Running on gluten-free carbs…

Archive for May, 2013

The Glo Run – Louisville, KY (May 25, 2013)

Me after finishing The Glo Run - Louisville, Kentucky

Me after finishing The Glo Run – Louisville, Kentucky

Race: The Glo Run

Place: Waterfront Park, Louisville, Kentucky

Date: May 25, 2013

Time: 22:16* (UNTIMED EVENT)

It occurred to me at the Run For The Berries 5K earlier in the day that I had gotten lost somewhere in this crazy world of road racing.  Somewhere along the way, I just sort of expected to win my age division…or at least place.  And I hadn’t realized what sort of effect that had on me until I ran one of my fastest 5Ks and didn’t place at all in my division.  I was a mess of emotions over that…but mostly disappointed.

And I realized…somewhere along the way…while I still had fun…I was missing out on the fun of just simply running the races.  I placed such high expectations on myself, or thought if I didn’t place, I’d let down my family and friends.  I was wrong, of course, but it was a nice reality check to have.  As I’ve said before, 5K races are not my forte, as speed is not my friend at all.  Endurance and I get along a lot better.  So, how I lost sight of that is beyond me.  But my focus is back…and I have this untimed fun run to thank for it.

Novelty races are all the rage right now.  Last year, I was signed up to do the first year of The Color Run when it hit Louisville.  But, I tore my plantar fascia in a race just before that one and was on crutches.  No running in The Color Run for me.  I didn’t care that it was untimed.  That was part of the joy of it.  It was billed as the Happiest 5K on the planet…and there is a reason.  Everyone runs…for fun.  There is no stress of trying to PR or beat out the competition.  It’s all about getting as much paint on you as possible and just having a blast.

I might have missed out on The Color Run, but when the opportunity came up (and a nice Groupon offer too) for The Glo Run here in Louisville, Kentucky…I knew I wanted to be a part of the novelty race experience.  I registered with the Groupon discount and prepped myself for what would be a different experience indeed.  It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve raced in the black of night…but it was my first untimed novelty race.  And that…was part of the experience.

Packet pick-up was at Fleet Feet on Friday.  Cathy and I drove over there on lunch to pick everything up.  I got my choice of either a pink or yellow florescent shirt for the race.  I chose pink.  Yellow looks awful on me.  I also got two glow sticks and a pair of glow glasses.  Fully stocked with glowing goodness, we departed to return to work…then to go home.  I was making a homemade gluten-free pizza that night (no eating out this time, despite me having 2 races on Saturday).

After running in the Run For The Berries 5K that morning, then spending most of the afternoon on my feet finishing up grocery shopping and running errands, I knew that this would be a throw-away as it was.  I changed into the brightest and craziest running clothes I could conjure up in my wardrobe…which meant my crazy-awesome running shorts with the florescent designs throughout them.  My bright orange tech shirt.  I chose my bright pink compression socks and, despite the chance for rain, put on my new pair of Nike’s.  I got my number pinned on and grabbed a hoodie to take with me.  It was currently about 67 degrees out.  So it was nice, but when the sun went down…and if they rain moved in…who knew what the weather would be like.  Cathy grabbed the glowing goodies and we got in the car at about 8:00 p.m. to head down to Waterfront Park, which would be where The Glo Run would begin and end.

The most difficult part was finding parking.  Not only was Abbey Road On The River going on, but so was a Louisville Bats baseball game…and The Glo Run.  Parking was not going to be easy.  We followed another vehicle into a lot and discovered that it was full.  That car had to turn around too, so we got out of the way to allow him to do so.  Then we did the same.  And on our way out…out of nowhere…a space appeared.  We whipped into it and parked the car.  SUCCESS!!

Finding the starting line was simple.  We followed the masses in The Glo Run t-shirts.  I mean, you can’t miss waves of people wearing bright shirts and weird costumes, right?  We definitely knew we were in the right place.

The start line area had a DJ spinning tunes and a stage set up.  It wasn’t near dark yet, despite us arriving only an hour before the race kicked off.  There was plenty to keep us occupied, checking out costumes, looking at what people chose to wear, listening to the music.  As it started to get a bit darker…the DJ got the party started, getting people toward the stage to dance, dance, dance.

So, what is the draw of The Glo Run?  Well…it’s the fact that you are running a 5K race filled with blacklight stations and tents, special effects (smoke, bubbles, etc) and music.  It’s a party while you run.  Honestly.  And, being untimed, you can really cut loose and just enjoy the experience.  I was really looking forward to having just a fun little race to participate in for a change.  I think it was just what I needed in the end.

So, with the DJ getting us dancing and moving and shaking, the night was creeping in.  Cathy and I cracked the glowing goodies we brought with us.  I wrapped the glow necklaces around my calves and wore a few glow bracelets we picked up earlier that afternoon at our novelty store.  Cathy put on a red glow stick and had managed to acquire a few glow sticks along the way.  Just as it was getting dark…the rain began to fall as well.  Not drenching…but a light rain nonetheless.  And I didn’t care.  It was just fun.  And with all the lasers and black lights, the rain looked like glitter in the night.  It was SO cool.  The professional photographer went up on the pedestrian bridge to snap pictures of the entire crowd, and then we had another dance moment before runners were told to get to the start area.  Cathy gave me a hug and told me to have fun.  I told her I would definitely do so.  They said that all the fast runners needed to line up closer to the front.  I went ahead and moved up a bit in the corral, figuring I’d be fast enough, without forgetting to just live in the moment and enjoy this race for what it was.  A Glo-ing good time.

The lead vehicle was a guy on a bike carrying a load of glow sticks.  We were counted down…and then…we were off.

As I passed under the black light start line, I gave a wave to Cathy and headed out in the front of the pack.  I eased into this run, feeling no pressure, and I was smiling.  Here I was, wearing glow sticks and bracelets, clothing meant to be bright in the black light stations…and just enjoying every step I was taking.  It had been a long time since I ran for the joy of it.  This entire race was set to run around Waterfront Park.  On the first straight out, I had to hop down off the curb and then jump back up, over-calculating a turn.  It was fine though…I was fine.  My ankle was feeling this a bit, mostly from me jumping around during the dance party pre-race.  Lesson learned.  Still…fun was happening and I was enjoying it.

Volunteers were stationed throughout the course holding light-up wands to direct us where we needed to go.  And as we ran through Waterfront Park, they were definitely doing their job, keeping us on course and heading in the right direction.  I was smiling so big when I hit that first black light station.  After all…this tent not only lit up my clothing like a Christmas tree…but it also had bubbles blowing at us.  BUBBLES!!  I put out my arms and just enjoyed running through, seeing the DJ at the end, pumping the music and encouraging us on.  Out of the tent and back onto the path.  Oh, this was a complete blast.

I was already anticipating the next station I would get to run through.  I had passed a couple of people along the way, and saw the glow of another station ahead.  The volunteers directed runners that way.  This time…the glowing tent of black light goodness had a smoke machine going.  The haze was awesome to run through, and I had to watch it at the end because I almost didn’t see the DJ table there.  But I was dancing and pumping my hands and giving time to just dance under the lights and enjoy the moment.  I was having a complete blast.

Back to the course, the halfway point was approaching.  Cathy and I had spotted this near the start line…and we thought it might be the finish.  Nope.  But, she had been over there and while I didn’t hear her…she managed to snap a picture of me running through that station.  Awesome.  Then, I think…we hit the hardest part of the course.  Not because it was hilly or anything.  Nope.  It was because the DJs and music were gone.  And we were dashing through this quiet area of the park.  Just me and the runners ahead of me and the ones behind me.  I passed up a woman I had been behind for awhile…not even trying.  It was just…so quiet over in this part, all I could really do was run.

But then, the sound of that finish line DJ came into earshot.  I was close.  I was very close.  The woman I passed kicked it into high gear, as though she were trying to win the Boston Marathon here at The Glo Run.  She was missing the entire point of this run.  But, then again, she was also wearing her iPod and had her head flooded with whatever tunes were playing over her earbuds.  I was taking in every possible moment and just remembering this was to have fun.  And I was having a blast.

I crossed the finish line and paused my Garmin.  Yes…I decided to time myself for the hell of it.  And I rocked out a great 22:16 time on this fun run, even with the dancing and boogie time under the black lights.  That’s awesome.  I was laughing and just smiling the entire time…and even at the finish that didn’t stop.

Cathy told me I was the third female to finish.  Of course, no awards are given at these races…and that’s fine.  We walked around the finish area for a few minutes and decided we would slowly start making our way back to the car.  This race had a finish line party afterwards, but it was late and I had a 9 mile run to do on Sunday morning.  So…it was best if we headed back home.

Of course, the parking lot we managed to find a spot in was actually part of the course.  So, we ended up standing around, cheering on runners, watching the variety of costumes go by.  My favorite was this group of guys walking through and some girl jogged by and said, “Why are you walking boys?” And one of the men shouted back, “I pulled my gluteus muscle!”  It made me laugh.  A lot.

With it still sprinkling lightly, we decided to at least go sit in the car until we could leave.  This probably took about 20 minutes.  But soon there were enough gaps in the runners and walkers that the police officer directing traffic was beginning to let some vehicles out.  We managed to get backed up and in line to head home.  And after about another 5 minutes, we were on our way.

Novelty runs are a great way to break up the monotony of racing.  Seriously.  Sometimes we, as runners, get so focused on besting ourselves and others that the fun gets sucked out of each race.  This race was just what I needed that night…because I needed to remember what it felt like to just run for the fun of it.  Now I remember.  And I hope to never forget again.

If The Glo Run or The Color Run make it to your area, I encourage you to join it and just take a spin around the course.  Bring friends or make new ones while you’re there.  Leave your Garmin at home.  Just run because you can.  Run and enjoy every bit of the experience.  Forget about personal bests and setting new records on the course or of yourself.  Sometimes…that’s the best way to improve…because it really does put the life back into your running, without even making it seem like work.

Just make sure you sign up for one of the official novelty runs.  These are often imitated, but they are never quite as amazing as the ones that started them all.  Do your research.  Sign up.  And go have a fun run.  Cross that finish line without the heavy weight of expectations weighing you down.  Get covered in paint or lit up by black lights.  Dance to the music.  Forget about time.  Just soak it all up, drink it all in, and have fun.

Just have fun.


Run For The Berries 5K – Starlight, IN (May 25, 2013)

Me crossing the finish line of the Run For The Berries 5K - Starlight, Indiana

Me crossing the finish line of the Run For The Berries 5K – Starlight, Indiana

Race: Run for the Berries 5K

Place: Starlight, Indiana

Date: May 25, 2013

Time: 22:19

There is nothing more satisfying than diving into a bowl of fresh strawberries after a short little 5K race through the ups and downs and twists and turns of Starlight, Indiana.  I should know.  This is the third time that I have endured this race.

There are certain races I would never miss if possible.  The Run For The Berries 5K is one of them.  I mean…it’s at a local strawberry festival.  The fact that it involves strawberries is enough to get me to return time and time again.  After all…strawberries are one of my favorite foods.  I could eat them by the gallon and not get sick of them.  Strawberries are love.  And running for strawberries is pure bliss.

A lot of things were different this year as compared to last year.  For one thing, it was about 25 degrees cooler this year.  Last year, the race kicked off in 72 degree temperatures.  This year, it was 47 degrees on Saturday morning.  Big difference.  Also, packet pick-up wasn’t ready when I arrived.  In fact, I had actually arrived earlier than normal…but getting to the festival was easy this year.  So, I had more time than usual to kill.  The reason packet pick-up wasn’t ready was that the guy who had all the t-shirts and race bibs had to return home for something, so the volunteers were waiting on him.

In the meantime, I figured then was as good a time as any to settle into a chair in the hall where packet pick-up was happening and go ahead and eat the thinkThin Crunch bar that I packed.  No fun to run while hungry, and I had gotten up early and that meant an early breakfast of just cereal and a cup of coffee prior to leaving for the race.  That would be a full 2 hours before the start of the race, and from experience, I knew I’d be hungry if I didn’t pack something else to nosh on.  I wasn’t sure how the Caramel Chocolate Dipped Crunch Bar from thinkThin would do with my stomach before a run, but it was the only one I had that wasn’t primarily chocolate.  I figured it was the safest choice.

I snacked, and just as I finished it up, the man with the t-shirts and race bibs arrived.  As I mentioned last year, this race uses recycled bibs from previous races.  This year…mine was from the 2010 Fast Freddie Five Mile Foot Feast.  Awesome!  I received my t-shirt (they went back to the tech-shirts this year, thank GOD!) and went to let my roomie pin me up.  Once I was properly pinned, I went to duck into the bathroom before heading outside to at least start to acclimate to the cooler temperatures that moved in during the night.  I’d been running in 60 degree weather in the mornings, and now I was back down to the 40s.  I was bitching about it quite loudly and often.  Just ask Cathy.  I do better in the heat, amazingly enough…even if I do tend to wilt.  Cold weather and I do not get along.  So, I did some of my measly cold weather half-ass stretching for a little while, before deciding to finally get a bit more serious about it.  After all, the week prior to this my ankle had been bothering me and that meant slowing down my runs, taking a couple days off, icing and foam rolling.  Even compression socks weren’t helping.  I had to do what was best for me…and that currently means making sure everything is loose and not hurting.  With my first marathon coming up this fall, I do not have time to be injured and that means…I listen to my body.  That also means…I stretch…whether I want to or not.

While stretching, I had the opportunity to hang out with Matthew and Dawn, who I often see at my races.  I love talking with these two.  They have inspired me in my marathon pursuits, whether they know it or not.  Definitely two of the most awesome people I have met through running in this area.  They are so easy to talk to and make me focus more on enjoying my run than trying to outdo someone or something.  They just are so encouraging and just so much fun to be around.  Ah, I love how my circle of friends has grown since I took up running…and how many great people with different goals and different pursuits I have met along the way.

With race time approaching, it was time to head to the starting line.  This run is not chip timed.  Most of the races put on by this group are not.  I wish they would be though…but I can see how this would definitely be easier to deal with.  Still…there is something I appreciate about chip timing.  Anyway…the starting line for the Run For The Berries 5K is a green spray painted line on the street.  All of the runners sort of clustered as close as they figured they needed to be, while the walkers, as requested, stayed further back in the pack.  We had about 5 minutes to run time.  The final announcements were made…and soon…the horn was sounded…and we were off.

One of the challenges of this race is just how hilly the area is.  I don’t mean gentle rolling hills.  Nope.  Some of these are rather steep.  The rolling hills hit within the first mile.  I remember at the start line, one of the runners just behind me said his buddy told him the first hill that we could see ahead was the worst of it.  I laughed and said just wait until you hit the hill just after Mile 2.  I can say that…because I have cussed that hill out the past two years I have run in this race.  It’s evil.  It’s steep.  It sucks!

But…I’m getting ahead of myself here.

The first mile has its fair share of hills and the like…but nothing too major.  I ran what was comfortable, feeling as though I was actually moving quite slow for a race.  I was still near the front of the group that went out though…so that was fine.  As we rounded a corner and hit the marker for Mile 1, a woman right behind me asked, “Anyone know the pace on that?”  A man running next to me called it back to her.  I hate knowing my pace.  While I wear a watch, I try to not obsess over such numbers because it just stresses me out and I tend to run…poorly.  It’s so much better for me to just run and look at the pace and numbers after I’m done.  It turns out I run better doing that.

From there, it was on to the second mile.  This mile always seems the easiest.  I guess because I know that as I hit Mile 2, I’m hitting Hill Road (yes…that is the actual name of that street), so anything seems easier than that.  Heading into Mile 2, there are a couple of turns onto various streets…and this year the added joy of loose gravel in a turn that had the road pretty torn up.  Thankfully they had a volunteer there to wave us through.  The water stop is at Mile 2…and then…that’s when you see it…

THE HILL!!  I won’t lie…this hill is steep.  And I see a lot of people walk it.  I always have pushed myself to get up that hill, even if it slows me down.  It always does, but I have never walked it.  Never once.  And I wasn’t about to start.  I pushed myself to get up that incline as fast as I could manage, because I was in the last mile and now was the time to push.  Right?  Right!  I could see a few other women runners ahead of me, and I thought I might be able to catch up to them, but after pressing up that hill, my legs were feeling beyond tired.  I gave it my all though.  And as I rounded back onto the main road, I could almost taste that finish line.

It was ahead.  I knew that much.  I thought, for some reason, I had one more turn to go, but I was wrong.  It was straight on through to the finish line.  The crowd was cheering and I could hear Cathy screaming, “GO TWIN!!  GO TWIN!”  I pushed as much as my tired legs would allow, thankful that they were just tired and not sore.  And I crossed the finish line…not beating my Throo The Zoo gun time yet…but I came close.  I came very close.  I was handed a card to fill out with my name, bib number and time.  My card said I was the 8th female to cross the finish line.  Not too shabby.

Me about to devour the best part of this race...a heaping bowl of sliced strawberries!

Me about to devour the best part of this race…a heaping bowl of sliced strawberries!

Cathy came over to give me a hug and we walked over to where I could grab some water.  I drank it down before heading into the building to fill out the card I was handed and drop it into the proper spot.  I stepped out and went back for more water, taking time to sip on it this time.  We moved around a little, just giving my legs some time to stretch out.  Then went to find a spot on one of the hay bales to sit.  Cathy took my water cup and told me to do some light stretching.  I knew she was right…so I did just that.  Then went for a slow jog down to the end of the blacktop and back.  After that, we walked over to the Strawberry Freeze booth and got a Strawberry Banana Freeze to split.  Nothing tastes as good as fresh banana and fresh strawberry packed into a blender with ice and a bit of water…after a race.  It doesn’t matter if it’s chilly out…it just tastes good.  We had toyed with getting hot chocolate…but we were at the Strawberry Festival.  Strawberries had to be on the menu.

We split the freeze and around 9 a.m., I meandered over to my favorite booth of all.  The build-your-own strawberry shortcake.  Now, I can’t have the shortcake or the whipped topping, but I sure as hell can pile up strawberries in a bowl and fast on those.  That was going to be the remainder of my breakfast that day.  This was always worth running for.  This is something I treated myself to after the race the past two years I have ran in it.

The awards ceremony started just as Cathy returned with her breakfast (cheese fries…what else?).  I was feeling really good about it this time.  I was caught off guard last year by winning my division…and I ran this race over 2 minutes faster.  I was feeling confident that I at least placed.

So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that every woman that came in ahead of me either placed in the top 3 overall, or were in my age division.  I walked away from this one empty-handed despite having run this course better this year as opposed to last year.  Maybe weather does have an affect on running.  Some do better in the cool air…some do better in the heat.  While I ran faster…I wasn’t fast enough.  And the woman who beat me in was just a few steps in front of me at the finish.  SO close.

But this was also a nice lesson in humility and a reminder that running isn’t about winning and placing.  Yep…I was totally disappointed.  Actually, when they started announcing my age group, I was all set to hop up for first place.  And then my name wasn’t called.  So I prepped myself for second.  And my name wasn’t called.  Surely to God I at least got third, right?  Wrong!  I felt my heart sink and this extreme welling up of anger and disappointment at myself.  Never mind that I just ran one of my best 5K times yet…I was disappointed not to walk away with a glass pint glass this year.

Cathy helped put it all in perspective, telling me I didn’t need another glass anyway.

What I discovered here was a humbling reminder that winning and placing doesn’t make or break my race.  I love running this race.  I was hanging out with great people, eating strawberries, enjoying a beautiful morning in the sun.  And I had been upset for not placing?  Well…it was time to shake that off and suck it up.  I might have run better, but there are always better and faster people out there.  That Saturday morning…they ran better and faster than me.

Strawberries were my award…and I smiled and finished eating my heaping bowl of strawberry goodness as they started giving away door prizes.  My name was called toward the last few.  I was left to choosing between coupons for Subway or Chick-Fil-A.  But…I’m a gluten-free vegetarian, so none of these were good choices for me.  I grabbed one of them, and ended up giving them away.  At least they would get used and appreciated that way.

Final results have not been posted yet…nor do I know if and when they will be.  But, as it stands…I finished the Run For The Berries 5K in 22:19.  I was the 8th female to cross the line and came in 4th in my division.  If the official results ever get posted…I’ll update this accordingly.

I can’t wait to try again next year…and this time I’ll enjoy the journey more.  Lesson learned.

Pro.Active For Life 5K – Frankfort, KY (May 17, 2013)

Me crossing the finish line of the Pro.Active For Life 5K - Frankfort, KY.

Me crossing the finish line of the Pro.Active For Life 5K – Frankfort, KY.

Race: Pro.Active For Life 5K

Place: Downtown Frankfort, Frankfort, Kentucky

Date: May 17, 2013

Time: 22:27

I have said it before…and I will say it again.  I absolutely love this race.  I do.  I always have.  I can’t explain it.  It’s just one of those races that won me over and not being a part of it just doesn’t feel right.  It’s one of those races I wish I had known about before…except I only started running 2 years ago…so I learned about it all in due time.

But…let me reiterate here…that I am so very glad I did discover the magic of this race.

The Pro.Active For Life 5K is the second race of the Frankfort Trifecta, Frankfort’s very own three race series.  This year, thankfully, none of the races coincided with those of the Louisville Triple Crown of Running, which I also love participating in.  Last year I did both series.  This year…I wasn’t going to miss the chance to do both again.

Especially this race.

But…but…I always complain about 5K races, right?  I don’t complain…it’s just not a distance I am built for.  I don’t have speed at the end of a race.  Speed and I do not mix.  Endurance and I…we’re best mates.  So, 5K races are a bit stressful for me…a bit…more difficult for my body to run, ironically, than a 5K race.  I think I put more pressure and  more strain on my muscles and body during a 5K than a half marathon.  No joke.  It’s all because of that speed factor.  When you have the gift of speed, you got it.  When you tire with each passing mile, but keep pushing on because…you are in a 5K…a sprint…well, the journey isn’t as rewarding.

But…this 5K…The Pro.Active For Life 5K…is not your everyday 5K.  The organizers will even tell you that!  And they are right.  They are so right!

Honestly, the only thing that stressed me out about this race was how to logistically get there after work, eat before without eating something that wouldn’t sit right, and hoping that the weather held out.  Because, let’s face it…I’m heading to Frankfort to run.  That means…it will rain.  If Frankfort ever has a drought…they just need to hold a race, have me run, and the dry spell would be broken…I swear.

So, after stressing myself out for much of the week leading up to this race over what my roommate and I would eat for dinner…I finally came to a conclusion on Thursday evening.  I would make myself a gluten-free peanut butter and jelly sandwich and we could easily pick up something for her along the way.  I’m the food allergy queen…and she, luckily, can eat anywhere and anything she wants.  So…I adapted to the situation and the stress level went away.  I’d make my sandwich the night before and take it to work with me.  Eat in the car on the way, giving it ample time to.  Perfect.

After putting in a full day at the office on Friday, I ducked into the bathroom there and changed into my racing clothes.  This is not an uncommon thing for me to do at my office, so coworkers don’t even look at me weird anymore.  I was all about purple and blue that day.  I don’t know why.  That’s just what I happened to throw into my running bag, along with my shoes.  My good shoes, as I was dictating that this would be their final run.  So if it rained…who cared?  I had new shoes to break in on Saturday morning.  Mine…had exceeded their mileage.

At 4:00 p.m., my roommate and I left the office and hopped into the car.  We needed to stop to get her dinner…which we accomplished at a notable fast food chain (kids meal for the win!), and then we hit the road.  She ate, but I waited.  It was way too early for me to even think about eating.  This is that delicate balance…of when to eat.  Because if you eat too early, you’re hungry at race time (and that sucks!), but if you eat too late, you have dinner in your stomach still during the run.  Evening races throw me off so bad because I just can’t seem to figure out how to fuel for them.  I have the morning races (of any length) down pat.  Those evening races, though…so frustrating at times.  I have to make sure I eat enough during the day without eating too much…and dinner…well it has to be enough, but also…not too much, not too heavy…you get the picture.

Anyway, with no traffic problems this year, Cathy and I hit Frankfort in record time.  We had tons of time to kill.  And, finding a parking space on the road was very easy.  No problem at all.  So…early to the race.  Not such a bad thing.  Better than scrambling to get there in time, stumbling into packet pickup with only seconds to spare, getting pinned up and heading for that start line without any moment to breathe and soak in the atmosphere.  Nope…I’d rather be early.

We headed to the McClure Building, where packet pickup was going on and I ducked inside to retrieve my race packet.  I was asked my name, and I told them…and none of the volunteers could find my packet.  Pardon me while a bit of panic sets in.  I told them I was registered for all three races in the series, so I certainly should be part of this one.  Not to mention, I won the free entry into this race on Facebook.  But, just as soon as they said they couldn’t find me…one of the volunteers did.  WHEW!  Race packet was now in hand and I was heading out the door to get pinned up.

No sooner was I pinned, but Debbie Brown, the organizer of the Pro.Active For Life 5K, came over to introduce herself in person.  We’d been having friendly banter back and forth on Facebook regarding the rain always coming to Frankfort when I run.  It was nice to finally meet her in person.  We talked for a moment about the race shirt fit and I mentioned dropping off some Sports Beans for them to put out for anyone to take.

And so, now I had some time to kill.  Cathy and I decided we would take a stroll through Frankfort’s downtown area.  Which, we did.  Nice and easy…just taking in some of the area.  We stopped to look at their summer movie series that is showing this year.  Every movie was something I’d be interested in seeing.  So, I’m a wee bit jealous of that.  And as we made our way back to the main stretch…I ducked into the coffee shop to make use of their bathroom before heading back out to the streets to get some stretching in.

Now, I’m horrible about stretching.  Really, really horrible about it.  I don’t like doing it before…and I often forget to do it after.  But…I had been dealing with a tight calf muscle for a couple of weeks…so, not only were the compression socks a must, but stretching had to happen.  So, I made my way over to a clear patch of sidewalk and began to get some minor stretching in, not wanting to tug the calf muscle too much.  It was sore…so I knew that running this race was going to be one of those mind over matter sort of runs.  But if it really started to hurt, I was going to have to take it easy.

As I was stretching, a train came through, drowning out the start line music.  I stopped stretching and watched as the train made its way down the center of the road, and when it passed…the music returned and the festivities were back underway.  Cathy really wanted to nab a good spot at the start/finish line…but then…it started to sprinkle.  Yep.  Rain.  Told you…it rains every time I run in Frankfort.  This, of course, put Cathy in a mood because she had my sign out there and she didn’t want it to get ruined by the rain.  And she had left her rain jacket in the car.  So, we hurried back to where we parked the car so she could put the sign away and grab her jacket.  She had her jacket on for all of four minutes before the rain sort of backed off and she said it was too hot to really wear it.  Oy vey!

We returned to the start line just as things were about to get underway.  Runners were lining up on the street, with the speedy ones in the 6 minute mile and me standing in the middle…about where the 7:30 minute mile would be located.  There was a lot of energy at the beginning of the race with a lot of runners, especially children, ready to get running.  They were discussing how fast they could run and I felt like I should have moved because there were a lot of kids in front of me and I always end up having to dodge them.  But, I stayed put.  I was pretty comfortable where I was.

They made a few announcements and then…Debbie gave the countdown to the starting gun.  And with a bang…we were off, taking to the familiar streets of downtown Frankfort, Kentucky for one of my favorite 5K races to run.  I actually got shoved by one of the children and elbowed by another pretty soon out of the start gate…but I kept on running.  Hey…it’s always crazy at the start of the race…especially when kids line up near the front.  You just roll with it.

Mile 1 is mostly flat, save for the steep incline at the corner of West Main Street to Capital Avenue.  That is a short hill, but steep.  But once you get up that, it’s a straightaway toward the Capital building.  Mile 1 happens before you reach the Capital building.  I clocked off a quick mile at a 6:50 pace.  Another mile in under 7 minutes.  WOOT!  But that hill had really given my sore calf muscle a workout and I was really starting to feel it.  I slowed my pace…slightly…and passed a few people who had been ahead of me regardless.  And we went up another slight incline to run around the Capital building.  This year they made sure the annex was blocked off so our race would be exactly 3.1 miles…and not longer like last year.  That incline once again slowed me down due to my tight calf muscle, but I kept on going.

Thankfully, that does level out and then you get the sweet, sweet journey back down the other side.  Finally…some downhill time.  I embraced this portion of the run, despite running it slower than I ran that first mile.  The last thing I wanted to do, so close to where my marathon training kicks into gear, was to injure myself on a 5K race.  Better to play it safe…slow up a little…and just do my best.

But as I hit Mile 2, the volunteers happily informed me that I was the second female overall.  Second female…OVERALL!  I knew who the first one was.  The 11-year-old I see at a lot of my races.  She is lightning.  She’s fast.  She’s…trained to be fast and, if she can keep doing it, is going to be quite the running star.  So…no shame in being second to her.

But…as I’m running and being told I’m second overall…I could hear a woman right on my heels, thanking the volunteers as she passed them.  In fact, she must have been close (I refused to look) because one of the volunteers, as I ran down the incline back to West Main Street told me that I was second female overall…possibly third…

I just focused on my run…and how my legs were feeling.  They were pushing hard, without pushing past my limit.  I was going to listen to my body, even if it meant I had to walk the last part of it.  I didn’t though.  I was in my last mile…and I knew that final turn to the stretch to the finish was coming.  I rounded a corner and headed down the street.  I could see that final turn…and I took it.  Then, I put on as much speed as I dared to make it up the slight incline toward the road to take me to the finish line.  I got passed by one man…but kept on running.

And with Cathy screaming at me to “GO”, I crossed the finish line.  No new PR…but I had managed to run the race on a very sore calf muscle and make it to the finish line…and finish it as the Second Female Overall!!  I was surprised.  Ecstatic.  Cathy came over to hug me and celebrate my placement overall.  I turned around to see the woman who was right behind me.  She clapped me on the shoulder and said she had never run a race that fast and thanked me for pushing her harder than she ever had before.  I high-fived her and congratulated her on a good run.  Then, I went to go snag some water and happily down it, while moving around on my leg…to keep it from really tightening up.

In fact, I started to stretch a little bit after crossing that finish line and was downing another cup of water when they said that results would soon be posted on the dance school windows.  We eventually made it over that way to get my stats.

Me with my award for placing 2nd Overall Female at the Pro.Active For Life 5K - Frankfort, KY.

Me with my award for placing 2nd Overall Female at the Pro.Active For Life 5K – Frankfort, KY.

So, as it stands, I finished the Pro.Active For Life 5K in 22:27, not a new PR, but a great time regardless.  This is not an easy course.  Frankfort never is.  I was 39/859 finishers overall.  I was 2/503 women to cross the finish line.  And as for division…well, I would have been 1/64 in my age division.  But…as I was 2nd Female Overall in this race…there would be no division award for me.  That’s okay though…I’ll take overall quite happily.

We stayed around for the award ceremony.  What’s great about this race and what makes it so different from other 5Ks out there…is that this one also awards newcomers to running.  If this is your first 5K and you are one of the first to cross that finish line…you get an award.  Those are really fun awards to see handed out.  I love that aspect of this race.  Overall awards followed that and Debbie once again heckled me about the rain.  It made me laugh…a lot.  What can I say…I bring the rain.

Once again, another great run in Frankfort.  And this 5K will continue to be one of my favorites that I return to time and time again.  Honestly, so glad I was able to take part in this one again…and even improve on last year’s time.  Loving every moment of it.

And to Pro.Active For Life…thank you, once again, for putting on a successful race and such a fun event.  You are part of the reason this race is so successful and so much fun to run.  I continue to come back because you continue to make it possible for me to do so…with a smile on my face…and maybe some rain to boot.

After that race, I did a long run the following day…and then my calf and ankle told me…ENOUGH.  I’ve been resting it the past two days.  Looking at a slow run tomorrow should my leg and ankle agree to it.  Here’s hoping.  Not running is killing me.

Throo The Zoo 5K – Louisville, KY (May 11, 2013)

Me crossing the finish line of the Throo The Zoo 5K - Louisville, Kentucky (Thanks for the pic, Kelsie!)

Me crossing the finish line of the Throo The Zoo 5K – Louisville, Kentucky (Thanks for the pic, Kelsie!)

Race: Throo The Zoo 5K

Place: Louisville Zoo, Louisville, Kentucky

Date: May 11, 2013

Time: 22:15

So, something happened last week when I was walking around the Mall of America on my last afternoon in Minneapolis.  Cathy and I stopped in just to scout out a few things…and while I was on the move in the Nike Store (of all places), I suddenly started to limp.  My outer thigh just sort of hurt.  A lot.  Bad enough to bring my even stride to a painful limp.  I tried to walk it off as much as possible…but damn…it hurt.  Bad.

I toughed it out…put on the “I’m not hurting” face and just trooped through the rest of the visit.  I went through airports without complaint.  I even did some early morning runs in the dark (where I can’t see the pavement in front of me) regardless of the pain in my leg.  I learned to endure the pain of my foam roller.  And Biofreeze was once again my friend.  Ibuprofen before bed.  Hope for the best.  And over the course of the past three days…my leg still hurt, but I felt that it might be improving.

That being said, I had signed up for the Throo The Zoo 5K months ago.  This is a fun race that winds through residential neighborhoods, populated streets, then through the Louisville Zoo for the last mile until it kicks you out and you make your dash to the finish line.  It has challenging hills at places and it just sort of is a fun run to do.

Granted, never have I been a good 5K runner.  I’m no sprinter and I never have a finishing kick.  I am better suited for longer distances.  Some runners just are.  I seem to be one of them.  But 5K races are still important and any runner will tell you that.  Some people, after taking on a half marathon think they can’t possibly go back to shorter races.  Embrace the shorter races…for that’s where you get your speed work.  Those are the races I end up enjoying the most.  I am not a 5K fan…but I still have a blast when I run them regardless.  Where else will I get my speedwork in?  I have yet to really work on that.  I think my friend Kelsie needs to teach me how she finds energy for her finishing kick she always manages.

This morning was rough.  My leg was feeling better than it has all week, so that was comforting.  Maybe I would survive this after all.  The goal this year is no injuries…and I’m doing my best to not push when I shouldn’t.  That’s why I dropped my mileage this week WAY down from what I have been running.  Run smart.  Run uninjured.  But, I got up at 5:00 a.m. to get dressed and get things taken care of around the apartment before the roomie was awake at 6:00 a.m.  I had to have coffee brewed and breakfast ready.  I even made a point of laying out the breakfast bars we were taking with us on the counter…so as not to forget them.  Poured cereal.  Poured coffee.  Her alarm got her up.  We ate.  She went to get dressed and I went to finish getting things together, brush my teeth, and then…we headed out the door.

The drive to Louisville started, and we were just about to head over the bridge and I looked up from my recent issue of Runner’s World and realized…I forgot our breakfast bars.  We ate so early, but the time the race started at 8:00 a.m., we would be starving!  I would definitely be starving.  We exited on the last New Albany exit and pulled into the first gas station we could find…knowing that we could at least get bananas.  Except…they didn’t have fruit of any kind.  UGH!  So, back in the car and onto the next.  This place had fruit…but no bananas.  I was really starting to get anxious now…and angry.  We were now behind schedule.  After I took such great care to put something out so I wouldn’t forget it…I forget it.  Kicking myself because now we were meandering around New Albany and not heading to the Louisville Zoo.  We pulled into one last gas station and they had some bananas.  None at the ripeness I like, but beggars can’t be choosers.  I snagged one for each of us (the ones with the fewest brown spots) and we paid $1.00 and hurried back to the car to get our booties over the bridge and heading toward the Louisville Zoo.

We got there at about 7:20…just enough time for me to peel my banana and start eating it.  That was 40 minutes to start time…which is my usual banana-fest on longer races.  So…I was familiar with this.  We parked in the grass off to the side where we were directed.  Walked through some soft and muddy lawn (it rained a lot yesterday!), and headed up toward the zoo.  Port-a-potty lines were super long.  And people were milling about near the finish line.  One thing I did notice was that the start line had moved from where it was last year.  Instead of starting on a side road in front of the zoo, we were on one of the residential roads near the zoo.  So, that was very different.  We headed that way after throwing away banana peels as a lot of runners were already making their way over there.

Kelsie and me at the start of the Throo The Zoo 5K.  She rocked it.

Kelsie and me at the start of the Throo The Zoo 5K. She rocked it.

As I was stretching out, I spotted  a flurry of color.  I knew immediately it had to be Kelsie.  Oh yeah.  She came over and we talked a lot about races we want to run, injuries, and how we were pursuing this race (she was aiming for a PR…with my leg bothering me, I was doing a shake-out race and hoping I didn’t strain a muscle or something).  Before I knew it, more people were filling up the start line, so we took a couple of pictures and then got into the road with everyone else.  Jeff, from Fleet Feet, started shouting that 5 minutes into the race, they were going to open the cages at the zoo and let the animals out.  Jeff makes me laugh.  He’s someone I can always count on to make me smile and relax me at the start line.  Even at the start of a race I was doing to shake off a half marathon.

Kelsie and I were talking when we heard the sound of the horn sending us off.  I almost forgot to start my watch.  We just started moving.  She passed me immediately, going for her goal, and I fell into a pace I felt comfortable with because I didn’t want to go out too fast because I knew that Gorilla Hill in the zoo would be killer.  It got me last year.  That being said, she never got too far ahead of me.  I could see her, maybe up 20 feet from me for most of the race.

Mile 1 was actually done faster than I wanted.  Very close to the start, as we ran down Russell Avenue and was about to turn onto Poplar Level Road, I passed Jeff.  He spotted me and said, “GO KAREN!”  Treating this as a fun run, I tossed my hands up in the air.  He totally did it again.  Jeff has so much passion for running and other runners…it’s hard not to smile when he’s around.  Mile 1 clicked off just as we were about to head into the park portion of the route.  Guess I wasn’t running as easy as I thought because  I clocked out another sub-7-minute mile (6:50 this time).  I knew I was going out fast, so I eased up…just slightly.  I hate when I peter out at the end of a race.  And in 5Ks…I tend to do that.  Like I said…I’m a runner who was made for endurance, not speed, so longer races are my thing!  I pace myself so much better in them.

Jeff Wells (of Fleet Feet) and me after the Throo The Zoo 5K.  He made the run SO much always.  Thanks, Jeff!

Jeff Wells (of Fleet Feet) and me after the Throo The Zoo 5K. He made the run SO much fun…as always. Thanks, Jeff!

Heading into Mile 2 meant looping the park and heading down the front of the zoo parking (where the race started last year!) and back around the corner.  The start line was still up and we had to run under that.  As we did, Jeff was right behind me shouting “RESET! RESET!”  But instead of heading back down the street and into the residential area, we veered left toward the zoo.

And the name of the race suddenly comes into play.  Welcome to the Louisville Zoo.  Coming in through the back, immediately you hit a downhill portion.  I took advantage of that brief downhill slope and was starting to feel a bit like my old self again.  This is why I don’t run races to set PRs.  I run for fun…because I run better when I don’t focus on pace and speed and goals.  My goal is, and always will be, to finish and to do so having fun.  Sure, I’m a serious runner, but if I don’t enjoy it…why do it?

The zoo portion is a lot of fun and very challenging.  I spotted flamingos this time around.  And as we ran through the polar bear area, I was hoping they would be out like they were last year.  No luck.  Darn it.  But then comes the part I dreaded, because I knew it was there.  Gorilla Hill.  GORILLA-FREAKIN’-HILL!!  It’s at mile 2.5…so you’re so close but still not-so-close to that finish line.  And you have to determine whether you want to use energy to climb it or not.  I try to tackle hills hard.  I hate running hills, but the challenge of them makes me want to take them on.  I’d been avoiding hills recently because, my half marathon was hilly and I wanted my legs to recover, and my leg had been bothering me…so I was taking it easy so as not to do further damage.  But I was not going to let Gorilla Hill defeat me.  And…in the process…I managed to pass Kelsie.  I knew that would be short-lived though.  She’s a strong finisher in 5K races.  A sprinter if you will.  She’s so well-suited for 5Ks because she can put on the afterburners right there at the end.  My goal wasn’t to beat her or pass her though.  It was just to finish.  I was close.

The zoo portion came to an end as we rounded the corner.  I was right…in the straightaway, Kelsie pushed past me and ran hard.  She claims it was too soon, but I didn’t see her slow one bit.  We came around a little turn and there was the finish line.  I could hear Cathy screaming at me.  I saw Kelsie cross the finish line…definitely beating her last 5K PR…YAY!  And I crossed behind her.  I stopped my Garmin, stepped off to the side, and couldn’t help but smile.  It was a shake-off run, but my zen attitude paid off again.  A new PR according to my Garmin.

Cathy came over and gave me a hug.  We decided to move down the way so we could check out some of the tents in the finishers area.  I grabbed some water and some apple slices and we started walking around.  When nursing sore muscles, legs, etc…best to keep moving and not stop.  So, we walked and walked and walked…and talked.  And we meandered around.  Raffle tickets were handed out to finishers…and this year we hung around, simply because we wanted to stay for awards.  Awards were happening at 9:30…we had lots of time to walk…and listen to the raffle numbers get called.  Luck was not with me…again…so no prizes here.

Then…the sad news of the morning.  River City Races announced that they were having some “technical difficulties” with their equipment, so division awards would not be handed out.  But they would give out awards to the top 5 male and female finishers.  So, many of us stood out in the chilly morning and applauded those that crossed the finish line ahead of the rest of us.  The awards ceremony was fun, but I was hoping to at least have something official to report.  I never report times to my mom until they are official.

Me at the Throo The Zoo 5K after waiting on results and leaving without any due to

Me at the Throo The Zoo 5K after waiting on results and leaving without any due to “technical issues.” I did come in 2nd in my division…found that out later that night.

It is coming up on 12 hours after the race…and River City Races hasn’t posted anything about the results, nor breathed a word about them.  It’s a little frustrating…because I want to be able to call my mom and dad since they live a couple states away and always want to hear about my races.  I just can’t.  Because I refuse to give unofficial times.

I’ll have to end the blog here…until I find out more from River City Races…

Okay, late last night River City Races FINALLY posted the results of the Throo The Zoo 5K.  That only took way too long and was very frustrating.  But…what do you do, eh?

And the results were that I finished the Throo The Zoo 5K in 22:15.  A new PR!  Um…not bad for doing this for a fun shake-out run.  Wow.  Thrilled.  I was the 71/1659 finishers overall.  Oh, and I finished 2/135 in my age division.  WOOOOOHOOOO!!  Cathy had kept count at the race, but I confirmed that I was 9/1047 females to cross the finish line as well.  Awesome.  Quite happy with this being as this race was one I was taking easy for the sake of my leg…my body…and just…because it’s the zoo.  I wanted to have some fun.  PR-ing is always nice…and I managed to do it here…but if it’s not fun…why bother, right?  I think I smiled through this entire race.

Already looking forward to my next one…

Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon – Minneapolis, MN (May 5, 2013)

Me crossing the finish line of the Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon - Excelsior, Minnesota

Me crossing the finish line of the Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon – Excelsior, Minnesota

Race: Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon

Place: Wayzata, Minnesota to Excelsior, Minnesota

Date: May 5, 2013

Time: 1:40:46

I love to run in Minnesota.  I feel so connected to the sport there.  I am certain a lot of that stems from the fact that it is where my grandpa lives and where he did a lot of his running.  That being said, I had been anticipating running in the Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon since my grandpa mentioned it last summer and told me what a great race it was.

I signed up for it ages ago and took to training for it immediately following the Disney Princess Half Marathon.  I had a great schedule for it, as it gave me just over two months to work my mileage back up and do so safely and steadily.  No injuries.  Not part of the program.

That being said, May got here sooner than I anticipated.  My training runs were getting better and better.  Faster even.  Which I made every attempt at slowing them down with little success.  But I did try.  Before I knew it, I was packing my suitcase with every combination of running clothes I could think of.  Previously in the week, Minnesota was snowed on.  Yes.  In May.  The weather report was calling for cold weather on Sunday morning…with a good chance of rain.  So two pairs of running shoes were also packed.  I hated not knowing how to dress for this race.  All I knew was that I was leaving 80 degree weather in Louisville, Kentucky and heading into low 30s up in Minnesota.  I was not a happy runner girl.  More than half my suitcase was taken up by my running gear (2 pairs of shoes, my portable foam roller, running jacket, running pants, running shorts, running shirts (long and short sleeve), BondiBands, hair extensions, fuel belt, GU, Sports Beans…).  I still had to fit in clothes for every day wear…not to mention pajamas (warm and cooler weather ones, as by Monday & Tuesday the weather was going to be in the 70s…crazy Minnesota weather!), my toiletry bag, my gluten-free breadcrumbs for the dinner I was going to make for my aunt and grandpa, a hoodie, AND a fleece jacket, among other essentials.  Packing stresses me out to no end, and the fact that my luggage was already stuffed just with half of what I needed to bring was really getting me worked up.  I managed to get it all in there and told myself I couldn’t purchase anything unnecessary while in Minnesota (HA!!).

With my luggage packed, my roommate and I set off to work all day before leaving at normal time and heading to the airport immediately following work.  We didn’t plan ahead for our dinner that night, realizing our original plan wasn’t going to work out time-wise.  So, we parked at the airport, checked our bags, flew through security and found our gate.  Then…we had to seek out something to eat.  For Cathy, this is as simple as picking one of the few restaurants that dot our small airport in Louisville.  She chose Quiznos and opted for some chips and a large Broccoli and Cheese Soup.  Food for me is not as easy and I ended up cobbling together a combination of a fruit cup from a vendor and then Cathy and I split a bag of popcorn and a Caramel Milky Way.  Eating gluten-free at the airport in Louisville is a task, and I refused to pay $3.69 for a KIND Bar.  HELL NO!

We dined and settled in until our plane began to board.  No rush…assigned seats as we were flying Delta.  The flight was small, and very easy.  I settled in my window seat and took out my book (Hal Higdon’s Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide, in case you were wondering) and began to absorb every word.  The two hour flight seemed to go by so quickly.  I had a Diet Coke along the way for an added boost of caffeine.  But I still felt tired when the plane settled on the runway in Minneapolis.  It was cold and wet.  I could tell that much.  Cathy and I disembarked and made the long trek to Baggage Claim.  Our luggage was there and we easily pulled our bags off the belt and immediately  opened them up to pull out our hoodies and fleece.  I wasn’t stepping out into wet 30 degree weather in Minnesota until I was in warmer attire.

I texted my aunt who said she and my cousin, Natalie, would meet us at Arrivals in the Delta area.  Perfect.  Cathy and I stepped outside…under Air Canada…and quickly walked up toward the Delta sign.  We didn’t see my Aunt’s Corolla, so we sort of stood around, bounced to keep warm, and kept a sharp eye.  Apparently there were two Delta signs and she was just up the way.  Natalie spotted us and came and got us, directing us along that path.  Perfect.  Hugs were given, luggage was placed in the trunk, and we were off to grab some groceries and then some drinks before calling it a night.  Gluten-free groceries were grabbed, then we went to settle in, catch-up, and talk over drinks and snacks at a local restaurant.  I ended up ordering their gluten-free spaghetti, which Cathy helped me consume.  And my drink was a modified version of their Pomegranate Lemonade…mine made with a gluten-free vodka.  I appreciated that.  We got caught up, talked a lot about traveling and the race, then headed back to my grandpa’s home where Natalie bid us adieu (she’d be working the rest of the time I was in town) and Cathy, Jan and I got our stuff put into the guest room and went to retrieve the airbed for Cathy and some sheets for my bed.

Sleep came easily for me, but Cathy had a fitful rest.  We were up at 7:30 a.m. the following morning to eat breakfast and get ready to head to Wayzata Middle School to pick up my race packet for Sunday’s race.  It was another cold and wet day in Minneapolis…so the hoodie and fleece made yet another appearance.  My Aunt Jan drove us out to the expo, where parking wasn’t too hard to get.  The issue was walking from the car to the doors leading into the school.  Why?  Because it was flippin’ cold, that’s why!  But we braved the damp, cold elements and hurried inside.  Jan rushed to get the door from a man who was holding it for us and he said, “Don’t rush.  Save your legs for tomorrow.”  I love runners!

The expo was teeny-tiny, but something told me this race was as well.  You can usually judge the size of a race by the size of its expo and the number of people and businesses that are there or represented.  Very few here.  In fact, the packet pick-up was held in this tiny room that looked to be the school’s cafeteria.  And I thought my small town had a small school.  It was at least triple the size of this one.  There were a few vendors and local businesses (chiropractors, orthopedic doctors, running store) present, but not much else.  There was actually a line for the spread of numbers my bib was located in, so I went to stand in line.  While I was doing that, Cathy went to meander over to the tables and see what was there.  When I got my race bag (Bib #1493) and t-shirt, I turned around and there was Cathy holding these amazing signs she made while I waited in line.  Yes…two signs.  Which just shoes how long I had to wait.

I went to the area that was set up to make sure the timing chip was functioning.  I waved my bib over the sensor and my name came up on the laptop.  Good enough.  We were set to go.  We had a few errands to run, and then we grabbed a light bite to eat at Pinstripes in Edina.  Then…we made our way back to my grandpa’s house.  Here is when my bestie since third grade, Heather (who was at my first half marathon in Chicago in 2011, and cheered me on through the Minneapolis Half Marathon last year) came over.  We sat around and talked about anything and everything for awhile, swapping stories with grandpa and Jan.  Then, we flipped on the television and watched the running of the Kentucky Derby (I got out of Louisville once again for that, YES!) before getting up and piling into two vehicles to head to the chosen place for gluten-free pizza, joining up with two of my cousins and their families/significant others.

One of the worst gluten-free pizzas I ever had…so anyone near a Pizza Ranch…don’t go there!  Find somewhere with good pizza.  With the less-than-satisfactory pizza consumed…we all said goodbye and went our separate ways for the evening.  A very early wake-up call was scheduled for the following morning as the race started at 8 a.m. and parking was rather limited.

Morning came really early for me.  I was awake at about 4:40 a.m…but really earlier.  I just lazed in bed until my alarm on my phone went off.  With only one alarm set, I didn’t want to miss it.  Cathy continued to sleep, but I gathered up my race clothes and headed into the bathroom to change.  I set down my clothes and went into the kitchen to get out my gluten-free bagel, put it on a pan, and get that in a preheating oven to toast while I changed.  I managed to get into my race gear and get my hair extensions in and pigtails pulled up just in time to step into the kitchen and save my bagel from being overdone.  I was doing something new here.  I normally had only cereal before a race…then ate my banana about 40 minutes before start time.  But, it was cold outside so I’d burn through food faster.  It was also 3 hours before the race, so my body had time to digest and I wanted to see if a little extra carbs in the morning made any difference.  This was a huge risk, being that if my stomach didn’t like running with a bagel in it…I wouldn’t know until I was out on the course.  I gave it a very thin layer of Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese and then settled in to look at Facebook and eat.  Once the bagel was consumed, I went to wake up my roommate at her requested 5:30 a.m.  She shuffled into the bathroom, and I set to getting her breakfast prepared.

And then…the big snafu of the morning occurred.  And I wasn’t sure at the time if it was a good or bad omen.  But…it was a mess.

Basically, through doing nothing but flushing a toilet before even using it, Cathy set off a stream of malfunctions that morning.  And it started with the toilet overflowing.  I had no idea this was happening, but my aunt came hurdling up the stairs and pounded on my grandpa’s door, telling him that there was a water leak in the utility room.  He got out of bed and went downstairs with her, and soon Cathy came out of the bathroom and said that the toilet had overflowed.  I put two and two together and hurried downstairs to relay this to my aunt.  Water was literally pouring out of pipes, all over antique pictures and some clothing that were there in the utility room.  My grandpa was moving things as fast as he could.

That being said, I went back upstairs and helped Cathy clean up the bathroom.  Jan told us to finish getting ready, so Cathy ate her breakfast and packed up her bag.  I had her pin me up and I slipped my pajama pants over my running skirt (I wasn’t sure how to dress for this race, but I figured I’d warm up so…running skirt, compression socks, arm warmers, short sleeve shirt, BondiBand) and put on my hoodie and fleece jacket.  We all needed to use the bathroom still, so we decided an impromptu stop at Caribou Coffee would do. My aunt poured her oatmeal into a cup and we took off.  We rotated through the bathroom at Caribou while our drinks were being made.  I kept my simple…a coffee with a splash of soy milk.  We got them to go, and soon we were off making the 35 minute drive to Wayzata, Minnesota and the start of the Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon.

We ended up parking at Wells Fargo in Wayzata and trekking down the hill toward the start line.  While we were on our way past the line-up of port-a-potties, my grandpa called to say he fixed the problem in the bathroom, had disinfected the floor, and was now going back to bed.  My grandpa is going to be 92 years old this year and he is still sharp as a whip.  Love him.  With that little bit of relief, we decided to get my legs warmed up by walking up the street and over to the docks of Lake Minnetonka.  So, that’s what I did…in the very cold wind…with my aunt and my Aunt Jan.  We took a few pictures on the docks and wandered a little more up, then turned around to head back toward the start line.  I noticed a bunch of runners ducking into Starbucks, so I figured I could go use the bathroom there and Jan was thinking of getting a hot chocolate.  So, we went in.  And I ended up in the bathroom line of doooooooooom!  But, I stayed there.  Cathy helped a runner pin her race number on…properly because she wanted it on her back originally.  And the line slowly made its way toward the bathroom doors.  Heather texted while I was standing in line to say she was in the area and I told her we were in Starbucks.  She must have found us.  Cathy came up the line at 10 minutes to the race to give me the warning.  I didn’t have to pee, I was just going to with a flushing toilet…so I said, “Screw this!” and got out of line, joining Cathy,  Heather and Jan at the table.  I decided it was time to suck it up cupcake and lose the pajama pants and the jackets…so I stripped out of them in Starbucks, now in only my running clothes…and we stepped outside.

Heather, Me, and Cathy after the Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon - Excelsior, Minnesota

Heather, Me, and Cathy after the Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon – Excelsior, Minnesota


But…the best thing to do is get acclimated, right?  Right.  Or that’s what I told myself as I huddled with Heather and Cathy for pictures in front of the start line.  Heather actually told me that we weren’t supposed to be at the start line yet.  She spotted the pace groups around the corner and that was where we needed to head.  So, that’s what we did…crossing the road and heading into the fray of runners lining the side street.  I chose a pace group the day before…being, what I told Cathy the night before, very overly ambitious with my half marathon pace…but understanding if I needed to drop off from that pace, I would.  My pacers were Rick and Kevin, two very talkative and amazing guys who did a great job on Sunday morning.  And my pace group was the 7:38/mile pace group…or the 1:40:00 finish time.

That would require me to shave a full 5 minutes off my half marathon PR from the Disney Princess Half Marathon.  I told you…I was being overly ambitious on this one.  I had that thought in my head as I lined up.  And Heather stepped into the street with me, looked at the sign and back at me and said, “Karen…this is a fast pace for a half marathon.”  I nodded.  “I know.”  We hugged.  Cathy snapped a picture of me in front of the pacers.  We hugged.  I ran over to Jan and hugged her…and then I got in line.  And shivered with the rest of the runners who were dressed more like it was summer than 30-some degrees out.

After a few minutes, we were marched down the street and around the corner toward the starting gate.  I hit the button on my Garmin so that it could seek out satellites…and it managed after a few moments.  I noted that it was just a little past 8:00 a.m.  We were starting late.  Uh oh.  Not another omen of some sort.  We were, indeed, starting late.  The pace car wasn’t up where it needed to be, so they had to go find it.  Go figure.  So, we all sort of huddled there at the start until we suddenly…we were off.

I moved with the pace group toward the start line…and then…we joined the throng of runners now making their way down Lake Street.  As with most races, the start area is very crowded, so your pace starts out easier.  This is actually a good thing.  For me.  I tend to fly out of that start line.  But this was good.  This reined me in.  I was about 2 feet behind my pacers, and it was like that up until about half a mile when I was right up next to them.

They start you off on a high note…in that you are running flat for a little distance and then…BOOM…you get the steepest hill and climb in the race.  At least you get it over with early.  So, I decided to power up that hill and find my pace on the other side.  In most cases what goes up does have to come down.  And it was on this downward end that I pulled ahead of my pacers.  No problem.  They were just behind me.  For a long while, I could hear them chatting back and forth with each other.  I was right where I needed to be…and I felt good.  So far…so good.  Run smart.  That was the key.

The first three miles of this race were spent right along the shoreline of beautiful Lake Minnetonka.  I mean…it was serene and gorgeous.  And, the locals who lived along the streets came outside, even in the cold, to cheer all of us on.  It was amazing and it can really make all the difference in the world.  At Mile 3 we branched off away from the lake for about 2 miles and ran Fox Street.  There were a couple more hills, and I remained in front of my pace group through this as well.  It was really turning into a great run.  I was feeling energized and really enjoying the run regardless of my time.

Now, here’s the thing about the Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon – this is not a closed course.  So, yes…we do share the road with traffic.  And at certain points in the miles that were coming up, we were directed to run inside the white line of the shoulder…in single file.  You want to talk about getting thrown off your pace?!  I had never experienced something like that in a half marathon.  Normally roads are closed for a couple of hours and then reopened after the back of the pack passes through.  But not with this race.  So, it made it very interesting to navigate these tight areas along the road.  It was…a challenge…and a new experience all at once.  This meant, if my pace was faster than the person in front of me, I either toughed it out behind them, or risked stepping outside the white line and into the road to pass.  Runners were doing a combination of both.

We hit about mile 5.5 where the relay teams tagged off and sent their next runner out toward the finish.  I was still making fantastic time and not really feeling like I was pushing myself too hard this early in the race.  My biggest fear was petering out in the last couple miles for holding this strong of a pace so early.  But, my legs felt good and strong so I kept on…still ahead of my pacers.  But I could still hear them.  So, I was technically right on pace.  Once the relay teams tagged off, the remainder of the race, while still, at points, needing to be single file on the shoulder of the road, was back along the shoreline of the lake.

It was about the time we hit the apartment complex with the speed bumps that my pacers were right with me.  And then…just ahead of me.  Okay…no problem.  I was going to run a comfortable race and push myself more than I normally do.  They were right there…warming runners of bumps and when we hit Mile 8, one of them shouted out “That was a really great mile.  7:34 pace!”  Sweet!  We were down to the last 5 miles and I started my mental play to get me through to the end.

There were more hills, more flats, then, around Mile 11…loose gravel.  Yes.  Loose gravel.  Apparently, the course now veered off the main road and onto what looks like it is known as the Lake Minnetonka Regional Trail.  So, we left the road and hit this trail that was a lot like the one I ran in Birmingham the weekend prior to this one.  I hate loose gravel.  It’s harder to get my footing and steady myself.  Overall…it is more difficult to run on.  I wasn’t prepared…and my pace team was now slipping further and further ahead of me.  I could still see that sign though, so that gave me a little consolation.  For the next two miles, I ran steady, but cautious, until just before Mile 13, where we were put back out onto the road.  There was a hill to climb…so I tucked into it…fought my way up and it was all downhill to the finish line.

I came barreling toward that finish, not looking at the clock, just focused on getting through that gate.  I could hear Heather and Cathy screaming for me.  I could see Jan, and she was also shouting.  I ran it in and crossed the finish line, pausing my Garmin a moment later and proceeding through the chute.  I glanced at my Garmin…and it said 1:40:46.  Holy crap…had I managed to actually do it?

Jan took a few pictures of me near the finish line and then I proceeded to walk around to where Cathy and Heather were waiting for me.  I received big hugs and Heather started shouting, “ONE FOUR ZERO, ONE FOUR ZERO!” with me.  It was amazing.  I felt awesome at the end of the race.  And Heather even commented that I was hardly sweating.  Guess I need to push harder next time, eh?  We joked around about that and Cathy got out my protein shake, which I drank slowly, and washed down with some water.  We stood around for a bit, basking in the race, swapping stories, and everyone I was with just kept complimenting me on making my goal.  After a moment, we decided to move toward the lake and maybe start making our way toward where we’d be meeting up with my cousin Andy and his girlfriend Courtney for brunch/lunch in a bit.  As we made our way that way, Cathy spotted the massage chairs and asked if I wanted a massage.

Aunt Jan and me after the Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon - Excelsior, Minnesota

Aunt Jan and me after the Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon – Excelsior, Minnesota

Of course.  So, I signed the waver and got settled on the chair.  My massage therapist said that my lower left back was really tight, so he worked on that for quite awhile.  I don’t know if he got it to loosen, but if felt good to get it worked on, regardless.  After that, I decided my legs were cold, so I slipped my pajama pants back on and got out my jacket to wear.  We made our way up toward the main drag.  I was ready for something warm to drink, so we ducked into Dunn Bros Coffee.  Cathy didn’t get anything to drink, but Jan got a mocha, heather got a soy latte and I snagged a cafe au lait with almond milk.  It was warm, refreshing, and delicious.  Just what I needed.  As we finished off the drinks, we decided we’d head into the pub, Jake O’Connor’s, to get our reservation checked in.  Cathy went to get my change of clothes from the car and Heather went with her.  Jan and I got our table immediately after getting there, adding one chair to the party.  That wasn’t a problem.  And so…the rest of the party arrived.  I immediately went to get changed and returned wearing my finisher’s medal and my race shirt.

I went for breakfast food that day, getting their Healthy Hash and Eggs Breakfast, which was a combination of Brussel sprouts, sweet corn, yellow onion, bell peppers, potato hash, and fresh avocado all sautéed together untill caramelized.  I topped mine off with two poached eggs (which they overly poached…so no runny yolks) and then covered with a light hollandaise sauce.  I skipped the brown bread since I’m gluten-free and made sure the entire dish was prepared gluten-free.  When it arrived…aside from the over-poached eggs…it tasted amazing.  I was in heaven with my food.  Trust me…I was hungry.  About halfway through I asked about getting a Magners, and a pint was happily delivered to me.  Bliss.

After lunch, we all split off to do our own thing the rest of the day.  For me, that meant a trip to the grocery store for gluten-free pasta, gluten-free marinara, gluten-free salad dressing, and other necessary items for dinner that evening with my cousin Molly and her family.  Simple enough.

So, the official results of the Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon are that I finished in 1:40:46, taking just under 5 minutes off the half marathon PR I set in Disney World in February.  Maybe being overly ambitious for this race was a good thing.  And in a race with hills and with single file running on the shoulder of a busy road…yeah…quite pleased with that accomplishment.  I was the 301/2425 finishers overall.  WOOHOO!!  I was 70/1288 women to cross the finish line.  And I was 16/238 people in my age division.  Super please with these results.  Elated.  And now aiming higher for the next one.

Running in grandpa’s footsteps brought me to a small, local half marathon.  And I totally hit my pace and made everyone I was with, including myself, super proud.

100th Post…for a special race…

Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon

Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon

Wow…100 posts in my running blog.  What a milestone.  When I set out to write about my race experiences, my training, my injuries, my day-to-day struggles with running…I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.  But, the fact is, I’ve quite enjoyed this journey.  Since starting this blog, I have accomplished so much in my running.  With 100 posts behind me…I am eagerly anticipating the rest of this year and seeing where my running shoes, my legs, and my spirit take me.

That being said…tonight after work, I am hopping a flight out of town (just as Kentucky Derby weekend kicks off, so this was amazing timing!) and heading up to Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Why?  Well…to visit my grandpa (yes…the man, the myth, the legend…my running hero and inspiration), my aunt, my cousins, and one of my besties (Heather!!), of course.  But another reason is…to run in a half marathon that my grandpa has run.

That half marathon…

The Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon.

Grandpa and me in our race shirts in summer 2011 - his is a Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon shirt.

Grandpa and me in our race shirts in summer 2011 – his is a Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon shirt.

He talked a lot about this race when I was visiting him for his 90th birthday almost two years ago.  In fact, he suggested we take pictures in race shirts, so I grabbed the one I had from my furthest distance race at that time (it was a 5 miler…I was recovering from injury at the time and heading into my first half marathon – Chicago – that September) and he grabbed his Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon race shirt.  I don’t remember what year he ran it…but look for yourself at the picture.  It makes me smile…just thinking that I’m actually following in his footsteps on this one.  He talked a lot about this race.  Raved about it…so I knew…I knew it had to be one of the ones I ran in Minnesota.

Of course, nothing is easy when it comes to traveling for a race.  On May 1, 2013, Minnesota had snow dumped on it.  Like…massive amounts of snow.  SNOW!  It’s MAY!  So, with no clue how to even dress for this race I’m packing a little of everything and will make a game time decision on the official race attire.

As for now, I’m eagerly anticipating my packet pick-up tomorrow morning, seeing my grandpa, perhaps talking a little with him about the race.  I looked at the elevation chart and their seems to be quite a few hills.  That’s okay…I’m learning to embrace the torture of hills.  My focus, of course, is on finishing.  As it should be.

So…while most eyes in my town will be glued to the track at Churchill Downs, my feet are going to be carrying me from Wayzata, Minnesota down to Excelsior, Minnesota.  I couldn’t be happier about it.  I’m really looking forward to having a great time in Minnesota…with family…with friends…and with the runners who are taking on the Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon with me on Sunday.

No place I’d rather be!

“Walk Me Home…To The Place I Belong” 5k Run and Walk for Foster Care – Birmingham, AL (April 27, 2013)

Top 3 Finishers of the

Top 3 Finishers of the “Walk Me Home…To The Place I Belong” 5K Run and Walk for Foster Care: Jimmy Gilchrist (2nd), Nathan Byrd (1st), and me (3rd)

Race: “Walk Me Home…To The Place I Belong” 5K Run and Walk for Foster Care

Place: Veterans Park, Hoover, Alabama

Date: April 27, 2013

Time: 23:01

Let me be completely candid with you, first of all, when it comes to this race.  I was not happy about doing it.  Nope.  I don’t travel often for 5K races, even when it is where my family currently lives.  It’s too expensive for that short of a distance.  And this 5K race was $30.00.  Albeit, it’s for a fantastic cause, but…I normally wouldn’t have entered it.  Not under normal circumstances.

But someone I used to work with wanted to run her first 5K.  Originally, this weekend was going to be the Making Tracks for Celiacs 5K race, but that was pushed back to next weekend, and I just happen to be in Minneapolis, Minnesota for a half marathon that weekend.  So, with the race rescheduled, I set out to find us another one.

And I did.  This race.  I signed up.  I thought she had  signed up.  Turns out she didn’t…and wasn’t going to.  That news was dropped on me on Friday afternoon.  Saturday morning was the race and I was driving straight through from Louisville to Birmingham that night after work to get there, get a couple hours of sleep, and then run.


Which, did sort of upset me.  The whole reason I originally joined this race was to run with her in her first 5K ever.  And now…I was sort of left to my own devices, making a very long car trip for 3.1 miles.  Yeah…not a happy runner.  Not one bit.

That being said, I got in just before 10 p.m. that evening.  My dad came out and helped Cathy and I unload the car.  And I left most of my stuff to sit so I could spend a little time with my parents before calling it a night.  We sat up and talked for a little while, but then we decided that we best get some sleep.  After all, I checked the race page on my way out at work and it indicated a 7:00 a.m. race start.  EARLY!  So, off to bed I went, setting my alarm for 5:20 a.m., which would hopefully give me enough time to get dressed in my running clothes, eat some cereal and a banana, and then head on out to Veterans Park with Cathy and my parents.

The alarm went off way too early for my liking that morning.  But, I shut it off and hopped out of bed.  I changed into my race clothes – a bright orange shirt, one of my running skirts, and my green compression socks.  Why not?  For my BondiBand…I was in Birmingham, Alabama.  Nothing but my War Eagle band would do.  Trust me.  I put purple and orange extensions in my hair, and then finished up by getting my old running shoes out and onto my feet.  Why old running shoes?  At that point, rain was still a high possibility, so I figured…better to be safe than sorry.  I’d leave my new pair dry and at home.

I went to wake up Cathy, and then headed downstairs to make up some breakfast.  I intended to take a gluten-free bagel with vegan cream cheese with me to the race to eat afterwards, since my 3 year old nephew, Chace, had a tee ball game that morning.  But that wasn’t until 10:15 a.m.  And if the race started at 7:00 a.m., that would mean I’d have plenty of time to run and then hop into the car, come home, and eat some breakfast before heading out for the day.  That being decided, I poured a bowl of Cinnamon Chex for Cathy and for me, got us each a banana, and warmed her up an Udi’s Gluten-Free Lemon Muffin, per her request.

My parents, Cathy, and I all scarfed down breakfast and I hurried to brush my teeth and get my Garmin and Road ID on.  Then…we were packing into my parents vehicle and heading out to Hoover, Alabama.

I ran Veterans Park last year when I was down for the Making Tracks for Celiacs race.  I had an idea of what this course was going to entail.  For one thing, it’s the cross country course…so much of it is made up of loose gravel.  Once you officially head out of the park and over toward the school campus, the path gets even trickier.  HILLS.  Dangerous hills with loose gravel so you can’t really fly down them and you have to watch your step and footing running up them as well.  Yeah…this is a challenging course, with a monster hill right at the end.  But, at least I knew that this time.  When I was down here last year for Making Tracks for Celiacs…no clue.

We actually were some of the first to arrive.  In fact, as we drove in, Cathy pointed out that all the signage for this particular race showed that it started at 8:00 a.m.  Not 7:00 a.m. like the Web site told me.  Great.  So, now we were an hour early…which might mean I could be starving halfway into this race.  I have a fast metabolism, so when I run I plan my meals and snacks and fuel accordingly.  I didn’t bring anything with me, assuming that this would kick off at 7:00 a.m.

When I get there, I head over to the table that looks like where registration would be.  No one is really manning it, so I ask the woman standing there if this is where I pick up my race packet.  She seemed a bit lost, because, here I was, showing up way early, before all the volunteers were there, and before anyone was really ready.  She asked for my name and went and plucked a bag out from a box.  The volunteer handed me a waver notice that I had to sign for the City of Hoover.  So I did.  The bag was a nice reusable canvas bag from Birmingham’s running store The Trak Shak, and inside was my race t-shirt, a blue bracelet, a pin, and some gift certificates and cards for Sonic.  I gave those to my dad, as I really can’t eat anything at Sonic and our location closed anyway. I did, however, note that there was no race bib with a number included.  I found that odd.  And I sort of got all grumpy and upset over the fact that I wasn’t going to have a number for this race.  I even told my mom I’d rather just go home, forget I spent the $30.00, and run my 10 mile long run while it wasn’t raining, as it was supposed to be pouring when I was to put in my 10 mile run on Sunday.  She said it was my call.  I grumped and groaned about it to Cathy and she hurtfully said, “Well, we can just list this as a DNS (Did Not Start).”  Oh, you should have heard me when she said that.  No runner wants a DNS or a DNF (Did Not Finish).  And honestly, just forgetting I even signed up for this race was what I was going for.  The fact that she was going to hold me to it…give me a frickin’ DNS if I didn’t run it hurt me.  It stung.  I let her know that I didn’t like that at all.  She just shrugged.  And I pretended like I didn’t want to punch her for a moment.

But then…things started to get a little better…

More volunteers arrived.  And soon a sign appeared on one of the tables that had race numbers on it.  I allowed the girls manning that table a moment to get situated before heading up there to inquire about my race bib.  Sure enough…my preregistered number was there.  I was 716.  The two girls handed it over along with two safety pins.  I went over to where Cathy was seated and handed them to her.  She hates just having two pins, so after declaring her dissatisfaction with that, my dad went over to the table and snagged two more for her.  She pinned me up, and more racers arrived and got signed in to run.

A zumba dance thing was happening on the stage that was in the park.  We watched that, briefly, and then a few announcements were made.  Race time, 8:00 a.m., was fast approaching now, and I noticed a lot of the runners making their way away from the pavilion and toward the start/finish line.  I didn’t line up yet, but as announcements and some information about the race and the charity that it benefited were given.  We had a nice blessing over the race and then we all started to line up.

I was near the front, but not right up front.  There were some cross country runners here, and quite a few native race veterans from the chatter I heard.  Two ladies behind me were talking about their friend up at the front, saying how she always wins…so that was interesting.  We were all just anxious to get started, so finally the announcer counted us down…and sent us off.

And so…I hit that loose gravel path running as much as I dared.  I wanted to be careful and take this race easy.  After all, I didn’t want to risk injury before my upcoming half marathon.  That being said, early on I found myself passing quite a few people that had been closer to the front.  I just kept moving, kept going, focusing on the path ahead.

Good thing too.  About a quarter mile or so into the race, there was this huge gap in the course.  It was at least, at least two feet wide with water running through it.  Apparently, off to the side was a pedestrian bridge, but there were no volunteers to point the runners that way.  I did what the guys in front of me did…and took a leap of faith.  This fault line of sorts was nearly the death of me.  I have short legs, and I barely landed on my toes on the other side, leaning forward in an attempt to not fall into the giant opening in the Earth.  That was close.  And it really rattled me.  But, I just kept moving.

Signs and volunteers, many of them Boy Scouts, were along the path to guide runners (and later the walkers) in the right direction.  I scurried around the little lake, dodging a fly fisherman as he worked his fishing pole, and continued on.  I was hoping, as we rounded the lake and headed back toward the park that I wouldn’t have to leap over the fault again.  Thankfully…I didn’t have to.  Whew.

Heading back toward the park, we were diverted away from the finish area to head around the tennis courts.  As I made the turn, Cathy peaked her head out to cheer me on.  And one of the volunteers applauded and said, “First lady!”

Really?  I was the first female?

That was new.

From there, we made our way across the road and toward the school campus.  A water station was there, but I bypassed it and kept my momentum for the hill I had to climb.  Not easy.  I made it up and started down, realizing again that I needed to be careful of my footing on those steep downhills, which meant, leaning back and not allowing gravity to take over.

There were three men ahead of me, that much I knew.  I was now entering the shady wooded area of the race, where the trees offered brilliant shade.  But it was quiet.  I could see flashes of the pink shirt of the guy ahead of me, so I pressed on, winding through the wooded path, watching my footing on the hills, until I finally caught up to him as he approached the last giant hill.  He slowed to a stop, much like the guy ahead of me at Making Tracks for Celiacs the previous time I ran there.  But, just as I did last year, I pressed on and took on the hill.  It slowed me down, but I’ve trained on hills.  This one was certainly steeper than the ones I normally run on, and made up of roots, gravel and mud, but I got up it and found my momentum again.

Besides, I couldn’t let the pink shirted guy beat me to the finish line.  He was wearing western boots, not running shoes.  It was a matter of pride and principle.

I dug in, scurrying back along the path, coming out of the trees.  I ducked back under the bridge and emerged to run, once again, back toward the park.  This time, however, I knew it was to the finish line.  I also knew that there was a runner not too far behind me, pink shirt and western boots aside, he was still a contender.  So, I just ran as hard as I could.  His buddies started screaming at him as I started in toward the finish line.

I could see my parents right at the finish.  My mom was holding up three fingers, shouting, “Come on, KJ!  Come on, baby!”  I crossed the finish line, paused my Garmin, and was handed a blue ribbon to go tie onto the Blue Ribbon Tree.  Cathy hurried over and said, “THIRD OVERALL!  FIRST FEMALE.”

Holy crap!!  I wasn’t aware of being the third one in, but as no women passed me, I knew I was first female in.

Let me say this again.


Prior to the race, Cathy said as long as I  wasn’t in the top three racers in, then I we could leave right after the race.  Turns out…I was in the top three racers.  But, no one fussed about that at all.  The problem now was I needed to find out when awards would be given out.

First thing was first, however.  Cathy pointed out the two guys who came in ahead of me and I went over to see if I could get a picture with them.  They were happy to oblige.  Nathan was our first place finisher and Jim was our second place finisher.  Both were very nice guys and very good runners.  We talked a bit about upcoming races, and then we all sort of split off and did our own thing until awards were given.  Right…awards  I needed to find out about those.  So, I approached the same volunteer I first talked to that morning and she handed me a piece of paper with that information.  Awards were going to be done at 9:30 a.m.  This almost gave me enough time to go home, get my camera (for the baseball games that afternoon), change, and, most important, grab something to eat.  I was starving.

My dad said that we would be cutting it close by going all the way home.  So, my mom was going to send him, and I started rattling off everything I would need.  He wasn’t sure he could remember it all, so my mom said she would go with him and Cathy and I could stay at the park and wait for them…and for the start of the awards.  She said as long as they didn’t get stopped by a train, they should be back just in time.  We saw them off and then went to sit down in the pavilion.

No sooner had we settled in, my mom texted to say a train had them stopped.  Naturally.  Contact went silent after that, and I was just hoping it was a short train and they were getting everything I had asked for them to grab, toast my gluten-free bagel, slap it with vegan cream cheese, and then make it back in time.

My dad and my mom all smiles after I received my Third Overall medal and gift card prizes.  They were so proud of me.

My dad and my mom all smiles after I received my Third Overall medal and gift card prizes. They were so proud of me.

Unfortunately, they were stopped by a train on the way back too.  And with the walkers having been sent off after a very, very long prayer, the time for awards was almost there.  Cathy and I stood up and made our way toward the stage area.  I stopped walking, glancing over toward the parking lot, hoping that my parents would get back in time.  No sign of them.  So here they were able to see me place in the top three for the first time ever…but they were going to miss the awards.

I was frustrated, and very sad.

But luck was with me again.  They just happened to start with awards for the men first, not the overall winners, as most races do.  So, this bought some time.  They were just at the Men 20 – 29, when I saw my dad heading my way with my bagel and my mom a few steps behind him with my change of clothes.  YAY!  They made it.

I downed the bagel as they went through the awards, realizing that overall awards were going to be given at the end.  I had fun cheering and clapping for those who stuck around to get their awards.  I love seeing award ceremonies, even if I don’t win.  And then…overall awards were given.

I was the first up, being that I was the third overall finisher.  My award was a beautiful bronze medal and an envelope stuffed with gift cards for local Birmingham businesses and restaurants worth $116.00.  So awesome.  When my name was called, Cathy, mom, and dad all cheered loudly.  I love my cheering section.

The awards for first and second overall were also awarded, to Jim and Nathan, whom I had spoken to soon after my finish and got my picture with afterwards as well.  And then, I scurried off to change and head off to get the rest of the day underway.  I had nephews to cheer for at the ballpark after all.

So, while this race got off to a rocky (literally) start, in the end, it was totally worth the drive.  I had a good time running this challenging course and I was thrilled my parents were attending the first race I ever placed as an overall winner.  It was a very proud moment…and they continued to let me know how very proud they were of me.  Yeah…totally worth it.

No new PR this time…but one amazing run in the presence of the two people who mean the world to me.  So glad my parents were there to encourage me and motivate me to push all the way to the end…to one of my best finishes yet.  Not bad for a rocky, hilly, treacherous course, yes?  Sometimes races have a way of making us stronger.  I definitely found my strong in Birmingham.