Running on gluten-free carbs…


Making Tracks for Celiacs 5K – Birmingham, AL (April 5, 2014)

My mom and me at the Making Tracks for Celiacs 5K - Birmingham, Alabama

My mom and me at the Making Tracks for Celiacs 5K – Birmingham, Alabama

Race: Making Tracks for Celiacs 5K

Place: Birmingham, Alabama

Date: April 5, 2014

Time: 21:52*

Please note that once again I am putting an asterisk at the end of an official time for a race.  Please note why.  According to my Garmin, this race was not the 3.1 miles a 5K runs, but actually 2.92 miles.  I don’t hold the Making Tracks for Celiacs people completely at fault for this.  Let me explain why.

I found out on the morning of the race during the announcements prior to the start that due to the soccer tournament that was going on, the course we were to run had to be changed.  So…they very little time to come up with a new course.  But they did.  Albeit…a little short.

But, you know…whatever.  This stuff happens.

I won’t let it completely dull what turned out to be an amazing experience for me.


Because I did this race with…my mom!

Yep.  My mom!!  Both my mom and I are Celiacs.  So, I try to make it a point to get down to Birmingham, Alabama for this event each year.  Last year, I had to miss it as it was on a weekend I had another event already going on.  But not this year.  And, as a special bonus, I was going to run the race and my mom was going to walk it.  We made plans via phone conversations and text messages…both got signed up…and both eagerly anticipated the arrival of the big day.

On Friday, my mom went to the Birmingham Earth Fare store to pick up our packets.  The t-shirts for the event were still in transit, so they gave her t-shirts from the previous year and told her that both she and I (she was also picking up my packet) could get this year’s shirt on race morning.  Where was I?  I was on the road, driving down to Birmingham directly after work.  I didn’t arrive until around 10:00 p.m.  Then had to have some social time and catching up with my parents, as well as see what has been done to the house (they just got moved back in after a pipe burst while they were on vacation in Mexico in January).  This made for a later-than-usual night before a race, but it was worth it.  I loved getting to talk to them and catch up some…but we all knew we had an early morning ahead of us, so we decided to turn in for the night.

I woke up very early the next morning because I had to get dressed for the race as well as do my PT stretches.  So, after checking the weather…which was supposedly warmer than what the Weather Channel predicted the night before…a balmy 52 degrees with some winds making it feel 50 degrees, I got out my shorts and my t-shirt and got myself put together with the colored hair and the BondiBand and compression sleeves like always.  No skirt today.  I was rocking the shorts.  I went downstairs to do my stretches before anyone else got up.  And managed to finish them up just as my mom came out of the bedroom.  We hugged and I said I was going to go knock on Cathy’s door to wake her up, but as I got to the top of the stairs, she was already moving about.  Sweet.  Good start to the day.

The four of us (my mom, dad, Cathy and myself) all had breakfast that day (consisting of some cereal and a gluten-free blueberry muffin from Udi’s Gluten Free).  My mom and dad split a banana and I got one to take with me to eat about 30 minutes prior to the race.  Then, I went upstairs to brush my teeth, throw on some yoga pants and a hoodie, and grab my running bag with a change of clothes inside and a different pair of shoes.   My dad was (im)patiently waiting at the door for all of us (well…just me…everyone else was ready to go as I came down the stairs).  So, we headed out through the garage to get in the car and make the 25 minute drive from their house to the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, the new site of the race and the Gluten-Free Expo that was happening afterwards.

We pulled into a nearly empty parking lot, but saw the banner for the Making Tracks for Celiacs 5K hanging above the door.  So, we were in the right place.  My mom and I hopped out of the car, and I was glad that I had on my yoga pants for the time being because that wind was COLD!  We went over to packet pickup and registration to get our t-shirts for this year’s race then went to meet up with my dad and Cathy.  We decided it was too chilly to stand outside in the wind, so all got back into the car.  I ate my half of the banana.   Cathy got out to get rid of the peel from her half then proceeded to stand around outside, staring at the car as if willing all of us to join her in the chilly morning air.  I refused for about 5 minutes.  But, I knew I needed to take off the hoodie and yoga pants and get acclimated…so that’s what I did.  I stepped outside of the car and immediately broke out into goosebumps.  Damn that cold air.

I did a few dynamic stretches to warm up before the race.  As I was finishing those up, I heard the race organizer get on the horn and start to talk about the event and the change in the course.  I figured I could just follow the people in front of me…which is how I do every race.  So, I vaguely paid attention and heard things like…run through the RV park…go behind the dumpster…be careful of the giant puddle…run around a pole…

These are the things race organizers go through when they very suddenly have to change their race course, which has been plotted for months, mind you!  Before the soccer tournament was even scheduled to be plaid.  Frustrating.  They were not happy.  We were told to head out to the start line…so we did.  I stood near the front.  It looked like we had a good turnout, which is always a good thing.  And before I could get my Garmin ready to record…the air horn was blown and we were off.

I punched the button on my Garmin, it started, and off I went with the group, following a group of kids, a couple of guys (one of which was the race organizer’s husband), and a few other people.  The kids petered out almost immediately, deciding they had run enough…so I passed them after the first turn.  Then, I passed one of the ladies in front of me…only to get passed up by a super-speedy woman (Allison Hoover), who I couldn’t catch up to or pass up again to save my life.  She was flying.  We were sent over a bridge and up an incline…then made a turn to go up another incline…then turned around in a cul-de-sac…and sent back down the hills.  It was as I was nearing the bridge to head out into the parking lot that I passed my mom and dad.  They both cheered for me…shouting “Go Girl!” and clapping.  It made me smile.

So, then we hit the parking lot and were sent through the RV park.  This was about the time we hit Mile 1.  So, one down…just a couple to go.  We ran through the RV park and then made this crazy loop thing and were sent up another part of the parking lot and around to where there was a bit of a trail leading to a path that was behind a dumpster.  They weren’t kidding.  Upon making the turn onto the path and rounding the corner, you encounter one of the steepest downhills of your life.  Seriously.  I pulled up so as not to tear up my quads and maneuvered it safely and effectively.  There was a little dip at the bottom before you were sent up a climb on the other side.  For every downhill there is an uphill.  I pushed up that and ran on that path until it dropped me off in a new section of parking lot.  I followed the volunteers, keeping cones to my right or left, or whatever I was instructed to do at the time.  I found Mile 2 (which was marked)…but my Garmin didn’t beep.  I normally don’t check but I was curious…

My Garmin said 1.78 miles.  Yikes!

Me crossing the finish line of the Making Tracks for Celiacs 5K - Birmingham, Alabama

Me crossing the finish line of the Making Tracks for Celiacs 5K – Birmingham, Alabama

Into the final part of the race, I just attempted to keep my pace as best I could.  I came back into the main parking lot and was sent down to where some walkers and runners were coming around to head toward the dumpster.  I remained on my side of the cone, avoided a huge lake (er…puddle…) and pressed on the path volunteers directed me on.  The guy in front of me made a turn then headed toward a pole near the end of the lot.  He ran around it and I followed, then we hit the straight-away toward the finish line.  I passed him up and kept on moving as fast as I could.  I crossed the finish line, paused my Garmin and made my way through the chute.  The race organizer tore off the bottom of my bib and I moved on to get some water.  Super-speedy Allison Hoover made a comment about my shoes (I was in my new Newton’s) as she was wearing Newton’s herself.  We bonded a little.  Then I went to get water and she went to talk to friends.

I finally checked my Garmin and saw that it read only 2.92 miles.  That wouldn’t do.  So, I handed Cathy my cup of water and did an easy shakeout for .20 miles to get me up to 3.1 miles.  That was what I intended to run that day and that was what I managed to get in.  I could see my parents again, heading toward the dumpster line…and they were leading all the walkers.  Honestly, my dad wasn’t registered.  But my mom encouraged him to walk it with her.  He kept telling her to keep moving without him, but she stuck with him.  And I think that’s super awesome.

I cheered for them when they emerged and headed back through the lot and made the turn to head toward the turn that would take them to the pole and then, eventually, to the finish line.  I stood near the finish to cheer and when they emerged, I was shouting and just clapping and jumping up and down.  As he wasn’t registered, my dad dropped off and came to my side and let my mom finish her walk by passing through the finish line.  Cathy took a picture.  It was awesome.  I went over to give her a hug.  We then went to go get bottles of water and some clementines that the race organizers put out for everyone.

Clementines are my favorite post-race thing to eat.  Seriously!  That or watermelon.  For real.

The kids 1 mile fun run would be starting soon, and awards were said to be at 10 a.m. with the expo at 10:30 a.m.  My mom and I said we would hang out at the race if Cathy and dad wanted to make the mandatory coffee run.  Turns out awards weren’t being done before the expo and now the expo was open at 10:00 a.m.   My mom and I went over to the doors leading to the banquet hall and stepped inside to get out of the wind.  She called my dad to find out if they were close to returning.  They were.  And about five minutes later, they pulled in, coffees in hand.  Now properly armed with caffeine, we hiked up the stairs to the expo (I mean, why take the elevator, right?) and went to see what was offered.

The expo was much smaller this year than it was two years prior.  MUCH smaller.  But the vendors were all super nice and there was a lot of delicious products and treats to try out.  Cathy and I split any large portion of something while my mom and dad would split theirs.  It made it so we weren’t too full for lunch shortly after (which we were meeting up with my sister and my youngest nephew).  As we were making our way around the floor, the race organizer started to call participants over for the awards.

While I was the second female overall, they weren’t giving that award away.  This did mean, however, that I placed first in my division.  And when my name was called for the 30-39 age division, Cathy, mom and dad all cheered.  They almost ran out of medals at this point…having not ordered enough it seemed.  I got the last first place age division award though…so they wouldn’t have to mail mine to me all the way in Indiana.

We finished up at the expo, went shopping at Organic Harvest, and then met up with my sister for lunch.  It made for a great day.

So, my official results of the Making Tracks for Celiacs 5K are that I finished in 21:52 (but remember…the course was short).  I was 9/79 finishers overall.  I was 2/54 women finishers.  And I was the 1/18 in my division.  Not too shabby, I think.  Granted, it’s still not the run I know I am capable of, but I’m still just being cautious on this ankle.  I get nervous about pushing too hard…and reinjuring it.  I know I am capable of better…but I was proud of my results.  And, even more, I was proud of my mom for coming out and doing the race with me.  She can’t run, as her ankle is permanently fused, but she loves to walk.  And this was for a cause that effects both of us…and we had a blast being a part of it.  In fact, we’ve decided to make it an annual event.

I’m already excited about next year!


Publix Georgia Marathon – Atlanta, GA (March 23, 2014)

Me crossing the finish line of the Publix Georgia Marathon - Atlanta, Georgia

Me crossing the finish line of the Publix Georgia Marathon – Atlanta, Georgia

Race: Publix Georgia Marathon

Place: Atlanta, Georgia

Date: March 23, 2014

Time: 3:51:32


I must be out of my mind, right?  I was just cleared to run this past Monday and went for a sprint in a 3K race in Frankfort, Kentucky.  No pain.  No problems.  And I did some outside running throughout the week to what my training schedule would have been had I been able to properly train for a marathon distance.

Which…I haven’t.  And…I didn’t.  In fact, my longest run since the ankle sprain was done in Columbus, Ohio…around my friend’s neighborhood.  And that was only 8 miles.  Yep…not exactly going into this having logged double digit runs.  AT ALL.  Not since February…and I think the longest one I managed then was 10 miles.

This…is not the way I wanted to come into this run.  But, when you badly sprain your ankle…there are few choices left to you.  Unable to run outside…and then limited to a treadmill (NOT a tready girl…I get so bored and long runs are not an option at a gym that limits you to only an hour on the machine).  But…with the ankle rehabbed and my running slower…but okay…I packed up my bags, packed up my car, and made the long drive down to Atlanta.

For…a marathon.

A full and hilly 26.2 miles.

Because…I was cleared to do it as long as I don’t blitz it.  I had no intentions of blitzing this one in the first place, so I was okay with that.  But, that’s not to say the nerves haven’t set in.  Because, trust me…they have.

The drive down was pretty uneventful.  Listened to some tunes…then a few Doc Savage radio shows…until I got downtown.  Pulled into the Omni Hotel and had my car valet parked.  The luggage was left with the doorman and I went to check in.  I stayed at the Omni when I was in Atlanta for The Police concert so many years ago!  So, I knew it was a very nice place to stay.  And as I checked in, since I was here for the marathon, the hotel provided me with an awesome bag of goodies: a banana, a bottle of water, and a KIND Bar.  This…is my happy face!

Went to the room and waited for the luggage to arrive.  When it did, it was time to head to the expo.  Now, I had every intention of walking away from this expo with nothing more than maybe a new BondiBand…and my race packet.  But then…EXPO AWE OF PURCHASING DOOM hit and my wallet…took the brunt of it.  Now…for the most part, nothing was really something I didn’t need.  I bought a couple of Wonder Woman tech shirts.  YAY!  Been looking for those everywhere.  I bought a new pair of Newton’s…which was my splurge buy, but my old pair is up in the miles and, damn, I love those shoes.  And…I bought the adhesive spray for my KT Taping.  Oh…and while I was there, as an extra precaution, I had the people at the KT Tape booth tape up my ankle.  Figured it wouldn’t hurt.

After that…I had to get out of there before I talked myself into other items that caught my eye…because the shirts in the Official Merchandise store were tempting.  But I really don’t need more shirts, LOL!

So…Cathy and I left the expo and took items back up to the room at the hotel.  We had some time to kill, so we decided to take a stroll over to Centennial Park.  So…we did that and actually found the finish shoots and the start of the finish line being put up.  We wandered over so I could take pictures in front of the finish line.  Then, we strolled up to the Hard Rock Cafe so I could pick up a pin and Cathy could get a shot glass.  Been ages since we’ve been to the Atlanta Hard Rock.  We went to check out where we were dining that night before taking things back to the hotel, relaxing for a moment, and then making the short stroll up the street to dinner.

Dinner was at Max’s Coal Oven Pizzaria.  We saw them listed on Find Me Gluten Free with some good reviews…so we figured we’d give it a try.  We were seated immediately and we made a decision on a gluten-free pizza to split.  We chose the Gluten-Free Fontina & Funghi Pizza…which was a white pizza that had fontina cheese, wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, and fresh oregano.  It looked amazing when it was delivered to my table…but it really…was kind of MEH.  The mushrooms were awesome.  The crust was…uninspired and rather boring.  SO not the way I wanted my mandatory pre-race gluten-free pizza to go.  So disappointed.  After that, we walked over to the CNN Building to take a look around.  We got some frozen yogurt for dessert and came back to the room to relax.  I had my stretches and foam rolling to do and really just want some time to relax and make sure I was hydrated and ready for the morning.

My first alarm went off at 3:30 a.m.  I got up and did a couple of things before climbing back into my comfy bed and getting about 45 more minutes of rest.  When my second alarm went off at 4:30 a.m., I checked the weather, then got up and got my clothes I laid out the night before and went to get changed.  At first, I was afraid that the t-shirt under my Marathon Maniac’s singlet (OH…forget to mention I totally qualified for Marathon Maniacs back in January with the Disney Marathon) would be too warm.  The temperature that morning was 58° F with little breeze.  Wearing it turned out to be the best decision I have made.  More on that later.  I ate my cereal and then did my stretches (my physical therapists would be so proud!) and resistance band work (again…they would be proud).  I brushed my teeth…then put on my fuel belt and bib and headed out the door.

Then…I get to the elevators and realized that I left my cellphone in the room.  So, I hurried back to the room to get it.  Exit…take 2…I get in the elevator and head down to the lobby.  I get to the door and realized that I left my pre-race banana in the room.  So…now I’m stressing myself out and went back to the room and grabbed the banana…and my hoodie…just in case it was windy and chillier than the Weather Channel app on my phone told me.  Exit…take 3.

And this time…we made it out the door and onto the sidewalk.  The start of the race was in Centennial Olympic Park right across from my hotel.  No stress.  So, I was starting to feel a little calmer and better about everything.  I was supposed to meet up with the other Marathon Maniacs for a picture near a statue, so that was where we headed first.  It was my first official photo as a Maniac…and that was awesome!  The photo was a quick thing and then I went to find somewhere to do some more stretching and eat my banana.  Cathy gave me a good luck hug and said she was off to find a place past the starting line to see me off.  I decided to get into my corral (Corral E).  Time was ticking down.  Fifteen minutes to go to start time.  The nerves were starting to settle in…again.

The National Anthem was sang beautifully!  I was listening to all the chatter in the corral about time expectations.  I had none coming into this one.  I just had a goal…to finish…and not get re-injured.  Having just been cleared to run last week…well…this was a huge risk running this race.  I had so many people tell me to defer.  But…I figured if I was cleared to run…this was running.  I would listen to my body.

I got to chatting with a guy next to me.  He noticed me getting my Garmin ready and he said his all-out died on him so he showed me his standard watch (with the actual watch hands and everything) and said he was taking it old school.  Awesome!  We got a good laugh about it and I mentioned I had to replace my Garmin because mine did the same thing.  I love my new Garmin, BTW!  Little treat to myself!

The corrals began to get collapsed and the flag barriers removed.  We all moved up and then the official countdown in a robotic voice began.  And then…we were off.  I walked for a moment, then we all started to job.  And…we were off.  I gave a wave to Cathy as I ran past her.  She cheered and then…I was hitting the road.

And this road was H-I-L-L-Y!!!

Seriously…it became immediately apparent that I haven’t been able to train much this winter.  First…I was barred from running for over a month.  Then I was banned from running hills along with it…for longer than not running.  That also meant no incline on the treadmill either.  So…I was so not ready for the Hills From Hell™ in Atlanta.  But…I signed on for this, right?  Right.

Between Mile 1 and 2, I had the chance to run with a really nice guy, also a Marathon Maniac.  We discussed our sprained ankles, as he had badly sprained his ankle too and this was his first run back as well.  His name was Anthony and he was really nice.  I lost him at a water stop though.  From there on out…it was all about what my body was telling me.  With the number of hills and the various climbs and steepness of each…I said that if my ankle twinged, I would back it off.  So…that was the plan.  I wasn’t running for time…just the fact that I could run again!

I absolutely took on this challenging marathon with my whole heart.  I was having a really good run for the most part.  They volunteers at the water/Powerade and food stops were awesome.  I actually expected there to be more crowd support through the entire race…but…nope.  It was pretty sparse.  The Decatur area had some groups out and the police officers helping with traffic control were awesome.  I got a lot of shout-outs for being a Maniac…which was awesome.  It definitely helped me get through some of the more challenging portions of this race.

Around Mile 16 it began to spit rain.  I knew we had a big chance of rain…but it had held off.  So…I was sort of expecting it (hence the reason I was wearing a hat).  But…it only spit rain for about 30 minutes and then…it just stopped.  Sadly though, when the rain came in…so did the wind.  And some of these gusts of wind reached 20 mph.  And we were running right into it.  It kept catching the brim of my hat and trying to pull it off my head.  It almost reminded me of the Marshall Marathon where the wind battered runners the entire way.  Of course, with the wind…it got cold.  Fast.  And this is why I mentioned above why I was glad I decided to keep the t-shirt on.  The beginning of the race was humid and warm and I sort of was kicking myself for putting the t-shirt on beneath the singlet…but after that wind hit…I was happy to have it.

The end of this race was a gradual uphill, which made it very difficult at times.  My calf muscles were screaming and barking and mooing at me all at once.  Like I said…you could tell that I hadn’t been running the hills recently.  Or…running at all.  I felt way under-prepared…and a bit out of shape.  But…you know…I walked part of the inclines…I kept my pace easy so as not to do any damage.  And I ended up having a better race than I anticipated I would.  Finishing a marathon in sub-4 after not being able to run for over a month, and having to tackle some intense hills…yeah…I’m happy with this!

I spotted Cathy at the finish line and she rushed over to congratulate me.  Then she said to go get my medal and stuff and to meet her in the reunion area.  I walked through to get the beautiful medal from this race.  Then…water.  Ah, sweet water.  And then it was the Mylar blanket followed by chocolate milk.  I made my way through the chute until I made the turn to head toward Centennial Park and the Publix Food Tent.  Cathy was waiting on a grassy knoll just inside the gate.  I walked over the area where the bomb went off during the 1996 Olympic Games and made my way to where she was.  She gave me a huge hug and congratulated me once again.  We made our way over to the Publix Food Tent and I had my ticket torn off my bib to get my bag of goodies for the finish.  They even gave Cathy one.  That was very nice of them…as Cathy works just as hard as I do at these races, trust me.  I went to a clearing in the grass and put my feet up, attempting to call my parents.  They were still in church though, so they didn’t answer their phones.  After that, I got myself back on my feet and went to do my calf stretches against what we later realized was the base of the Olympic Torch holder.  For real.

The finisher's medal of the Publix Georgia Marathon

The finisher’s medal of the Publix Georgia Marathon – Atlanta, Georgia

It was really cold out with the wind, so we made the short hike back to the hotel room so that I could take my shower, have the fruit cup Cathy picked up for me and then get ready to head out to the CNN Center for the CNN Studio Tour she picked up tickets for while I was on the run.  That, by the way, was so much fun.  I have a degree in journalism, so I was eating up every moment of the tour.  We did a little bit of shopping and TONS of walking around Atlanta.  It was a good afternoon.  And I never really stopped moving, which is always a good thing.

And now, I’ve retired back to the hotel room where I am about to do my stretches and resistance band work.  Law & Order SVU is on…and I’m feeling content.  I was so nervous about this race going into it…and I’m content with what happened and how I did.  Sure…slightly disappointed…but you know…this one had to be about running smart.  It just had to be that way.

So…my official results of the Publix Georgia Marathon are that I finished in a time of 3:51:32 (for 26.47 miles).  I wasn’t expecting to go sub-4 on this one, so this was a very nice surprise.  I was 296/1628 finishers overall.  I was the 64/647 female to cross the finish line.  And I was 10/98 in my division.  Was this the marathon I wanted?  Absolutely not.  But…it was the best marathon I could have given the circumstances I was under.  I ran smart…I listened to my body…and I crossed that finish line.

Another year of running down some dreams…



Oh my goodness!!

What a crazy year it has been.  I started off this year with a simple goal: run 1300 miles in 2013.  Well, that goal was easily reached because I met yet another goal this year as well…

I ran my first marathon.

And then followed it up with another marathon.

My other goal was to make it through the year uninjured.  I almost made it.  SO close.  The past two weeks I have been going without running due to Achilles tendonitis brought on by refusing to hop on a treadmill and going for a run while there was still ice and snow on the ground.  The uneven footing was enough to alter my gait enough to cause this bit of discomfort.  I am on the mend though.  Not being able to get out and run has been killing me…but I have supplemented spinning classes (I go at least 2 times a week), swimming (once a week) and some weight training in, all of which I intend to keep doing well into next year.  Because I love how strong these other activities are making me.

Do I have a goal for this coming year?  I haven’t really given it much thought.  Miles I always seem to surpass…races I run plenty…I think my main goal is to eat better, train better, remember to cross-train more, take some time to walk and see the sites that I might miss otherwise, work on speed, and just have a great year on the road.

SO much love and thanks to all my friends this year who have seen me through training, traveled to my races, cheered for me, cried with me, and pushed me beyond what I ever thought possible.  I have made so many new friends this past year and I know that I’m going to forge new friendships in this coming year.

So…here is to a happy, healthy, and healing New Year.

Thank you, my dearest readers, for sticking with me and offering advice, words of love and encouragement, and for pushing me to aim higher.

2014…I’m on the mend…and I’m ready to hit the road!  Let’s do this!

Big Hit Half Marathon – Louisville, KY (October 26, 2013)

Me crossing the finish line of the Big Hit Half Marathon - Louisville, Kentucky

Me crossing the finish line of the Big Hit Half Marathon – Louisville, Kentucky

Race: Big Hit Half Marathon

Place: Louisville, Kentucky

Date: October 26, 2013

Time: 1:39:00

Ah…the Big Hit Half Marathon (and Quarter Marathon).  It’s come around again.  This is the third year these two races have run and this is my third year running it.  The only difference this year…I chose to do the Big Hit Half Marathon as opposed to the Big Hit Quarter Marathon that I ran the two years prior.


Because last year when I ran the Quarter Marathon, I placed first in my division.  So, when you conquer one thing…you move to the next, yes?  So…instead of 6.55 miles this year, I opted for the full 13.1 miles in the half.  I was very excited to be changing it up this year and going for the full.  While I absolutely love the Quarter Marathon…I was ready to see the course for the Half.  So, with a Groupon that gave me half off registration, I signed up…treating this as a training run as I’m still in recovery from the Chicago Marathon.

And then…the weather reports came in.

Every day, the Facebook page for the Big Hit Half Marathon posted the temperature at race time…and it would get colder and colder each time.  I was unamused.  Because…I hate running in pants.  But it does get to the point where it’s just stupid to wear shorts.  And when it hits 30 degrees…feels like 29 degrees with the wind…it’s stupid to wear shorts.  Although I had a big debate with myself about this…and on the morning of the race, opted to be smart and put on capris at least.

But I’m getting ahead of myself…as usual.  This tale begins on Friday…at lunch time.  That was when I headed over the river to get to Slugger Field to pick up my packet.  There wasn’t much of an expo for this one.  It was much smaller than the two years previous.  In fact, while there was never a huge expo for the Big Hit…it actually had some vendors the two years prior.  This year…there was a table with the awards…and there was also a table from our local Fleet Feet store.  Other than that…the small space that the packet pick-up was held this year had the tables with the race numbers for bib and t-shirt pick up.  The race bags also contained a few snacks.  So, that was nice.  But, I wasn’t used to the much downplayed for this race.  The Louisville Sports Commission…yes…but not the Big Hit.

But…you can’t judge a race by its expo…or lack thereof.

Anyway…after work that night, I was committed to attending a fun little Halloween party at Louisville’s very own allergy-free bakery, Annie May’s Sweet Café.  Friday happens to be gluten-free pizza night there…and the pizza at Annie May’s is the best when it comes to gluten-free.  We all know, the night before the race is gluten-free pizza night for me.  Keeping the flavors simple, Cathy and I split a gluten-free pizza with Daiya vegan cheese and tomatoes.  Nothing spicy or heavy.  And we each also got one of the gluten-free soft pretzels.  If you are in Louisville in January when Annie May’s brings these back to the weekly rotation…GO AND GET ONE!!  Carbed up…the next plan was to go to the pumpkin walk at Iroquois Park…but we were in costumes…and having fun with that, so instead we went to the mall and walked around.  So much fun.

But…alas…there was a race the next morning…so we needed to get home so I could turn in and get some much needed rest before the race.  I had laid out shorts…being optimistic about the weather.  However, when I woke up the following morning and went to do a temperature check…I knew shorts were not happening.  Nope.  So…out came the capris.

Did I mention that I hate wearing pants?  I was totally not feeling like running that morning.  But…when you pay good money for a race, unless there are extenuating circumstances…you get your ass to that race.  Even if this was being treated as an easy run…since recovery is important…no all-out racing until I recover from Chicago completely…I really, really wasn’t feeling it…at all.  Dressed, I ate my cereal and got my change of clothing and whatever else I might need together.  Cathy eventually got out of bed and downed some breakfast as well.

After some manic morning stuff, as usual, I got pinned up and let it be known to Cathy that I just wasn’t having a good morning.  You know how I mention how amazing I felt at Chicago for the marathon.  Yeah…this was the complete opposite.  Cold weather and I are arch nemesis’…and today…the cold weather was winning.  Especially since the wind was going to pick up and get stronger as the day went on.  That being said, we grabbed the race bag, the sign, some snacks, and I filled my fuel belt (one bottle with water, one with Gatorade), snatched up the pre-race banana…and we were out the door, making the drive to Slugger Field.  That ride was one of the easiest we had going to a race in Louisville.  Honestly.  At least there was that.  We parked in the lot at Slugger Field and went to go inside, only to have signs directing us to the very small area where packet pickup occurred the day before.  This mean…we had to walk around the building, still in the cold, and duck inside.  It wasn’t too crowded…but we got away from those doors and ducked into this middle section.  I immediately went to use one of the flushing toilets in the stadium…and to my surprise…there was no line.  Business taken care of, it was back to shivering and playing the waiting game.  It was cold…so when I finally decided I needed to be stretching…it was my half-assed “I’m too cold to stretch” kind of stretching.  Good times.

Yep.  I’m a wimp.

One of my BlueMile peeps, Kathryn, spotted Cathy and I and we stood around talking.  She was in search of Harry, one of the best people in the world to run with, as she was hoping to run with him during the half marathon.  We hadn’t seen him, but he wandered through shortly thereafter.  Then Terry, another one of my running peeps, stopped by to talk.  He had just been diagnosed with a torn meniscus in his knee, but it was his birthday…and he had a cortisone shot, so he was prepped to give the half marathon a go.  He was also in search of Harry, so when he wandered back through…and went to follow him.  Cathy and Tarry managed to follow him through the crowd of gathering runners.  Somehow, Kathryn and I lost them.  How we lose a girl wearing a blanket is beyond me.  But it happened.  And it took us a bit of time to find them again.  Soon after we did though, the running group peeps joined up.  Tammy, Laura, Mike…it was awesome.

BlueMile representing at the Big Hit Half Marathon!!  We were a cold bunch ready to run!

BlueMile representing at the Big Hit Half Marathon!! We were a cold bunch ready to run!

Although we were all quite warm standing inside the stadium…the start was about 10 minutes away.  We knew it was time to head outside and down to the start line.  So, together we all braved the cold morning air, left the comfort of the inner sanctum of Slugger Field, and stepped out into the wintery air of downtown Louisville.  It wasn’t a long walk to the start line…but it sure was cold.  Cathy and I sort of led the way for the group, but we paused at the start line to take a group shot of those who managed to stick with us.  I finally unzipped my hoodie…so the race bib was visible.  I think that was out of habit, LOL!  Damn you MarathonPhoto!!

And then…we were off to spread out and get to about where we needed to be for the start.  Little purple balloons hovered over the sea of runners doing both the half marathon and the quarter marathon.  I lined up just slightly back from the 1:45 pace balloon.  When I ran Disneyland as a training run, I came in just after 1:42…so I knew this would be a good spot for me to keep me at my training pace.

Some announcements were being made…and I heard Laura and Mike behind me.  Laura spotted Natalie, who we were missing at the start.  She hadn’t been feeling well, but she was here.  So, I went over to give her a good luck hug.  Also found Michael and Patrick with her too.  Okay…everyone was present and accounted for.  That was good.  I sneaked back to where I was for the start, finding Dennis from my Saturday running group…and when the announcements none of us could actually hear were done…we were off.

The wave of runners at the beginning of most races in Louisville is chaos.  While pace groups dotted the start of this race…not everyone really adheres to where they need to be.  I was just doing this for training…so I didn’t care.  I just bobbed and weaved through the sea of people as best I could as we traveled down River Road.  We were sent that way for about half a mile then we were turned around at a traffic cone and sent back the way we came, going by the start line, and clocking in for the first mile.  This year’s course was changed slightly due to the construction going on for the new bridge.  Hence…the wonkiness of the start.  I was feeling good, but I knew I went out fast and was just trying to get ahead of some of the people I was dodging.  So, I eased up…wanting to really abide by my training.  I tucked into a nice spot, about 20 feet behind Tammy and two of her friends.  I remained there up until about Mile 3…when I pushed past.  Tammy was running the Quarter Marathon, so she was halfway there.  I still had 10 miles to go.  As I passed, she said, “Go Karen! Get it!”  I love her!

The thing about the Big Hit Half Marathon and Quarter Marathon is that there isn’t a lot of crowd support happening.  Nope.  It was very desolate throughout much of the race.  Those who volunteered at the aid stations were fantastic…there were even little children who came up with cheers for the runners as they ran by.  That was so good.  But for much of the time on the road…no crowds.  Maybe a pedestrian who was happening by would stop and clap and cheer…but that was it.  It made this half marathon more of a mental game than anything.  I’m used to at least having some crowd support throughout most races…so this was a bit more like a Disney race…just…with even less support than you find during Disney runs.  Because at least when you are in the parks you have a crowd.  We were on the roads…and there wasn’t much going on.  At Mile 5, the courses split.  The Quarter Marathoners went to the left, heading into their last bit of their race, ending at home plate in Slugger Field.  Half Marathon runners went to the right, taking Third Street all the way down to Central Avenue.  We turned around again, with a quick switchback on Central Avenue before hitting Mile 8.

As I was heading back up Third Street, Harry spotted me as he was running the other way.  So did Kathryn soon after that.  And after her…Terry.  All of them shouted my name and we waved and cheered for each other.  I love my running peeps.  I was feeling good as I headed into Mile 9 and 10, so I picked it up a little…hitting a brilliant Mile 11.  I was two miles out.  Still feeling good.  The sun was out…and despite the very strong headwind now, I was having a good run and a good time.  I was actually starting to feel like I was too warm for my liking.  This is what happened at Chicago too.  I really need to figure out my running comfort zone when it comes to temperatures.  Regardless…the last mile was in reach, and as I turned onto Witherspoon, I could see Slugger Field and even hear the announcer in the distance.  LOVED that.

This has always been my favorite part of the Big Hit race.  As you come onto Witherspoon, you turn and run into the back entrance of Slugger Field.  This puts you on the very back out of the outfield, near the wall.  You can see the Finish Line at home plate and you just pick it up, and you run like you just hit a grand slam home run.  You round the corner onto the third base line, and you hit the white cover that is laid out.  You’re almost to the finish.  And for me, I was looking at that clock over the finish line and pushing and pushing and pushing.  I touched home plate…and was done.

I paused my Garmin and received a temporary finisher’s medal.  Yes…temporary.  As I slipped it over my head, I heard, “Karen…let me get a picture!”  I looked at it was the MarathonPhoto photographer I got to know really well during the Louisville Triple Crown of Running this past winter.  So that was awesome!  I posed and then moved on to get the timing chip cut off my shoes.  Cathy was waving my sign at me and I pointed at her and screamed, “PR!!”  It wasn’t planned, but man…I felt so good.  After getting the timing chip removed, I grabbed some of the offered snacks.  I got a granola bar for Cathy, and grabbed a half banana and an slice of orange for myself.  Along with some water.  Then, I made my way up the steps, feeling my knee once again aching, but ignoring that.  I stopped off at the results tent and they printed up my real-time results…and without even looking at them, I went to find where Cathy was camped.

She and Natalie (who ran the Quarter Marathon) were standing there and ready to give me hugs.  I handed the results off to Cathy while I chatted up Natalie about how her race went.  She did amazing.  Even came in first in her age division.  In fact, a lot of my group placed in their divisions for each race.  I didn’t…but I wasn’t aiming to.  All I knew was somehow I managed to clock a new fastest half marathon time.  I didn’t know what it was officially, but it beet Lake Minnetonka…but at least a full minute.  So, after I managed to eat my banana and orange, I asked Cathy for the results and we finally took a look at them.

My official results for the Big Hit Half Marathon are that I finished this 13.1 miles in 1:39:00.  Holy cow!!  And yes…that is my exact time.  LOL!!  A new PR!!  I was so very proud because I wasn’t even aiming for a new PR.  I was just running a comfortable pace and enjoying my run.  Love when magic happens.  I was 57/799 finishers overall.  I was 10/440 females to cross the finish line and touch that home plate.  And…I was 4/92 in my age division.  I couldn’t have been happier with those results.

As much as I wanted to hang out and see my peeps get their awards for their division placements…I was cold and hungry.  We walked Natalie to her car, as we had wrapped her up in the warm Sherpa blanket.  And then…after congratulating her again, we headed to our car to get over to Annie May’s Sweet Café for some post-race food.

I always have a good time running in the Big Hit races.  I was so happy to step up and move to the Half Marathon this year.  I knew I could have rocked that Quarter…but since I needed 12 miles anyway…paced…this was the perfect opportunity to test it out.  I stayed at my race pace the entire time.  And even had negative splits.  Can’t argue with those results.

Oh, and as for the finisher’s medals…it seems that they didn’t ship in time, so they hadn’t received them yet.  As a consolation, the race provided temporary ones that we get to keep and will mail the official ones to us this week.  I thought it was great of them to have medals to supplment for the runners.  They didn’t have to do that, but they did.  And that’s part of what makes this race so amazing.

Big Hit Half Marathon…I do intend to run you again next year.  Thanks for always being awesome.

Bank of America Chicago Marathon – Chicago, IL (October 13, 2013)

Me at Mile 3 of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon - Chicago, Illinois

Me at Mile 3 of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon – Chicago, Illinois

Race: Bank of America Chicago Marathon

Place: Chicago, Illinois

Date: October 13, 2013

Time: 3:28:28

I just ran my first marathon!  My first 26.2 miles.  I ran it through 29 neighborhoods in Chicago.  I ran it strong.  I never hit a wall.  I had a plan.  I stuck with it.  And I had some of the best support on the ground I could have ever asked for at a race.  The weather was perfect.  And I, honestly, had the time of my life.

How many people can say that when they’re running 26.2 miles, eh?

But this post doesn’t start at the race.  This post started 18 weeks ago when I not only began a challenging training program, but also took it upon myself to find a sports nutritionist because I wanted to be sure that I got to this race and was able to run this race in the best shape possible…and ready.  There are so many times before where I did so many things wrong…especially when it came to fueling and hydrating during races.  I didn’t want that to happen here.  You only get your first marathon once.  I wanted it to be a good and happy memory.  So, Donna, if you are reading this, all your advice and help really, really paid off.  I listened to you about how to fuel properly for a marathon, how to hydrate properly for a marathon, what to eat, what to avoid, and how to figure out what worked best for me.  Some weeks were better than others…but that’s why we have those 18 weeks of training.  You figure it all out.

So, as the taper kicked in and my mood shifted from runner’s high to evil step-runner mode (I do NOT handle taper well.  Let this be my PSA to all of you), I had to really trust my body and try not to let the mental game of…running less = poor performance get to me.  Mind games.  They happen.  I was very respectful of my taper, doing exactly as my plan called for.  That meant the week leading into my marathon, I didn’t run much.  For three days, I ran 4 miles each morning.  Two of them were at marathon pace.  One was more speed work and pacing related.  Then…two full days off.  No running.  No morning walks.  Zero.  Zilch.  Nada.  Rest the legs.  Get them ready.  I wanted to run so bad during those days…but I didn’t.  I made myself rest.  It was two of the hardest days of my life.

Friday night, my friend Jenn from Ohio rolled into town.  She has been to quite a few of my races and is such a huge support.  She wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to come to Chicago to see me run.  Nope.  So, she headed this way and got in as I was still trying to make myself pack for the race.  I was distracting myself.  With everything.  Including organizing my BondiBand’s by color.  Packing…yeah…focus.  She and Cathy got me on task, and once my running bag and my regular duffel bag were packed with what I could pack that night…the three of us headed out to grab some dinner.

Since it had been way too long since Jenn had come into the area, I had her pick a place where we could eat dinner.  I sent her places that had options for everyone, including me.  And she surprised me when she chose Dakshin, a local and amazing Indian restaurant.  I threw it on the list because I knew it had good food.  Never did I expect Jenn to pick it.  But she did.  And I was proud of her for branching out.  So, we made the drive over to Dakshin and settled in for some crazy-good Indian food.  If you live in Louisville and haven’t tried this place…DO IT!  Since it was only two days to my marathon, I was being extra cautious about my food.  Being a Celiac means being so careful when it comes to eating out.  I wanted carbs and protein…so I ordered the Dal Tadke Wali…which is home style yellow lentils which are tempered with Indian spices.  YUMMY!  It was served with this delicious basmati rice that has coriander seeds and various Indian spices cooked in with it.  Keep that in mind as you scoop it onto your plate…FYI!  Needless to say…the food was delicious and Indian food is one of my favorite cuisines anyway.  I don’t get the authentic stuff often…so this really made me happy.  Cathy, in case you were wondering, chose the Goat Korma…which was apparently spicy.  Jenn went with the safe, but still off the beaten path for her, Tandoori Chicken.  It was spicy for her too.  So, with me being the one who loves spice…I got the mildest meal of all three of us.  Go figure.  Anyway…after our amazing food, we went to celebrate the upcoming race with some ice cream from The Comfy Cow.  I was a Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice scooper.  Hey…marathon training means ice cream.  This was Jenn’s first taste of Comfy Cow ice cream, so she went with the Bonjour Toast offering.  Cathy went with Vermont Maple Walnut.  With full bellies…we headed back to the apartment to settle in for the evening and watch Spirit of the Marathon to get keyed up for Sunday…and followed it up with Marathon Thoughts…which if you haven’t pulled that up on YouTube…shame on you.  Do so now!

We crashed out that evening at a decent time.  The people downstairs were having a party, so sleep wasn’t easy and I didn’t get much of it.  My alarm went off early…because my training plan called for me to do 3 miles or 30 minutes of running that day.  Since we had a drive to Chicago ahead of us, I got out of bed, put on my running clothes, my reflective gear, and headed out to run.  The rest days were good for me…and my legs felt good as I pushed through three very early miles.  I came back and snuck inside so as not to wake anyone yet.  Went to shower and finish packing.  Then, Jenn was up.  And soon Cathy was as well.  We ate a quick breakfast (cereal and some gluten-free French toast sticks…which…eh…) before packing up the car with all of our stuff, a cooler of drinks and snacks, and hit the road to Chicago.  We had to detour around Indianapolis due to Highway 65 being shut down going through downtown, so this tacked on some time.  My friend Heather, like one of my best friends who I have known since third grade!, was in Chicago to see me run.  She flew in from Minnesota for the occasion and texted to let me know she was there and grabbing some breakfast.  We had hoped to get in around 10 a.m.  We got there around 11 a.m.  We met up with Heather at the Hilton Chicago, the host hotel, and the hotel we were staying in for the weekend.  We valeted the car, put our luggage on a cart to be delivered, and I got us checked into the hotel.  We were up on the 8th Floor…which just happened to be the floor where many of the elites were staying.  The luggage would be up shortly, but the four of us headed up to the room.  The first set of keys I was given, didn’t work…so I headed back down to the lobby to get that fixed.  There was a much longer line now and more of a wait.  But, I just let it roll off my back.  These things happen.  No sense getting worked up over it, right?  The key situation was fixed and we got some commemorative keys to boot.  LOVE them.  Back up to the room and my friends were already inside.  I closed myself out just to make sure the keys worked this time.  They did.  And soon after…luggage was delivered.

This is how I know my friends are totally amazing.  The guy bringing in our luggage carried in the famous Donkey sign first, saying the most important thing had to come in first.  He immediately put it up in the window facing the lake.  It made me smile…a lot.  As he was bringing in our bags and cooler, he was asking questions about the race…and I mentioned it was my first marathon.  He said to my friends that they had a long day ahead of them tomorrow…at least a 4 hour or 4-1/2 hour wait for me to come in.  To which, Heather chimes…”Nope.  She’ll run it in 3:30.”  Cathy and Jenn totally ran with that as well and I just nervously laughed.  He asked what my number was because he’d have his eye on me.  So, we told him, tipped him, and he was gone.  With that bit of business taken care of…and bathroom breaks made, we hurried downstairs to 8th Street entrance of the Hilton and got in line for the shuttle buses to take us over to McCormick Place, where the expo was awaiting us.  The first bus that arrived filled up fast…but we got on the next one and soon were on our way to the expo.

Me at the Nike booth at the expo for the Chicago Marathon

Me at the Nike booth at the expo for the Chicago Marathon

Lately, my race expos have been tiny and rather…disappointing.  Utica…was probably the best one I had been to all year…and I’m not counting Disney races in this.  Disney is a monster all its own.  But this expo…was HUGE!!  We walked into McCormick Place and just followed the sea of runners…which guided us to the monstrous exhibit hall where all things running related were happening.  First things first, however…and that was getting my packet.  I headed over to where this BIG sign declared PACKET PICK-UP, and stepped up to this little table where they scanned my participant guide and sent me over to Booth 5 to retrieve my bib number and packet.  I headed that way, and my information was already pulled up and waiting on me.  I was handed my bib, an envelope of information, and told where to go in order to get my race t-shirt.  I grabbed some Chicago Runs For Boston bracelets for me and my friends and went to head to get my t-shirt.  But…got waylaid by this awesome wall where people were able to remove a magnet and sign their name.  We all did it…writing messages and the like…and keeping our magnets as mementos.  Then, we got to battle the crowds.  I was ready…and as we made our way up the first row of exhibitors…I just casually glanced at the booths.  I was hoping to make it out of the expo without spending too much money, so the less time I looked at things, the more likely that was going to happen.  I managed to get up to the tables in the back that had the t-shirts and bags for the participants.  I retrieved mine…and, as I learned my lesson from Disneyland, immediately pulled out the t-shirt to make sure it was a proper fit.  It was.  So now…we were loose to check out the exhibitors and try to make it out with as much of my wallet in tact as possible.

It was a valiant effort…but an ultimate fail in the end.  I found CEP’s booth and picked up some compression sleeves for my friend Natalie.  She wanted the blue ones I wore once to the fun run…and I promised if I spotted them at the expo in Chicago in her size, I would buy them.  Well…it happened.  And they were now hers.  Not far from there was the BondiBand booth.  And my friends and I set out on a mission to find a 26.2 BondiBand.  We found SO many good ones, just not 26.2.  Then…we started finding them…in hideous colors.  With some luck…I found two that were okay.  One in blue with pink numbers, and a red and black one.  I asked my friends which I should get, and since my uniform for the race was red and black…that was what we went with.  I purchased two other BondiBands as well…

Oh…I also got to meet Hal Higdon.  Like…THE Hal Higdon.  How amazing is that? I bought his new book, 4:09:43 – The Boston Marathon Bombings, and was able to have it autographed.  This happened because I get a call from Cathy saying…”I’m standing next to Hal Higdon.  You better get over here!”  And with some direction…yep…it happened.  And I was this little fangirling runner trying not to squee and make a fool of myself.  Because…DUDE…it’s Hal Higdon.  AND while Hal was signing my book, right behind me on the main programming stage…Deena Kastor.  DEENA KASTOR!!  One of my running idles.  I was…in runner heaven, I think.

But…there was much to do that day so lingering too long was not going to be an option.  We were just scraping the surface of the expo.  So…we made our way past booths…in which I ignored the Newton booth…because I couldn’t afford more shoes at the moment as much as I wanted another pair.  We sampled different NUUN flavors.  We tried some protein bars (gluten-free, of course), we walked past Scott Jurek, the vegan ultramarathoner…and I once again had to attempt not to squee!!  I was doing good…not spending any more money…and we were making lots of progress through the expo.

Then, lo and behold, I hear someone calling my name.  It’s Matthew and Dawn, who I run with on Saturday mornings with my group.  They were up in Chicago as spectators, not runners, in this marathon and saw me walk by.  In that mass of people…they spotted me.  We hugged…we talked…they asked how I was feeling.  I said the nerves were gone, now I was just excited.  So…I was already feeling better.  Lots of people I knew were here…they were going to be cheering…it was going to be a good time.  They told me to have my bib scanned at the Nike booth…so I took that advice and headed that way.  Bib scanned and the screen read, “Karen Owns Chicago.”  SWEET!  I was about to leave, after getting a free poster, when I spotted the official merchandise.  No shirts though…but we were directed over to the Nike booth.  UH OH!!  Yeah…might as well have just drained my wallet when I walked in there.  Needless to say…a jacket and a shirt later…I was now leaving the expo…because I was running out of money.

We returned to the Hilton and took things up to the room.  We had a small amount of downtime to sit and chat.  Heather did some foam rolling and I started to get my race outfit out and laid on the table so it was ready for the morning.  We called down to valet after that to have the car brought around because now…it was time to feed our faces.  I had discovered what sounded like an amazing place to get a gluten-free pizza.  The place: Da Luciano Pizza, Pasta and Catering.  It was located in River Grove, so it was about a 20 minute drive.  We got there…went inside…and was asked if anyone needed a gluten-free menu.  I was feeling good about this already.  We were seated and left to look at the menus.  While all the pastas sounded awesome, my pre-race tradition is gluten-free pizza.  I wasn’t changing that up.  Nope.  So, we all placed our orders…and I got my gluten-free pizza with mushrooms, onion, and roasted red peppers.  YUMMY!  Food came out and I devoured my entire pizza and even ordered a gluten-free cannoli for dessert.  That, BTW…was super-duper delish.  The pizza was really good too.  It hit the spot.  And I was now properly fed (carbs!).  We dropped Heather off at a train stop so she could head back to her hotel…and then we were headed back to the Hilton.  We all changed, brushed our teeth, and…climbed into bed around 8:30 p.m.

Da Luciano's Gluten-Free Pizza and Gluten-Free Cannoli

Da Luciano’s Gluten-Free Pizza and Gluten-Free Cannoli

This was early for me.  This never happens.  I always try to get to bed early on race night, but it never seems to work out.  So, I immediately figured that I’d have trouble falling asleep.  WRONG.  I was out.  And I only woke up, briefly, twice during the night with the, “What if I didn’t set my alarm?” panic I always have.  I rested…and rested well.

My alarm went off at 4 a.m. and I snuck out of bed, hoping not to disturb Cathy and Jenn as I fumbled around in the dark, grabbing my outfit for the race and heading into the bathroom.  I dressed.  I did my hair.  I came out as Jenn was heading into the other bathroom.  Cathy finally dragged herself out of bed too.  We all had a quick bite to eat and I was texted by Heather to say she was on her way.  I wasn’t sure cereal would be enough on a marathon race morning, but was told to stick with what I knew.  So that morning, I ate a serving of Chocolate Chex cereal…no milk…slowly and leisurely, as I checked my e-mail and Facebook on my phone.  I had so many people wishing me luck.  Text messages were coming.  And just as I finished eating and went to brush my teeth, Heather texted to say she was at the hotel and heading up.

I got my fuel belt ready with my hydration needs, tucked my GU packets into my skirt pockets…and when Heather arrived…we were all set to head down to the lobby.  And…with perfect timing my friend Cheryl texted to ask if I was at the Hilton.  I said I was and she said her gear check was right there and she wanted to come over and see me.  We made plans to meet in the lobby…which was bustling with runners.  But…she found me.  And we hugged and talked about the race…and took pictures…because that’s what we do.  Time was nearing for me to head to the gate that would take me to my corral.  So…with us each wishing each other luck and telling each other to have a good run…we parted ways.  She was in the 2nd wave of runners to go out…and I was in the 1st.  In fact, my corral, Corral C, was only accessible through Gate #1.  Heather lead the way there…and we just talked a lot about anything but racing.  We even took selfies on her phone while walking.  HA!  We paused at the corner and took photos with each other…rotating through and then crossed the street to Gate #1.  This was as far as they were allowed to go.  The security checkpoint was right there…so…they wished me luck…Jenn sent me off with her usual sayings, which are magic, I swear…and I went to get in line for the no-bag security check.  One more wave…and they were off to find a spot near the start…and I was off to get to my corral.

My friends are awesome - Me and Cheryl; Jenn, Me, and Cathy; Me and Heather

My friends are awesome – Me and Cheryl; Jenn, Me, and Cathy; Me and Heather

It was still dark out, but I just sort of followed the signs to get me to Corral C.  It was a bit of a hike, but not bad.  Not really.  I was clinging to my banana for all it was worth and trying to get the butterflies in my stomach to settle.  Not nervous butterflies.  The excitement was starting to build.  And I was just…wanting to settle in and zen.  So, I found the entrance to my corral, but didn’t go right in.  I stood on the side and did some stretching…some walking…some pacing.  I wanted to be loose.  I wanted to clear my mind.  And the moment I stepped into that corral…I wanted to be focused.  So…I just paced the sidewalk for about 30 minutes, stopping to stretch out my legs every now and again.  At 6:55 a.m., I peeled my banana and sent to get into Corral C.  Security checked my bib number, I entered and moved up to a spot where I remained for the rest of the time.  I ate my banana quicker than I intended to…but I think that was just me needing something to do.  I just hoped it would stick with me long enough to get me to the point I chose to be my first fuel point.  I packed an extra GU pack though, just in case I needed it.  I was taking no chances.  But…I was fine.  The corral filled up quickly.  I had to help the guy behind me start his iPod.  His daughter loaded up a playlist for him, but he had no idea how to work the player.  I helped him out and he thanked me.  I talked to some people around me, making friends, and hearing from others about their experiences with the Chicago Marathon.  Exciting!  The announcer had everyone remove their hats and the National Anthem played.  Runners shed clothes they wore to keep warm, and we all shivered in crisp 45 degree air.  At 7:20 a.m., the wheelchair start headed out.  Then, at 7:21 a.m., the handcycle racers got underway.  It was 7:30 a.m. when the start officially happened…with the elites up front…and the corrals behind them.  We were slowly moved up as each corral was sent off.  It was so comical when those holding the rope to the corral tried to clear out as those of us in Corral C were turned loose to head to the Start.  I stuck to the left of the course, because Cathy said she’d be aiming for the left side of the road…I trotted to the start…crossed the line…and was off.

Chicago Marathon!!

This marathon runs through 29 neighborhoods of Chicago.  It kicks off in Grant Park, which is beautiful, by the way.  I took off from that start line, heading for the underpass we go through.  The crowd was already prominent and loud.  It was awesome.  I started off smiling and I don’t think that grin ever left my face for one moment.  Soon, I found myself in the Streeterville neighborhood, home of the Magnificent Mile, lots of luxury hotels, great shopping district, and Navy Pier.  People were lined up 5 deep on the side of the road, making as much noise as possible…and just being loud.  I wasn’t sure where I was going to see my friends…but I was through the first mile and didn’t see them at all.  Onward.

The Loop was up next…with all the gorgeous architecture it brings to Chicago.  I was heading up LaSalle Street…and just before Mile 3…I see the Donkey sign.  There are Heather, Cathy, and Jenn and they are making some noise!!  I think my smile grew even more.  I waved as I ran by.  Jenn yelled, “RUN DONKEY!  RUN LIKE A PRETTY PONY!”  Um…this is becoming a new mantra I think.  I LOVE that.  It was awesome seeing my friends as I neared the 5K mark.  Pressing on, I entered Near North Side, where the streets were lined with trees, offering some shade from the sun, and residential areas as well.  Then it was into Lincoln Park…then Wrigleyville (yes…Wrigley Field!)…then Lakeview East.  And in Lakeview East…Boystown!  Boystown is the first officially recognized gay village in the United States, and is also the cultural center of one of the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities in the nation.  This is immediately evident in the race because, aside from the rainbow flags, runners are greeted by a stage full of drag queens.  It was really awesome and definitely a change in the usual mix.  It made me smile!  It was a party right on the course.  This was one of my favorite neighborhoods to run through.  The vibe was awesome.

The different neighborhoods continued…Park West, Old Town…and then…around Mile 12…River North.  What made Mile 12 so damn special was that this was where Cathy and Jenn found me again on the course.  Somehow I missed them.  I didn’t know they were going to be there…but my eyes were always searching that crowd for my friends and my sign.  How I missed it…I don’t know…but they were there and have pictures to prove it.  Regardless…I must have felt them in spirit because I was still going strong!  My friends are awesome.  From there it was through some more of the city’s amazing neighborhoods…West Loop Gate, Greektown, and the West Loop.

I bet you’re wondering where Heather went then.  Well, she already had a place in mind for where she could see me again on the course.  After Mile 3…she hopped a train and found me again right around Mile 14…in front of Soul City Church.  And…WOW…was she loud and cheering as I came through.  I heard her above the roar of everyone else in the crowd.  She wanted to be at Mile 14 because it marked the furthest I had ever gone in an official race.  With 10 half marathons under my belt…13.1 miles has been the standard.  She wanted to see me into that next step.  And she did it with perfect Heather style!!  And even got the pastor of the church to scream right along with her.  What a way to take on the second half!

Near West Side was next…then Little Italy (aka: University Village).  The smell of Italian food was prominent.  And it smelled really good.  From there it was into the Illinois Medical District.  And then, as we come around toward Mile 20…the Pilsen neighborhood.  Mile 20…is usually where The Wall hits.  But I never even hit it.  The Wall was not even a force to be reckoned with.  It was dead to me.  And I powered through this difficult part of the race without even slowing down.  I was feeling good.  My race plan for fuel and hydration was working…and fatigue wasn’t even hitting me.  There was no stopping me…not here.

East Pilsen was next…followed by Chinatown.  I loved Chinatown.  I rounded the corner into this neighborhood and was greeted by a big, silver Chinese Dragon.  The atmosphere was uplifting and awesome.  And the area smelled ethnic and awesome.  And it really made me want Chinese food.  I haven’t had Chinese food in forever due to my food allergies.  I miss it.  A lot.  Chinatown was SO awesome.  The crowd here was massive and loud.  Uplifting for sure!

Which was good because heading into Mile 23 was the hardest to contend with…because the crowds faded as we hit the industrial area.  There was very little crowd support.  It was only for a little over a mile though…the crowds did come back.

Bridgeport was next…then came the turn to “head home” and through the Park Boulevard neighborhood.  It was straight up Michigan Avenue from that point on.  The final 3 miles were upon me.  And this was where I started to slow down.  I felt strong, but the sun was up and the temperature was nearing 70 degrees.  I was hot.  But with only a 5K remaining, I was ready to give it all I had.  Bronzeville…The Gap…South Commons…Prairie District…

At around Mile 26…South Loop and Central Station…where the crowd gave runners a much needed lift as all of us tackled the one hill on the course.  And it was NOT nice having us run up a hill at the very end.  Let me tell you though…they did their job.  I slowed down just slightly as my legs really didn’t want to run up that hill, but the crowd got me there.  And so did my friends, who I heard screaming for me.  This was the last point they could see me at before the finish line.  I was going to reunite with them in the runner reunion area afterwards.  So, they were loud and awesome and I was on my way to the finish.

Me...the marathoner...after the Bank of America Chicago Marathon - Chicago, Illinois

Me…the marathoner…after the Bank of America Chicago Marathon – Chicago, Illinois

The Finish Line came into view and I kept smiling.  I think I was smiling the entire time I was running, but that Finish line just went to show how tough I was…how far I’d come.  It was beautiful.  I gave my final push to cross the line and threw my arms up in victory.  I finished strong.  I finished feeling good.  I got past the photographers and paused my Garmin.  Then…immediately started crying.  I didn’t hurt.  I wasn’t tired.  It was just I had so many doubts coming into this marathon, and then I went and did something extraordinary.  I finished it far faster than I anticipated or even dreamed.  Everything felt like a blur.  I took a few deep breaths and kept moving…getting some water…and then receiving my finisher’s medal.  Bananas…snack boxes…more water…and finisher’s photos…that all followed.  I downed some Gatorade as I moved…then had some water.  I made my way through the finish area toward the runner’s reunion, where I was to meet Cathy, Jenn and Heather under the letter V…because it would be less crowded than the beginning of the alphabet.  I saw the sign…and my friends…and went running toward them.  Cathy came up and gave me a tight hug, immediately telling me my official time.  I cried some more.  I cried more as Heather gave me a hug and then some more when Jenn gave me a hug.  We were just…so happy!  I was so FREAKIN’ happy.  I made sure I drank some more water and I laid down to put my feet up while I called my parents in Birmingham, Alabama to tell them about my race and my finish.  They were so thrilled and proud of me.  I only wish they could have been there to share the moment as well.

After I hung up the phone, I stood up and went to get in line for a stretch and massage.  The line was long, but I knew this would help in the end.  While I was waiting, Cathy went off to see if she could find any official finisher’s gear.  She returned about 10 minutes later (the line hadn’t moved) and handed me a gorgeous red rose and a bear wearing a Chicago 2013 26.2 t-shirt.  Ironically, the bear’s name was Dean, which was a sign…had to be…since the captain of the charity (Action for Healthy Kids) that I was running for is none other than Dean Karnazes.  Eventually, it was my turn for a stretch and massage.  That was the best thing ever.  It helped get those muscles loose.  The therapist working on me mentioned how flexible I was…and I told her it was from years of yoga.  After a good stretching…we decided to make our way back to The Hilton so I could get showered and changed.  My intention, even though I wasn’t sore, was to take a cold shower.  I turned the water on, stuck my hand in…and totally nixed that plan.  I’ve never taken an ice bath or ice shower after a run, why start now?  Especially when I didn’t feel I needed one.  I bounce back really well from long distances on my own.  Never change up the routine.  Anyway…I was clean.  I foam rolled.  It was time to go see some sites around Chicago.

Our plan for the day was to hit up Garrett’s Popcorn for amazing popcorn of awesomesauce.  Cathy promised me a gallon tin of the Cashew Caramel Crisp.  We also got a small bag of the Chicago Mix…because we needed something to snack on.  All of us bought our share of popcorn to enjoy…and we went walking the Miracle Mile.  With Nike being one of the sponsors, they had all the official Finisher’s merchandise.  So after a stop by The Bean…and The Chicago Tribune building…Nike was next.  As we neared the building, employees were out cheering on everyone who was wearing one of the finisher’s medals.  It really made it SO special.  We ducked inside…and Cathy purchased two shirts for me…and Heather put money toward a nice pull-over (in Heather gray).  After that…a walk back to the hotel.  Heather needed to meet up with our friend Janet to go to church and Jenn, Cathy and I were going to grab some dinner.  Instead of the Mexican place we had reservations for that night, we ended up sticking to the hotel and eating at the pub that was connected.  I had a salad.  They had fish and chips.  From there…back up to the room to relax a little while and wait for Heather and Janet.  Because gelato was on the menu for dessert.  Well earned…and dessert is best when done with friends.  I didn’t want the evening to end…but, much like my little cup of gelato…it did.

Sadly, it was time to say goodbye.  Janet was going to get Heather to the airport, as she had to fly back to Minnesota that night.  So, lots of hugs and promises to get together again soon…we parted ways.  I walked Janet and Heather to the elevators and gave hugs and said goodbye…for the time being.  I returned to the room and got changed into pajamas.  Foam rolling was next.  And then…we were all ready to settle in, watch some television, and then get some sleep.

The problem was…I couldn’t fall asleep.  I was tired, but sleep just wasn’t going to come.  So, all night I tossed and turned and watched the clock.  I finally got out of bed…and went to change.  Soon, Jenn woke up and then Cathy.  Cathy and I went to walk a bit around the track at the fitness center before we finished packing everything up and getting ready to check out.  Chicago was a blast…but we had a long drive ahead of us.  So…after a quick jaunt to Caribou Coffee…we had our luggage loaded up, my car brought around…and we hit the road.

I am very, very proud of my accomplishment…and I know a lot of this was made possible by the people who have helped me along the way.  First of all…major huge props, hugs, love, and appreciation go out to my sports nutritionist.  Donna…without your advice, guidance, and all-over support and enthusiasm…I don’t think I would have made it through that distance without hitting The Wall.  As The Wall and I are still perfect strangers…I hope to continue this trend.  You are awesome and I’m so glad we are working together.  Your advice and your help have, definitely, made me a better, stronger, and faster runner.  You helped me develop a plan to go the distance and feel good at the end of said mileage.  Guess what?  It worked!  Tons of praise, love, hugs, and cowbell jingles go out to my family (who couldn’t be in Chicago), my friends, my co-workers, my runners, and the strangers who got me to that finish line.  This has been a long journey…and you’ve seen me through all of the insanity.

To Cathy…who saw me try and fail, try and succeed, rode 18 miles on a bike one Sunday with me to keep me company on a miserably hot day, who has seen me through injuries, seen me struggle, seen me overcome, and just continued to be the best damn crew a runner could ever have.  To Jenn…who coined my new favorite phrase when it comes to running, who always tells me not to pants my poop…and who compels me with the power of Dean…who shares my love of all things chocolate, ice cream, and delicious…and who never judges me when I get up early when I visit and go for crazy long runs.  Even if it’s in the kitchen during a snowstorm.  Next time, I promise not to slam into the island.  And to Heather…who I have known since 3rd grade…and despite your move to Minnesota as we were heading to middle school, kept in touch and still, to this day, is the best damn friend this girl could have asked for.  Your amazing belief in me and my abilities is unstoppable.  You teach me to reach for the stars and go beyond even what I think I am capable of achieving.  Your drive is contagious.  It always has been.

So…my official results of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon are that I finished in a time of 3:28:28.  I am still shocked with my time and blown away by what that time means.  I was 3,897/39,122 finishers overall.  I was the 592/17,527 female to cross the finish line.  And I was 154/3,274 in my division.  You cannot believe how thrilled I am with these results.  I felt so good about this run.  I conserved energy…even though I took that first mile fast.  I knew to ease up and let my body find it’s rhythm and its pace.  I ran strong.  And with that…achieved more than I ever thought possible.  This past week has been dedicated to recovery…although my body hasn’t really felt like it needed it.  Like I said…I bounce back.  This was such an amazing experience.  I never stopped smiling during the race…and it’s been hard to get me to stop smiling since then as well.

I ran this town...and owned it!

I ran this town…and owned it!

Marathon Training Week #18 – In which I head to Chicago for my first 26.2 miles!

Marathon Training Week #18

Marathon Training Week #18

Deep breath.





Don’t pass out.  Don’t freak out.  Keep calm.  Keep calm and run a freakin’ marathon!

I can’t believe 18 weeks have already passed.  I began this journey on a rainy morning, June 10, 2013…and it all culminates at the finish line of the Chicago Marathon.  God willing, I’ll get there.

Marathon week has arrived.  Technically.  And I’m going through the motions of the taper.  I’m retaining water, which is messing with my head.  I’m running fewer miles…which is messing with my body.  And I’m a basket case of emotions, which is messing with my friends, family, and co-workers.

But it’s here.  At last.

On June 10th…I woke up at 3:30 a.m. to eat something small, drink water, get dressed, and head out to run.  It was raining.  Pouring, in fact.  But no one guarantees perfect weather on race day.  So, without even blinking, I grabbed a hat, got my reflective gear flashing, and went to head out the door.  Except I was greeted with a message from my roommate, which, to this day, still hangs on the back of the front door.  She was in her room, still asleep, but this was how she was showing her support…and every morning from that day when I struck out for 5 miles easy (which I did with hills, mind you!), I took everything on this little sign in…and used it as a mantra:

Roomie shows her support...with a sign on the back of the front door!

Roomie shows her support…with a sign on the back of the front door!

Inspirational, yes?

And with early morning runs every week, early morning runs every weekend, some fun runs, some races, some mile sprints, speed work, pacing work, and just finding out more about what I can and can’t do…pushing through it all…I arrive…at race week.

Sunday, October 13, 2013 marks the date for the Chicago Marathon.  My first 26.2 miles.  My first full marathon.  A part of me feels so ready.  But a bigger part of me is doubting my abilities, not wanting to believe all the hard work I put in through training for 4 months was good enough.  Or, that I’m just not ready.  This is normal.  And I know…deep in my heart…I’m ready.


So…let’s see how this final week of training leading up to race day went, shall we?

Sunday was a rainy, rainy, rainy morning.  Sunday is a rest day, but I often go for another run, keeping pace easy and distance minimal.  I don’t want to over train, but I go stir crazy at times.  I had told the roomie that since I was in taper, I would simply do 5 short miles…at the gym if the weather was bad.  Well, it was raining…I’ve run in the pouring rain before.  I could have gone to the gym…sure…but the very thought of hopping on a treadmill was unappetizing.  For real.  So, I laced up my old Nike running shoes, put on my reflective gear, slapped on a hat, and went out for a run.  What I didn’t know (because I don’t have cable nor do I watch television) was that we had flooding in our area.  This should have been apparent in the first mile when I was warming up and kept splashing in pretty deep puddles.  But as I hit the roads, nothing prepared me for the ankle deep water I ended up trudging through.  I turned around and went the other way, only to be greeted with the same situation that way too.  Flooding…does not make for good running.  But, I laughed.  I was having a good time.  The puddles were everywhere…some ankle deep without me being able to tell…and every time I hit one…it just made me smile.  I mean…what can you do?  I logged my miles, went home, stuffed my shoes with newspaper, and went to take a shower and get dried off.  The rain stopped later in the morning.  Go figure.  It was a good way to start the week though…which I needed as I continued to struggle with my taper demons.

Monday morning greeted me with 4 miles.  I was supposed to do 4 miles at marathon pace…but I decided to move my speed work up a day.  It was my last day of speed work, and my schedule was going to be pretty insane this week.  Doing it on Monday was the best way to do it.  I did an easy warm up of 1/2 mile at my long slow distance pace.  Then it was 1 x 4800 meters (3 miles) at marathon pace.  Followed that up with 1/2 mile at my long slow distance pace for a cool down.  My body is playing tricks on me…with the water retention and all.  The run felt good.  And I still think I need to push myself a bit more on my speed work, but this was a good run.  I actually enjoyed my speed work for once.  And, naturally, being Monday…the Daily Double struck.  I headed to my running store for the running group that evening.  They decided to do the Pumpkin Run…so we went on a run past the house in the Highlands with all the pumpkins…then continued on to Cherokee Park.  We were to run the loop backwards…but Patrick (it’s always Patrick said we would run the loop regular, make a full loop and then head back.  Meaning…Dog Hill…TWICE!  The man is insane…and yet I somehow I always get suckered into doing it.  It was challenging…and I like challenging.  After the morning speed work, I didn’t think my legs would do well on the hills on the loop, or the speed that Patrick was pushing.  I was behind the two others who actually did run the loop, but I was feeling good.  I kept pushing…and I caught up on Eastern Parkway.  It was a good feeling.  And I really needed that.  Granted, it was a bit disrespectful of the taper…and ended up being 5.4 additional miles that day…but I was elated with how I managed to take those hills and maintain a great pace.  I had a feeling my legs would feel it in the morning, however.

Tuesday morning greeted me with an early wake-up call and 45 degree weather.  It was brisk and amazing outside.  I was in my shorts and short sleeves and ready to take on the cooler weather.  The training program called for 4 miles at marathon pace today.  So, I went and rocked it out.  In fact, I took these 4 miles faster than my estimated marathon pace.  The legs weren’t even feeling the two hard runs from the day before.  They were ready and raring and just enjoying hitting the pavement that morning.  I managed beautiful negative splits.  And then…my last day at the gym this week.  Since it is Tuesday, I hit up the Arc Trainer – Program 1 – Level 5 for 45 minutes and churned out a fantastic 2.8 miles.  I was having a great work out day!!  Seriously.  After the Arc Trainer…I went over to the rowing machine to get that full-body cross-training effect.  I have a love/hate relationship with this machine, but I managed 1.18 miles in 10 minutes, which is pretty good for me.  After that, downstairs I went for some strength training before calling it a day and heading to work.

Wednesday was my last run before the taper really hit with some down time.  The plan called for another 4 miles at marathon pace.  Which…I did get out and do, once again, in the dark and cool morning.  I even managed some negative splits.  I honestly didn’t feel like I was pushing too hard or struggling for that next mile, which is only a good thing.  My pace was good, my breathing was good, and my legs were starting to feel the effects of less mileage.  They weren’t as tired or as heavy.  And it just felt good out there running.  I finished in amazing time and feeling strong and good.  But really dreading the days ahead.  Me going without running is like…being without air.  I don’t cope well.  So, watch out world…I’m tapering…big time.

Thursday morning was rough.  I got up later, because the body needs rest on rest days and as tempting as it was to get up at normal time and go for one of my brisk walks…I need to respect these important days of rest and recovery.  Because that’s what my body needs to do in preparation for Sunday.  This doesn’t mean that I just sat around all day.  I made a healthy breakfast that morning.  I took a package down to the car.  I walked around Harvest Homecoming in New Albany twice that day.  Just to not be sitting at my desk the entire time.  I stretched.  I foam rolled.  I made sure I was taking in good carbs, good protein, and healthy fats…topping off my tanks.  I was taking care of me and getting my body ready.  And, it was hard…and I might have whined a couple of times…but I soldiered through.  A day of rest…it was tough.  But I got there.

Friday was the second day of complete rest.  I, once again, let my body rest in the morning, sleeping in and setting my alarm for much later than I would normally wake up.  I had a few things I needed to go get at the grocery store that morning, and although it is just a mile and a half up the street…I didn’t walk.  I drove.  I didn’t skim the aisles, but went immediately to what it was that I needed.  I went home.  I baked some treats for Chicago.  I made breakfast at the same time.  I enjoyed a protein-filled breakfast with fruit on the side and a fantastic caramelized apple parfait with some Greek yogurt.  Yummy!  I went to work.  I enjoyed easy strolls through Harvest Homecoming once again.  I moved around from my desk as much as I could manage with my work load.  I left work and came home to pack.  I didn’t pack…because when I’m nervous I find things to distract me…like hand washing clothes.  I know…I’m weird.  Jenn arrived from Ohio…and she and Cathy put me on task to pack…so I did.  Eventually.  Then we headed out to dinner.  Jenn chose Dakshin, an amazing Indian restaurant in Louisville.  I had the Dal Tadke Wali, which is home style yellow lentils tempered with Indian spices.  It was SO good.  And vegan.  And that meant…good and safe.  I had it over delicious rice.  Carbs.  Protein.  Topping off those tanks properly.  We treated ourselves to Comfy Cow afterwards.  Then it was home to watch Spirit of the Marathon and Marathon Thoughts…then getting some much needed sleep.

Saturday…it’s here.  The day before my first marathon.  And I’m a mixed bag of emotions.  I got up at 4 a.m. to do my shakeout run.  And the rest days paid off.  My legs feel good and strong and amazing.  I didn’t push my pace.  Didn’t push anything.  Now was not the time to try to hit a best time.  Now was the time to just let my legs do what they wanted to.  And every moment of this run felt good.  I enjoyed it…taking in the still, dark morning.  It was in the low 50s too, which helped make it feel even more effortless.  Temperatures on race morning in Chicago will be around 48 degrees.  I can’t wait.  I’m feeling amazing…which is making me feel better about a lot of things.  So, out for a 3 mile easy run…and now I’m going to make up breakfast so we can pile in the car and make the trek to Chicago.  Going to hit up the expo and meet up with Heather and have a good time.

So…this has been a physically and mentally challenging week.  But I have made it through the taper and on Sunday, I will get to see if taper madness really does translate into taper magic.  Because…I have not been a happy person this week.  Running shorter mileage…not running…it’s been driving me insane.

Not to mention, I’m an emotional wreck as it is.  I’ve been having moments of complete panic and what I call…race panic.  I have these freak-out moments and I just have to remind myself to breathe.  Just breathe.  And I know I can do this.  I’ve put in a lot of long hours on the road.  I’ve put in so much time, so much effort, and I know I have a lot of people cheering for me…all over the country and the world.  And that’s pretty awesome, yes?

So…there it is.  18 weeks of long, hard training…18 weeks…and I finally arrive at the place I’ve been training for.  When I started this journey it felt so far away.  The race is now…tomorrow.

I hope I’m ready.

Chicago…here we go…

Chicago Marathon - Sunday, October 13, 2013

Chicago Marathon – Sunday, October 13, 2013

Marathon Training Week #17 – The heart of the matter

Marathon Training Week #17

Marathon Training Week #17

Taper madness continues.  Along with a lot of outside stress…inner doubt…and really learning to rest this body.  It’s not easy.  I love my runs, especially my long runs.  And having my mileage cut back hasn’t been easy for me.  Neither has this entire week for that matter.  Never before have I felt like the weight of the world was pushing on my shoulders.  And, honestly, my week had gotten off to a good start.  I was feeling good.  I was making good decisions.  I was training right.

But all it takes is one thing to throw everything out of whack.  That’s what happened this week and it lead to stress…stress…stress eating…difficult runs…lots of crying…and more stress.

You see, on Monday morning, my roommate, Cathy, woke up and came out of her room looking panicked.  She said she had a bad dream and now her heart was racing.  Sort of like a panic attack.  She went to the doctor that morning and was tentatively diagnosed with Atrial fibrillation (A Fib), which is an irregular and often rapid heart rate that causes poor blood flow to the body.  During A fib, the heart’s upper two chambers beat chaotically and irregularly, out of coordination with the two lower chambers.  She was admitted to Floyd Memorial Hospital…and that was her home until Thursday afternoon.  And I was bouncing back and forth between being at the hospital with her, work, training, and working at home.  There wasn’t any downtime this week.  The good news is…her heart eased back into its natural rhythm on its own.  She had been taken to have a procedure done on Wednesday morning that would involve giving her heart a shock to put it back into its natural rhythm, but her heart had already managed to do that.  So, she’s on a blood thinner and a medication to slow down the beating of her heart.  Yeah…it’s pretty scary stuff.  But, I’m happy to report that she is recovering well, taking her medications, and getting back to normal.

All that being said…training seemed impossible…and impossibly hard this week.  Somehow…somehow I managed to get it all in, visit the hospital twice a day, work at the office my normal hours, and work at home after leaving the hospital at the end of visiting hours (8:30 p.m.).  This meant there were a lot of very late nights and early mornings.  It was a hard week and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t sit down at the office and cry a few times at my desk…or cry in the car…or call my mom and cry…or just have a hard cry while out on my run.  It didn’t always make me feel better…sometimes it made me feel worse…but…things happen for a reason.  And I know if I can make it through this…I can make it through 26.2 miles in Chicago.

While the week started off great…it took a steep downturn starting Monday after my first run.  Let’s take a look at how stress and restlessness turned me into one exhausted runner.  I have never felt so physically and mentally wiped in my life.  This week…felt harder than any other before it.

Sunday is my other day of rest, which I often use to take a second long run.  This run is always shorter than the previous day’s run.  And, I also had to meet with Donna, my sports nutritionist, that morning.  So, I was out early and getting that run in.  I had decided I would go either 8 or 9 miles, whatever I was feeling, really.  I wasn’t feeling too good about things.  Water retention was becoming an issue and each morning I was waking up feeling bloated and just…fat.  Honestly.  Turns out, after meeting with Donna, water retention happens during the taper.  I should not panic over it or fuss over it.  It’s natural.  Whew.  Because, honestly…I was starting to wonder what was happening.  Apparently being very tired and sluggish is another side effect of the taper.  Good to know these things.  I am so blessed to have Donna seeing me through my training and giving me advice and information I wouldn’t have thought of before.  Anyway, I ended up rocking out 9 miles Sunday morning before the sun came up.  I kept the pace easy and slower, wanting to keep it challenging, but not push too much.  And that’s what I did.  I felt really good at the end of it.  The run felt good.  And in the end…that’s the important thing.

Monday started off great.  I was scheduled to do 6 miles easy that morning.  And when I set out in the dark, I did just that.  I just pressed on.  No need to stop for anything.  Even on the hills I randomly chose to throw in there, my legs felt good and strong and I was having a very, very good start to the day.  Came home to make breakfast and that was when the shit hit the fan.  Cathy woke up with the heart arrhythmia, which stressed her out…which stressed me out…which just spiraled into one of the worst mornings ever.  The gorgeous and nutritious breakfast I made (veggie egg white scramble with homemade breakfast potatoes and a caramelized apple and Greek yogurt parfait) was thrown away.  A doctors appointment was scheduled…then a trip to the hospital…which lead to a hospital stay.  I briefly ducked back into the office when Cathy’s mom came to relieve me at the hospital and grabbed some work to do from home that night.  I came home and had to go run some of this pressure off.  So, I laced up my Newtons and went for a soul cleansing 3 mile run.  I didn’t want to be gone too long…just needed to do something to take the some stress off my shoulders and try to ease my own  heart.  The run was cleansing…but it was soon back to reality.  I headed back to the hospital and stayed with Cathy, meeting her doctor, hearing what he was recommending (lots of tests in the morning!), and staying until the last possible moment I could.  Cathy had never stayed overnight in the hospital…and as much as I didn’t want to leave her there because of how stressed out she was…I had to go home.  Came home, ate a dinner consisting of Greek yogurt and red grapes, then worked until the wee hours of the night before calling it quits.

Tuesday is normally my cross-training day.  But I changed it up.  Tuesday, I decided I needed to do my speed work.  It was the day I was dreading most…and that morning I just needed to feel my heart beat fast and hard and have my legs and body pushed beyond limits.  I hadn’t slept well the night before, having only managed about 3 hours of sleep if that.  But speed work was happening.  I did a 1 mile warm up, then hit the paces with 8 x 800 meters with a 2 minute recovery, then a 1 mile cool down.  8 miles total.  I needed that run to battle exhausting, battle my inner demons, battle my emotions.  I needed it that morning.  Not Wednesday…but Tuesday.  Afterwards, I returned to the apartment and showered, then packed up some fruit to have for breakfast (banana, apple with almond butter, grapes), grabbed my lunch for work and headed out the door to the hospital to visit with Cathy.  She had her EKG early in the morning.  But that morning they were going to take her down for her Echocardiogram.  I was there and talking to her (she hadn’t slept much either) until they arrived to take her down for her test.  I told her I’d be back after work, and headed into the office.  Back to the hospital I went, as promised, immediately following work.  We were going to get test results that evening, but her doctor didn’t show up until very late, again.  The news was that her tests were fine.  There was no serious cause to her A fib.  It was brought on by outside factors…stress, anxiety, etc.  So, he gave her two treatment options…medicine…or the shock.  To my surprise…she chose the shock to the heart.  So…they went ahead and had that scheduled for Wednesday morning.  It was after visiting hours when I left…got home…had another dinner of Greek yogurt and red grapes, and worked from home until late again.

Wednesday was another early morning.  It was also cross-training day.  I went to the gym right when it opened at 5 a.m.  And I decided to change things up.  I did my strength training first.  Which felt good.  Then, I hit up the Cardio Wave machine.  I rocked that one out, despite an exhausted body and tired legs from speed work and late nights…and a not so good dinner the past two nights.  After that, I got on the Arc Trainer for 45 minutes and rocked out an amazing 2.75 miles with challenging resistances, inclines, and intervals.  I felt good at the end of the morning.  I came home, quickly showered, packed up an apple and some grapes to eat at the office and headed back to the hospital.  I met up with Cathy’s mom and sister in the elevator and the three of us went to Cathy’s room.  She was asleep, but her mom woke her up.  We chatted until they came to get her for her procedure.  Lots of hugs and well wishes happened outside the cardio unit.  I left after they took her back, having a good cry on the way to work.  Good news came though when her mom texted and said Cathy was doing fine and that nothing had to be done…she naturally went back to her normal rhythm.  It was a relief to be sure.  I stopped by after work and stayed with her until her doctor came in.  He told her she had to stay overnight, which bummed her out beyond belief, and he was putting her on a blood thinner and a medicine for her heart…but that she could go home on Thursday.  I asked if it would be in the morning, and he said it would.  So…I left and went to get some work done, once again making a late dinner out of Greek yogurt and grapes, and managed to do as much as I could before fatigue hit me hard.  I called it a night and tried to get some sleep.

Thursday morning greeted me and I had an easy 3 mile run to do.  I managed that, cursing the taper the entire time.  But I did rock the run, and that was the important thing.  I felt solid and strong logging those short miles.  Then, I hit up the gym.  I did just the elliptical machine, keeping the setting at Level 7, but dialing back on intensity.  Too close to the marathon to do something stupid, and my body was fighting me.  It was just done with everything.  Tired doesn’t even begin to describe how I was feeling at that point.  I was just…dead on my feet.  So, listening to my body, I skipped the other cardio machine and did some easy strength training downstairs before hitting up the apartment again, showering, and getting to the hospital at 7 a.m.  Cathy was supposed to be released that morning.  She was starving, mind you, when I was there and after she woke up…so I gave her the grapes I had brought with me.  Which is good because the breakfast they brought her was not what she ordered the night before.  She picked at it.  Around 10:00, her mom showed up and I left to do some work from home, assuming that despite the promise that she would be released in the morning, it might be an all day thing.  I was wrong.  45 minutes later, I was texted saying they were doing Cathy’s release papers.  So, I booked it over to the hospital to retrieve her.  Hurry up and wait.  Trust me.  It took another 2 hours to get her out of there.  And from there…a trip to the pharmacy for her prescriptions.  She finally settled in at home just before 1:30 p.m.  It made for a long morning.  I was working from home to keep an eye on her, and made her some lunch.  Then later…at her request…I made a baked mushroom and Parmesan risotto for dinner.  All while doing my work and trying to keep up with things at the office from home.

Friday is my day of rest.  And I am doing my best to keep it holy and respect it.  I admit…I did go out on a 5 mile walk.  I KNOW!!  BAD!!  But I just needed to be moving.  I knew I was working from home and that would mean little movement that day because I had work that needed to get done.  So, I did this thing where I would walk/jog for a mile…then walk a mile…then repeat.  For 5 miles…because it felt so good to just be moving.  I didn’t push for speed or anything…I just needed to be active.  I needed to be doing something that didn’t involve sitting at home in front of my computer.  I ducked over to the office to drop off work, pick up new work, then headed home.  I made breakfast for Cathy and I and then spent the rest of the day working while she watched movies and Star Trek.  I ducked back to the office to sort and open mail and pick up more work.  All the hours I had put in at home added up…and I was actually right at my 40 hour week.  So, I was sent home for the rest of the day.  And I vegged.  Dinner was leftover risotto, so that was easy.  And Cathy said she was feeling 70% normal that day.  Getting there.

Saturday is my long run day.  And, sadly, these long runs as of late have had to be done solo for the pacing requirements of my training program.  Today…only 8 miles…but these were paced.  My first 2 miles were to be at my long slow distance pace.  Miles 3-7 were to be at my marathon pace.  Mile 8…back into long slow distance.  I wasn’t really feeling this.  I miss running with my Saturday group something fierce.  Honestly.  But, I got out at 5 a.m. and turned out my 8 miles.  All 8 miles were actually at my marathon pace, which is good because I didn’t always feel like I was pushing or running hard.  This means my legs are stronger than my body and mind think they are.  I pressed on all 8 miles and felt really good when the run came to an end.  I had only wished it had been a longer run.  Aside from that…Chicago is 8 days away and I’m getting really nervous and trying hard not to put too much pressure on myself.  I want to enjoy my first marathon and I’m feeling as ready as I can be.  The taper edges into almost nothing this week…and my body will take time to repair itself and get strong.  Because next Sunday…I go the distance.

It’s been a very trying, very difficult, very stressful week.  But I feel if I could maintain my training and battle through this load of stress, doubt, fear, and anxiety and come out strong on the other end (which I feel is what happened)…then I can do battle with the streets of Chicago and prove to myself I have it in me to be a marathoner!!  I am really giving myself a pep talk.  I did a lot…and I mean…a lot of stress eating this past week.  Being this close to my marathon, I don’t want anything to derail the hard work I have put into training for this.  This means controlling all stress, anxiety, and every other emotion not through stress eating but through healthier outlets.  I think that’s doable.

With Cathy on the mend, the taper coming to an end, and my marathon looming RIGHT THERE on the horizon…I have a feeling I’ll be a basket case this entire week.  But, as my friend Dawn told me, now is the time to trust my training and know that when I get to that starting line in Chicago…all this hard work I’ve put into these past few months will have paid off.  I can only hope.

That being said…I have my bib number for Chicago…and the participant’s guide…and things are seeming very, very real to me now.  Almost there…so close…just trying not to cave under pressure or wear myself out getting there.  Yeah…the nerves have kicked in.  It’s very real now.