Goodbye, Texas! Hello, Chicago!

What a crazy year it’s been.

Chicago Skyline at Dusk
Enjoying the view of my new city from the lake shore at dusk 

Clearly, so crazy, I haven’t been real good about this blogging thing. But alas, I shall make a warranted effort to get back in to it. So what’s happened? In early July I was approached about a possible job opportunity in Chicago – the city I’ve been in love with since my first visit in 2008. I was ready for a change – both personally and professionally – and decided to just go for it. After all, this was something I wanted – to live in the city of my dreams – for the last 5 years. I packed up my belongings and with the help of my brother, drove for 3 days north to Chicago.

It was sad to say goodbye to Texas – but in the end, this northern gal felt a little out of place in the warm Texas sun. So far, I’m loving life here in Chicago. Every weekend is a new neighborhood to explore, restaurant to discover, and person to meet. I believe things happen for a reason and I’m here for a reason and enjoying discovering the city each and every day. So send me your suggestions on places, people and of course – food-related spaces to see and be seen. Or better yet – come visit!

A Yankee Moves to Austin, TX – What I’ve Learned so Far

Let’s start with the weather. It’s hot. What you’ve heard is true. Even laying at the pool can become, at times, unbearable. I foresee a summer filled with air conditioning and the pool. Even better, Barton Springs where the water is a refreshing 70 degrees. To some, that may seem way too cold but on a 90+ degree day, it’s the perfect way to cool down.

Wearing my boots with pride!

Austin is like no other city in Texas–or the country for that matter. Between the music, the food and all the different activities going on year-round, it has truly won the right to call itself weird. What other city dedicates a day to celebrate Eeyore’s birthday?

The food is a.m.a.z.i.n.g. From food trucks to hole in the wall BBQ joints, this city has something for every taste. I don’t think I could ever try it all but so far I’ve come to love (and frequent) the following places:

  • Kebabalicious – a food truck near my office. Serves the best falafel and pitas around. Don’t forget the spicy red sauce!
  • Uncle Billy’s Brew and Q – microbrews and bbq, what could be better? Make sure to try the moist brisket.
  • 24 Diner – chicken and waffles. E’nuf said.
  • Trudy’s – mexican martinis and enchiladas. You can’t go wrong with tex-mex in this town and the martini’s are just the thing after a long week at work or a hot day.

The running scene. So many running groups and so many active people–even in the heat. It’s motivated me to start running more and with a group (Gilbert’s Gazelles) in the hopes of improving my speed and strength in time for my next marathon – Rochester, NY in September.

People wear cowboy boots and say y’all and no one stares or laughs. Heck, I’ve even bought myself a pair and started using y’all in conversations.

Altogether, Austin has been like no place I’ve ever lived before. The transition has been an interesting one and I’m finally starting to feel like this is home. Until next time – see y’all later!

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

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.