flip-flops for the time in between legs. You’ll want to shed those sweaty layers ASAP, and there’s nothing better than a dry, warm sweatshirt. Speaking of sweaty clothes, also bring a few plastic bags to dump those in post-run.
  • Because showers are few and far between, a small hand towel or moist towelettes are a must.
  • Eat real meals when you can, especially if you’ve got more than an hour or so before your next leg. It might not be your ideal pre-run food, but you’re body with appreciate something more than Twizzlers and crackers. That being said, also bring/buy foods that do work for you, too!
  • Same rule applies for bathroom breaks. Have the chance to use a real bathroom instead of a porta-potty? Use it.
  • Bring a car charger for your phone. For obvious reasons, you won’t spend much time near an actual outlet all weekend.
  • Give up worrying about your appearance (or body odor for that matter) from the start. We’re hardcore women running a relay, right! =) When I finally got to shower and looked in the mirror, I realized I looked like a frazzled, sweaty mess, but I figured, eh, whatever! Made that first shower that much sweeter, though!
  • Via Leslie at Triathlete Treats: When packing, pack all three sets of clothes in seperate big ziplocks and post-run just put the sweaty clothes back in the bag.
  • Finally, if you’ve never run a relay and have a question about running one that I didn’t talk about above, post a question in the comments section below! Add your own tip, too, if you’d like!  

QUOTE OF THE POST: Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. – Helen Keller

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