Good Life 5k race recap and why getting injured may have been one of the best things that could have happened to me…

 

17 weeks. 119 days. That’s how long I went without toeing the line of a single race. Anyone who knows me as a runner – knows that’s a darn long time. I can still remember the twinge that took me over the edge. The moment I knew something was wrong. January 11th. I was finishing up the cool down of an otherwise good pre-dawn treadmill workout. I had decided to bring it inside due to the dark and cold temps. Out of no where, I felt a sudden pain behind my right knee. I tried to run through it as many of us mistakenly do. But this pain was too much. I shook it off – no worries I thought – I was done with the workout and it’d probably go away later. I finished up my morning routine – but the pain continued to linger.

Flash forward 3 weeks. This had been the longest I had been down and out and to be honest, it was depressing. I had a sprained hamstring and, per my MD, very weak hips and a somewhat severe case of pelvic tilt. A video gait analysis confirmed everything the MD said and then some. I run funny (which I know) and had been getting away with it for years. But it finally caught up with me.

I cried. I cried a lot. And I got even more depressed. I watched countless running friends prep for, race and PR big races while I could barely run a mile without pain. I was jealous. I had to block running posts and updates from my news feed. It was that bad. I had a lot of pity parties. Why me? You see – the last year and a half – I’ve struggled to stay healthy. I get to about the 2 week out point from a big goal race – and I get injured. I made every excuse in the book prior to those races. But now – I didn’t have a goal race. I had to face this thing once and for all. I could not continue this cycle.

After a couple rude awakening talks with my mom and boyfriend (who both deserve a gold medal for putting up with me during that time) I woke up one day and asked myself would it be so bad if I couldn’t race again. No, it wouldn’t. I realized that both running and racing had started to feel like something I had to do rather than wanted to do. And in that moment I knew that I had burned myself out. I actually had started to dread racing. I hated workouts. I despised long runs.

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Strength training has made a big difference

This injury allowed me to reevaluate what I was doing. It was time to work on why I felt inclined to push myself the way I have for the last few years. And it was time to re-develop my love for running while knowing that it does not define who I am. That I run because I get to. That when I’m healthy, I’m actually kind of good at it. And because I love it–the way it makes me feel alive, provides me with a break from stress (and shouldn’t add stress) and because I love the community. This injury would not break me. And even if I couldn’t race again – I needed to fall back in love with running.

So I started slow. I went to see an AWESOME physical therapist twice a week for 10 weeks who just gets it (have an issue? go see Bethany Ure at NovaCare in Park Ridge!). She didn’t tell me to stop running once – but she gave me parameters. I slowly started to creep up my mileage. Once I could run without pain for a couple of weeks, I decided to give back to the community and started pacing runners in the Chicago Endurance Sports (CES) spring training program. I stopped looking at my watch for paces and times. That and getting back to some of the basics (new shoes, extra strength training and a real focus on post-run recovery) resulted in a re-found joy in running and the process.

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Following my first pain-free run

About 2 months after the injury, I felt like I was ready to test the waters again. I started doing some light workouts and started working with my coach, Dan Walters (DWRunning) again. At the start of the year I had set some big goals. We reevaluated those and have set our sites on a late spring/early summer 1/2 marathon and a full marathon in the fall. This will be the first year in a while I will only run 1 marathon. And I’m quite happy with that. The new primary goal – find joy in the process and stay injury free. I could already tell that my head was in a better place as I actually started to look forward to workouts and long runs again.

 

Once I had successfully completed a couple of speed workouts with no lingering pain – and actually feeling stronger than ever – I decided it was time to sign up for a race. I was nervous. What if I embarrass myself? What will people say if I’m super slow? “What if, Allison?” Dan asked. “It’s your race. Run your race.”

He’s right (as he usually is). It’s my race and it doesn’t matter what anyone else runs, says or does. If I show up, put in my best effort and finish strong – there is nothing to be upset about. If I let my nerves get to me, focus on others, and run poorly – then I only have myself to blame. I decided on the Good Life 5k a local race that I’ve always wanted to do and one that brings a lot of the Chicago running community out to race.

The day before the race I decided to run with the CES folks for their 12-mile training run. Not my best pre-race decision. But this wasn’t my goal race either. Rather it was a race to get me over my fear of racing. To remind me this was something I love to do. I spent the day before pretty relaxed. Made dinner at home and tried to go to bed early.

I slept pretty soundly and woke before my alarm. I got up and made my typical pre-race meal before heading to Oak Park with my boyfriend for the race. It was a perfect day. A bit chilly but by the time of the race it was in the upper 50s, sunny and clear. I did my warm up – 2 easy miles and a couple of 100m strides and walked around. I ran into a few people I knew and said hello. I was beyond nervous though. My hands were shaking and my stomach was all over the place. I texted my coach who encouraged me to embrace the nerves. Use them to my advantage. I took a deep breath, kissed my boyfriend and found my way to the starting line.

Unlike most races – this one was separated by gender. The woman’s race first followed by the men an hour later. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this but as it turns out – it was great for this race since the streets are pretty narrow and it allowed the pack to thin out relatively quickly.

Even though my coach suggested lining up farther back than I was usually do, a few running friends coaxed me into the front starting area. This could have spelled disaster for me as it was a very competitive group that showed up to race that day. I recalled my race plan – to go out smooth and controlled but not guns-a-blazing – and for once I listened. The gun went off and I settled quickly in to a slightly too fast pace – but one that felt good in the moment.

The Good Life Race
Crossing the finish line – trying not to collapse

The race itself is a blur – as it often is when I run 5ks (or any race for that matter). I made it through the first mile in about 6 minutes and change. I knew I needed to slow my roll as this was not a pace I had seen myself run in months. I settled into a more reasonable (but far from comfortable) 6:20 pace and started to employ my coach’s recommended strategy of picking runners to catch to take my mind off of the pain. A girl about 100m in front of me became the target. And I passed her at about the 2 mi mark. But after her, there was no one for a while. I tried to just push forward but it felt like the wheels might come off. And then a running friend who was spectating saw me and started cheering me on (thanks Dave!). He told me to pick up my feet and just keep going. Sounds pretty obvious – but in that moment it gave me something to focus on and that is exactly what I did.

That last 1/2 mile I clocked a sub 6 minute pace. I crossed the finish line and almost collapsed. I had tried not to set a time goal for this race. But deep down I knew I wanted to break the 20 minute mark. And I did. 19:40. Good enough for 15th female and 4th in my age group. Not my best but far from my worst. I was happy. But more importantly I was over my fear of racing and I had had fun!

Over celebratory omelets, pancakes and coffee, I reviewed the race with my boyfriend and realized the fire had been lit. I wanted more. But mostly – I want to feel like I did crossing that finish line. Strong. Fast. Joyful. 18077278_10100822044343378_7375491155167137691_o

So I’m ready for what’s next. And I’ve learned so many lessons. To never take this sport for granted. To take time for the little things because they really do make a difference. To listen to my body when it needs a break. To always run with joy in my heart. And that I am lucky – I get to run. I don’t have to – I get to (thank you Stephanie Bruce for sharing your inspiring story – which I just so happened to hear the day before my race!).

And special thanks to my love, Andrew — your support and motivation through all this has truly helped me more than you know. I couldn’t have gotten through this without you and I am so lucky to have you in my life.

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Hitting Reset in the New Year: Why I did a Juice Cleanse

I despise resolutions. And the first two weeks of the New Year. The gym becomes over-crowded and everyone is on a diet, detox or cleanse–trying to right the wrongs of the last month (or year). I don’t believe in diets (for more about my philosophy about food, nutrition, health and life, check out this interview I did for Lux and Concord: Dieting 101 – Game Changing Tips from a Dietitian) — so why then, would I choose to go on a 3-day juice cleanse? In the middle of a big training push to prepare me for an upcoming half marathon? Because if there’s any question I get more often than others it’s what are the benefits of juicing, smoothies and cleansing/detox diets. I wanted to be able to relate to what my clients and customers go through. I also wanted to dive a little deeper into the SCIENCE – to see if there’s any truth to the benefits often touted like improved mental clarity, increased energy, and better sleep. And let’s be honest — I spent most of December stuffing my face with Christmas cookies and holiday beers. I could use a reset button in the New Year as well. So here’s my overall take on how I felt before, during and after; a brief overview of what the science says; and my general take on the experience overall (you may be surprised). What do you think? I’d love to hear from you!

Pre-Cleanse: What am I thinking??

I decided to go with a juice cleanse that took out all the guess work out of it by signing up for the Real Good Juice 3-day Juice Cleanse. Why? I never had to guess at the quantities, proportions, or ingredients. I knew my juices would taste great having had a few of their awesome blends prior to the cleanse and it just made life easier.

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1 Day’s worth of Juice

Each day I picked up my juices for the next day. Six in total – including one smoothie for breakfast. This was another reason I was drawn to this cleanse over others. Smoothies include some fiber – which is usually lacking in most juice cleanses. Fiber is important for digestive health and helps keep us fuller longer.

A couple days before I cut back a bit on processed foods and focused on staying well hydrated to prepare myself for the next 3 days. To be honest, the only thing I really was concerned about was the lack of caffeine (a valid concern I would soon find out). I went to sleep the night before excited and nervous for the next 3 days.

Juice Cleanse Realization: I’m Addicted to Coffee

Day 1 started out great – I had a big cup of hot water and lemon, drank my smoothie and did my easy workout and actually felt great. I wasn’t even hungry. Every two hours you drink another juice. Each is about 16 ounces which really does fill you up if you are also drinking a decent amount of water as well. The only real side effect I experienced at this point was a lot of trips to the ladies room since I was taking in much more fluids than normal. As the 12pm slump rolled around, the lack of caffeine set in. I was dragging. I’m used to close to 4 cups of coffee/day (before you gasp in shock – this is 4, 6oz cups – that’s like two tall coffees from Starbucks). I could not stop yawning and thinking about a nap. Fortunately, I powered through. By the last juice of the day, I missed chewing. Having calculated out the caloric intake/day, I knew I would need to supplement the cleanse with some solid food to ensure I could also get my workouts in. I spoke with the helpful folks at Real Good and they suggested organic fruits, veggies and raw nuts. I grabbed a large handful of almonds and carrots and a cup of ginger tea. Day 1 was done – and I was beat. I was asleep by 10pm (much earlier than my usual 11:30pm bedtime).

Day 2: woke up at 8am. I slept 10 hours. I haven’t slept that good or soundly in years. I wanted a cup of coffee – but didn’t want to give up just yet. I grabbed my smoothie, a cup of hot water with lemon and did some work. Today was going to be tough. I had a hard 9 mile speed workout planned. After about an hour I tied on my sneakers and made my way to the treadmill for  my workout. About 1/2 way through I had to stop for a bathroom break. On my way back to the ‘mill I started seeing spots. I knew I needed to take a longer break. I was determined to get through the workout though. Fortunately I live in a building with a gym so I went back to my apartment, grabbed the next juice for the day and downed it along with an apple and almond butter. I immediately felt better and an hour later, completed the workout. I wouldn’t recommend this. If you are planning to do a cleanse – definitely cut back on your exercise plan. The rest of day 2 was easier than expected. I taught a cooking seminar where I had to make and sample food. I surprisingly wasn’t hungry and continued to drink the juice every two hours. I still felt exhausted though and it was another early to bed evening.

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End of Day 2 and my Favorite Juice of the cleanse: Juicy Liu – a blend of almond and cashew milk

Day 3: OK. I miss food. But it’s day 3 – the last day. I can do this. Oddly enough – I found myself craving things like oatmeal and kale salads – and NOT burgers, pizza and French fries. It’s like my body was craving healthy food. I still struggled with caffeine withdrawal but this day was definitely easier than the previous two. I had a short, easy run that I finished with no problems. Another early to bed evening – and 3 of the best nights of sleep I’ve had since I was a probably a teenager. 

Post Cleanse: What I Learned

Following the cleanse I woke up and made my now go-to breakfast: oatmeal, sliced banana and a spoonful of almond butter. I also made my usual pot of coffee but found I could only stomach 1/2 of what I normally would consume – and even that caused the caffeine jitters. I laced up for an 8 mile progressive run that went better than expected. I ran faster than I have in months. I felt invincible. My energy level was through the roof. I also felt lean. I checked the scale – about 3 lbs down. I didn’t do this to lose weight – and know that much of the weight I likely lost was water weight – but still, important to note.

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First meal post cleanse

The cleanse taught me to rely less on caffeine during the day and I’ll sleep better. It helped me feel a little better about the last month of over-indulging and it just felt good to fill up on super foods for 3 days. I felt inspired and since have eaten better, had much more control over my appetite and cut back my coffee consumption to just 2 cups/day (12 oz total). Would I do it again? Yes – it’s something my body needed and craved and following big training pushes and/or leading into a new training plan, I think it’s a good way to really reset and focus on getting my body ready for the work to come. 

What about the Science?

I know many of my dietitian friends will question my sanity in choosing to do something like this. Yes, we have livers – and their primary function is to detoxify our body on a daily basis. I know – I get this. But I also know what my friends, colleagues and family do and I want to make sure I’m as knowledgeable as possible about what real people are actually doing. And to be honest – I kind of think there is a place for cleansing if done right. The juice cleanse is a small, 3 day sacrifice that can lead to huge transformation if done right. Case in point: I no longer drink 4 cups of coffee, have cut my alcohol intake in half, and my appetite is much more tame now. It caused me to look at my habits – and make changes. Breaking the cycle of consistently eating a diet too high in saturated fat, refined carbohydrate, processed foods, excess caffeine and alcohol can and will cause you to look at what you are doing and make positive changes – even if small – that will have lasting impact on your overall health and wellbeing.

A brief pubmed search found virtually no scientific evidence or studies looking specifically at cleansing and long term outcomes. One study, published in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, came close – found that individuals placed on a very low calorie, vegan diet  plus regimented supplementation for 21 days had improvements in total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. This wasn’t juicing, per se but the change of caloric intake and diet composition is as close as I could find to what I was getting when I did the Real Good Juice cleanse.

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First workout post cleanse – feeling super energetic

So, while the jury may still be out in the scientific community on the benefits, in general, I think that there might be a place for a cleanse if done right and under supervision/with the guidance of a dietitian/nutritionist and/or doctor. I can only share how I felt after (great) and how it changed me personally. A special word of caution – a juice cleanse isn’t recommended for certain populations (e.g., Diabetics, those with eating disorders or immunocompromised) so if you are considering one – please consider talking to your doctor – or even reach out to me!

Berlin Marathon Recap: Jet Lag, Pretzels and Beer

Just over a week ago I ventured off to Germany for a week-long vacation that kicked off with the Berlin marathon. This was not my first time running in a foreign country but the first time where I crossed an ocean and would need to adjust to the time change in < 2 days as well as navigate a city I’ve only been to once before when I was 16. I was nervous, excited and most of all – scared – scared I would have a horrible race due to multiple factors working against me in the months leading up to this race.

In the week leading up to the race my workouts could not have gone better. I started to adjust my mindset about the marathon and began to get a lot more positive. Given that I also planned to run Chicago two weeks after Berlin, I set out to run a respectable time of 3:05-3:10 – a long ‘training run’ in prep for Chicago. This would not be a PR race (although for many it’s a PR course due to its flat, net downhill course). I would enjoy the sights and just take it easy for the majority of the race – and attempt to kick it into high gear for the last 1/2. Boy was I in for a surprise.

Despite just wanting to sleep, I got my bib!
Despite just wanting to sleep, I got my bib!

I arrived in Berlin on Friday morning after a night of travel with my ‘superfans’ (mother who has been at all 10 of my marathons and my brother for who this would be his first time spectating a major marathon) exhausted but also excited to finally be back in Berlin. We dropped off our luggage at the hotel and set out for some lunch and then made our way to the expo. After getting lost near the finish line, we finally made it to the expo where we fought massive crowds to get my bib and some souvenirs. Once that hassle was out-of-the-way, we enjoyed our first pretzel and beer. Now normally, I would not drink much – if at all – the week prior to the marathon. But seeing all the other runners partaking, it was hard to resist. Beer is a source of carbs after all…

After we checked in that afternoon we set off for a very authentic german dinner (and more pretzels). I skipped the fried, covered in gravy options for a piece of fish and potatoes. Not what I really wanted but I could have my fill of all the german delicacies after the race. For now, I would rein it in. An early bed time followed. I don’t think any of us made it past 9pm.

As seen on my shakeout run
As seen on my shakeout run

Saturday I woke for my shakeout at 4:30am. I knew that this was too early, so I reviewed my race day materials until a more respectable time (and when the sun finally rose) and ventured out for a 3 mi shakeout. I took many pics along the way and really enjoyed just moving my legs again. After my run we did a bus tour of the city followed by lunch and then the 4:30am wake up hit me. I said goodbye to my superfans and returned to the hotel for a 2 hour nap. It was exactly what I needed.

After my nap we grabbed dinner at a cute little Italian restaurant on the same block as our hotel. Following dinner, my superfans talked me into a night-cap at a pub near our hotel. I was hesitant but my mom noted that prior to Boston, I had one beer in the hotel lobby before I went to bed. So I joined them. This may have been mistake number one (although it was delicious).

Pre-race beer with my superfan
Pre-race beer with my superfan

I slept soundly that night – which never happens prior to race day – and for which I was grateful. I ate my typical pre-marathon breakfast – bagel with nut butter and sliced banana and Nuun (all but the banana were brought from home). My stomach felt a little off but I just assumed it was nerves. I walked to the start, mom by my side, and once we got to the start area I said goodbye and we confirmed our plans for meeting up post race.

The pre-race area was very confusing for me and resulted in a lot of stress and anxiety. First — I couldn’t find my tent to check my gear. Once I did check my gear I couldn’t find a port-o-potty. Once I found that, I questioned whether I really had enough time. The line was quite long and moved very slowly. I made it through and had to jog to my corral. Once safely in my corral, I started my warm up stretches and looked around to see if I could find any of my fellow Fleet Feet/CES teammates that I knew were also in the same corral. All of a sudden I heard my name and saw my teammate Colin. We were between a barrier so couldn’t start together – but planned to meet up once we got past the first kilometer. I also noticed that I was one of the only females in this corral. A bit intimidating.

Early in the race - wondering where the other women are
Early in the race – wondering where the other women are

The start came and went and we were off. I settled in to what I knew was too fast of a pace. Looking at my watch I saw 6:30. ‘Control it, Allison’ I thought. But it felt so easy. And the energy from the crowd surrounding me just pushed me forward. My splits for the first 10k ranged between a 6:30 and 6:45 min/mi pace.

Somewhere around the 10k I ran into my teammate Colin. He asked me my goal and I his. We both took another glance at our watches. “I’m going too fast,” I said. He agreed and said even for his 2:55 goal, he too was going too fast. We should slow down. We ran that pace about another mile and then I decided to slow my role. Finally. Settling into a more attainable/realistic pace of 6:50-55 min/mi.

At some point I was engulfed by the 3 hour pace group. I literally had to slow down and let them pass just so I could have enough personal space. It was about this time I also had one of the worst water stop experiences ever. I often joke that water stations are ‘full contact’ in big races – but this was like nothing I had ever seen. I literally was pushed and kicked as runners made their way over to the water station. One push too many and I opted to push back. No one apologizes – even in a foreign language – just a lot of grunting and hitting. Not ideal.

Eye on the finish line
Eye on the finish line

I hit the half mark at almost an even 1:29. Better than I had run in Boston. Was it possible I could break 3? Should I go for it. Not even 2 miles later I quickly decided no. I did not taper for this race and my legs were starting to feel the last weeks workouts and the jet lag. I saw my superfans around this time – which was a serious motivational boost as my legs started to go ka-put. I was paying for that first 10k. I aimed to just keep the pace under 7min/mi for the rest of the race.

With about 5k to go, I was in a full on battle with my thoughts. I knew I’d finish, and that the time would be good, but I was starting to consider walking. I wanted to stop so bad. I saw my superfans again – cheering and screaming with huge smiles on my face. I could do this – just 2k to go! That’s when the hurried bathroom stop hit me. I needed to go. Do I dare stop when I’m this close to the 3 hour mark? I ran through it – but that definitely showed in my last mile – being my slowest of the entire marathon.

So happy to be done!
So happy to be done!

Running under the Brandenburg gate and to the finish line was dream like. I finished with a time of 3:02:21 – almost a minute faster than my time at Chicago  in 2014 and my second fastest marathon ever. I was also the 98th female and 6th American woman to finish. That in and of itself is a pretty cool stat. And I felt good – legs were tired but not destroyed as they had been post-Boston. I grabbed a medal and immediately found the port-o-potty. I have never been so happy to see one – with no line – in my life. As I made my way to gear check, I recalled the mention that there were showers at the finish line area. I opted to check it out knowing my fans would want to hangout and enjoy the after party and despite being hot at the finish – the temp was hovering around 60. I thought this was a nice feature – a shower at the finish. While not high-tech by any means it was just what I needed – minus the number of men who clearly could not decipher between the male and female symbol on the door who got an eyeful.

Enjoying a celebratory beer and curry wurst near the finish
Enjoying a celebratory beer and curry wurst near the finish

Feeling refreshed, I headed over to the family meetup area. There were my fans happy as ever to see me and I them. Glad to be done with it all, we ventured over to the finish area to enjoy a celebratory beer and lunch. I opted for the curry wurst – a street food I had been told I needed to try. It was great. Once we had our fill of post marathon celebration, we headed back to the hotel and out for the night which included my first full litre of beer at Berlin’s Oktoberfest and a pork knuckle for dinner the size of my face. It was a good day and I was happy.

Special thanks to Dan Walters for his great coaching and encouragement and of course my mom and brother for making the trip to Berlin to cheer me on. I could not have done it without you!

Now… to do it all again this Sunday in Chicago…

The Hardest, Hottest Run of My Life

As you may have read in previous posts, I have run a couple of marathons and aim to now run at least one or two a year. The past few months, I’ve been training for the Boston Marathon, which took place Monday, April 16th. Many would say just to qualify is an accomplishment, and I would agree. I qualified with a time of 3:35 in 2010 at the Marine Corp Marathon in Washington D.C.

My training for Boston went so smoothly, that I set a lofty goal of beating my Marine Corp time, about 2 weeks before the race. I was averaging 7:30min/mile on my long runs, so I really felt like this goal could be achievable. The week of the race, forecasters were warning that the temperature on marathon Monday would reach into the 80s. I thought – I’ll be fine – I’ve been training in the Texas heat. Little did I know that even the TX heat (which has really only been low 80s at the peak of my training) could not even compare to what I would encounter on April 16th.

Dean and I at the Runners World booth at the Boston Marathon Expo

I arrived in Boston on the Saturday before the race minus one bag (thankfully I packed my race day gear in my carry-on). My bag arrived later Saturday evening and I enjoyed seeing some of the sights and sounds of my old home (I lived, studied, ran and ate in Boston between 2006-2008). Sunday, my faithful super-fan (my mom) and I made our way to the over-crowded expo to pick up my bib and roam the expo hall. We met Dean Karnazes, a running idol of mine, and bought a couple souvenirs. The rest of the day was full or R and R as well as a lot of carbs and fluids.

Throughout this time, all registered runners were receiving warnings and updates from race officials about the heat. They even offered participants the opportunity to defer their entry until next year. I felt as though I would be OK – but seriously started doubting myself when I learned a fellow Texan would likely defer. Would I really be OK? Would the heat allow me to finish? Should I go through with it? Ultimately, through the encouragement of a few others as well as my super-fan, I decided to run – but to take it easy – and still aim to finish under 4 hours (another mistake I’d soon learn).

The morning of the race was a warm one – upper 60s at 7am. By the time of the wave 2 start (10:20 am) the temp was easily in the upper 70s. I was sweating at the starting line and all I could think about was whether or not I could handle this. Before I had time to think too long we were off.

Miles 1-13.1

I carried a bottle of water with me for the first 2-3 miles – a recommendation from one of my fellow runners, so as to avoid the full-contact water stations at miles 2 and 3 as the running crowd started to spread out. I felt good and was really starting to feel like maybe my TX training would come in handy. The first half went by relatively fast, but the heat was definitely there, lurking. Every chance I had I ran through sprinklers and sprayers and poured water over my head. My feet and clothes were soaked by mile 5. I alternated between water and Gatorade as I normally do and took spectator offerings of oranges and additional water. I finished the first half with a pace of 8:19/mile. Perhaps I could do this under 4 hours after all.

Miles 13.1-21

At the Athlete's Village awaiting the start of the Boston Marathon

We passed a group of women outside Wellesley College – I believe somewhere between miles 14 and 15 and the crowd was amazing. The girls all had signs requesting runners kiss them. Personally I felt as though there should be a few men out there too – to which one guy offered to kiss me. I laughed and continued my pace into the streets of Wellesley. Then, reality set in.

I got a cramp in my lower stomach. I tried running through it. I tried putting my hands over my head. I tried massaging it out. I tried everything I could think of but it kept getting worse. Finally at around 15 1/2 I entered a medical tent. My body did not like me – I was hot, tired and now very emotional and I could barely stand up straight. I was mad. Why didn’t I just defer? Four months of the best, most dedicated training I’ve ever given towards a marathon – all to be ruined by 90 degree weather. It wasn’t fair. I started crying. The medic took my blood pressure, which was normal, and offered me some ice cold diluted gatorade. He gave me his cell phone to call my mom – something I hesitated to do as I didn’t want her to worry. I called her regardless, let her know I was thinking about quitting. She said she was proud either way. I told her I knew that but that I wasn’t – that I had to finish this race. We hung up and another runner who had entered the tent for some vasoline and to take some salt pills approached me. He looked familiar and we started talking about the race’s brutality in this heat and he told me he had set out to run it in around 3 hours. He wasn’t happy with the conditions either – but he encouraged me to continue and even offered me a hug – to which I gladly accepted. Then I found out – of all places – he was from Austin – and helps out with a local running group there that I have been thinking about joining. What are the chances of out of the over 24,000 runners that choose to start the race, he’d enter the tent and talk to me? I suddenly felt like I could at least jog/walk the next few miles. I thanked him for his encouragement and told him I hoped to see him back in Austin.

So I set out on the next 5-6 miles. The worst 5-6 miles of my life. I essentially ran 1/2 a mile and walked 1/2 a mile the entire time. I walked all of Heart Break hill. I was hot and at one point felt as though I might be sick. At the top of Heart Break Hill the second amazing thing happened that would motivate me beyond what I thought was possible. I happened to see a sign with my favorite Dean Karnazes quote ‘Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.’ Having just completed his first book about 2 months ago, which has significantly impacted my outlook on life and running, the quote was so significant in this moment.

Miles 21-26.2

Big Smile after Crossing the Finish Line!

I suddenly felt a surge of energy. I started running. I didn’t stop. I embraced the crowd – I even smiled a bit. I really started to enjoy this race and realize it’s importance. It’s significance. I ran with joy, passion and love of the experience. I slapped the hands of spectators, enjoyed the most amazing Popsicle of my life at mile 23 and allowed myself to really just take it all in. This was Boston, on the hottest day in over 30 years and possibly on record – and I was going to do this – I was going to finish.

When I turned the corner onto Boylston and saw the finish line I became emotional again. I reached deep to compose myself so that I could finish. Tears streemed down my face and at one point and I could not believe that the finish was actually in sight. While I may not have finished with a time I’m proud of. I finished. Many did not – including the 2011 men’s champion. I could wear my medal with pride.

I found my super fan and it was all I could do to keep myself from collapsing in her arms. I could see the tears streaming from her face. Every marathon comes with emotions – but this one – this one was different. With so many people just happy to finish – I too joined them in a celebration of success.

A couple hours later, as I sat in the car, I turned to my super fan and asked “you think I could run another one in May?” She responded that I might consider taking a little more time off. “You are probably right,” I said. “Fall sounds more realistic.”

Thanks, Mom, for your support, encouragement and guidance. This run is dedicated to you.

My First Race as a Texan and One Reason Why I Run

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At about the half-way mark, feeling strong!

Last weekend I gave up my usual habit of sleeping in for waking up early to run my first road race as a Texas state resident. I choose to bypass the larger, more popular runs, in favor of a smaller, more challenging course that would prove useful for my upcoming Boston marathon – Moe’s Better Half. I was excited and nervous. Not only would this be my first race as a Texan but also the first real race since I ran the New York City marathon in November and had a very poor performance at the Race with Grace 10k on Thanksgiving.

The day started out chilly and dark – awaking around 5am for the 7am start. I rolled out of bed, had my typical pre-race breakfast of whole wheat frozen waffles topped with peanut butter and a sliced banana (keeps you full and fueled through long runs and it’s delicious) a big cup of black coffee and I was on my way.

At around 40 degrees when I walked out the door, it felt more like upstate NY weather than Texas, but the sun soon rose and it was a perfect morning for a half marathon. The group of runners headed towards the starting line. One of my favorite moments of any race is the start. All the nerves and excitement for the challenge we’re all about to face. With only about 350 registered runners, this race was probably one of the smallest I’ve ever run. I couldn’t wait to see what the course would hold.

I was warned from the beginning—it would be a tough course through the hills of San Marcos along country roads. The warnings were true, but I felt strong the entire time. With very few fans along the way, I really embraced the course enjoying the scenery and letting my mind wander from time to time. Often people wonder what I think about when I run – especially during long runs. I’ve heard from many that they get bored running. I use my time running to focus on what is stressing me out and think about the things I need to accomplish that week. During races, I’m often focused on the race and how I feel – but this race I felt strong and so, I found myself thinking about what motivates me to run.

Many of my friends and family know that I started running in middle school and became more competitive about it in college. I started running to help in my recovery after a ski accident and so that I would be better at my primary sport of choice, field hockey. But I also ran to prove to myself and others that I was and still am an athlete.

One thing most people don’t know about me is that in 4th grade my gym teacher at the time decided that I was an appropriate candidate for “special gym,” essentially a gym class for kids that were considered overweight or obese. At the time I had no idea what it meant but soon it became apparent to me; I was not physically fit. At such an early age I became aware of my body image and how I was bigger than most of my peers. Needless to say, it did not make for a fun middle school experience.

By the time I entered 9th grade I was considered obese and was constantly being told by my pediatrician to cut out the candy and move more. It wasn’t until I had a skiing accident and the doctor told me I had to start working out more or my knee might never recover, that I seemed to finally get the message.

My dad, an avid runner, encouraged me in my efforts and by the time I graduated high school I was able to keep up with many of my teammates and was considered a normal, healthy weight. What really made me feel better though was the same gym teacher that put me in “special gym” was now teaching gym in high school. We were required to do a physical fitness test every year which included a 12 minute run. Not only did I run laps around my peers, I ran them in front of the gym teacher who made me feel inferior as a kid. I could not be happier.

Enjoying a Celebratory Beer and some BBQ at Uncle Billy's in Austin

So back to Moe’s—I’ve been sticking pretty close to my training schedule and it seemed to pay off. I ended up running one of my best races, with a time just under 1 hour and 40 minutes and placed second female in my age group. The race and day could not have been better.

I celebrated with a day of primping and pampering followed by an indulgent dinner of microbrews and bbq at Uncle Billy’s Brew and Cue. It may not be the best bbq in Texas, but they do have a to-die-for brisket, called “wet brisket.” The particular cut of meat has more fat than your typical brisket and paired with their slightly spicy bbq sauce, it’s the perfect match to their hoppy microbrews. Feeling satisfied and full, this was one of the best days I’ve had in Texas, and in general, in a long time.