Box Jumping on the Bandwagon: What is this CrossFit thing?

Every time I start getting overly confident and think I’m a total bad ass, something comes around that knocks me on my cushy tushy and says, “Look here, young grasshopper, you still have much to learn!”

And that’s exactly what CrossFit did to me.

Am I right?

Am I right?

As a runner with a history of chronic knee issues, I learned the importance of strength training / weightlifting in college. Building and maintaining muscles meant keeping all body parts working together and injuries at a minimum. It meant building enough leg muscle so I don’t get very sore if at all during and after half marathons. Granted, this also means I have problems finding women’s boots for my giant calves and going up a jean size because of my booty.

But, hey, I can’t remember the last time a guy complained that I have a big booty.

Yet the past couple of years, I really struggled with keeping my strength training up. In college, it was easy: write a 10-page paper on the sexist undertones of Shakespeare’s As You Like It OR go workout. Hmmmm…let me NOT think about that.

I was a gym junkie. I did weights 4-5 times and ran 3-5 times a week. Besides an awesome student fitness center, campus also had several beautiful routes to run…

This made for a pretty long workout, usually 2 hours or more. It also allowed me to eat and drink almost whatever I wanted while still looking fabulous. I did eat decently healthy, although the definition of healthy and what works for my body has definitely changed over time. Where I used to get away with eating Dillon’s leftover Chinese food late at night and drinking lots of Mountain Dew isn’t true anymore.

True dat.

True dat.

Part of it is that I’m older, and my metabolism isn’t the same. But a lot of it has to do with not being as active. Instead of walking to class several times a day and long workouts, I’m now trapped in a cubicle. Granted, I have a standing desk, but it still isn’t the same as scaling hills on my way to English class in the highest tower of the tallest castle.

Full-time job, freelance work, cleaning, cooking, taking out the trash, getting married, binge-watching Netflix, raising two cats and a dog, trying to consistently write a blog…where does time for working out fit into all this?

So with time short, I needed something that would give me the most effective workout for the least amount of time (this is why running is so great – you can go to a yoga class for an hour while I can burn 300+ calories in 3 miles in under 30 minutes; I might not be good at math, but that’s a BIG difference).

I also needed some direction and better motivation. Since I worked with a personal trainer at KU, I knew my way around the weight room. My trainer was not phased by me being a girl and trained me to load up the leg press or try 5 lbs heavier next set because, hey, you never know what you can do til you try. But it was getting boring coming up with my own workout – clearly there were exercises I hated doing (arm day!), and my motivation to actually go to the gym was weak. Anything that came up after work, whether it be happy hour or a nap, was immediately more appealing.

Enter CrossFit. The much talked about, much misunderstood, and most misspelled workout in the industry. I’d done some reading on it, was a bit skeptical how all over the place it seemed in the Workout of the Days (WODs), and, of course, had read all the horror stories of people over doing it (Uncle Rhabdo).

If you don’t know who he is, look him up. Ultimate CrossFit BAMF.

But it looked pretty hardcore. And any pictures you see of CrossFit athletes told me this could definitely give me the results that I want (I actually DO want muscle; being skinny helps me accomplish NOTHING; being strong and healthy does so much more). From my past workout history, I wasn’t worried about it being too hard – I was worried it’d be too easy. I tried various group exercise classes in college, and although it was nice to try something new on occasion, nothing consistently gave me the physical workout and satisfaction I got from running and weight-lifting.

I joined my first CrossFit gym by finding one close to where I lived that also offered a Groupon. For just $30, I could go to unlimited classes for a month. I waited until June when our 6 half marathons were over. It was getting hot – time to go inside and take some rest from running too.

This gym required you do one On-Ramp class, so you can be properly trained before doing the official CF workouts. There are a lot of exercises where having the correct form is very, very important.  We learned proper push-up position, squats, and kettlebell swings (they did Russian-style which only lifts the KB to chest height and doesn’t require as deep of a squat to start the swing). I left feeling prepared – maybe over-prepared. After all, my adverse weightlifting experience should help too, right?

Wrong! Wrong. Wrong. So so wrong.

Maybe the handles make them weigh less...

Maybe the handles make them weigh less…

My first official WOD was a DISASTER. I hadn’t been new to a gym in a long time (I worked at one for a few years after college). Being the newbie was so awkward. I didn’t know where to put my stuff. I didn’t know what to do while we waited for class to start. I’m an extroverted introvert: I like people in small doses and only people I know. My confidence and social skills were floundering.

I began second guessing why I was trying this. This didn’t feel comfortable. And we hadn’t even started the workout yet. But I wasn’t a quitter. I had to at least try this and then I would have justifiable reasons for not continuing it. I embraced running half marathons, but I was balking at CrossFit because I felt shy around new people?  Gahhh!

We started out with an easy warm-up – running laps around the gym, moving our arms, doing high-knees, etc. We stretched for mobility. Next was doing 2-5 reps of squats and increasing the weight by  a certain percent each set (so 75% of your max weight, then 80%, and so on).

That was fine with me. I was great at going heavy, and the On-Ramp class made me realize how bad my squat form had gotten. Time to get my squat on! I met a few girls to share a squat rack with. But then someone asked me what my one-rep max was. I don’t know. A LOT? Your one-rep max weight is the heaviest weight you can do for at least 1 single rep. I had never done that. And here I was thinking I knew everything to weight lifting.

Then we got to the WOD, which involved The Clean-and-Jerk. I had heard of it, probably because it was one of the exercises commonly posted on gym either NOT to do or NOT to do unsupervised or something. According to me, a clean-and-jerk sounded like something boys discovered sometime during middle school. I mustered up the courage to ask one of the girls I’d squatted with what a clean-and-jerk was. She tried showing me and then one of the instructors came over. He went over it for the whole class quick and tried helped me with it during the actual WOD.

But it was hard. It’s a very coordinated movement, and if trying Zumba and Racquetball have taught me anything, it’s that I’m NOT coordinated. I can run for hours at a time in a straight line. And it’s great. This involved a lot of thought, focus, and being in tune with various body parts all at once. I was getting very frustrated. I was pissed because I couldn’t move onto the next part of the WOD until I did these 5o clean-and-jerks (or whatever high number it was). And I was pissed because what then had been the purpose of the On-Ramp class if it left out this hard movement? (wait until I learned about The Snatch! Another Olympic power lifting move with a delightfully dirty name)

I left almost crying, which isn’t something I want to admit. I’m a BAMF but was falling apart because I wasn’t good at something new on the first day. Good grief. I wasn’t just going to physically get stronger but hopefully my personality would shape up too. Suck it up, Buttercup! I told myself. Nothing worth doing is ever easy. Except eating. Eating is awesome…

Double Unders are another exercise I struggled with. You have to get the rope under your feet TWO times before landing on the ground. The solution? Get a thinner, faster cable rope.

I went back. After showing up a few times, people started recognizing me, and we would chat and exchange names. That made things less awkward. I know it’s hard to go out of your way to say something to the new person – you have your comfort bubble. And it’s even harder in CrossFit I think because the gym goes through so many people. With Groupons and trials, you get lots of new faces coming and going, but very few who decide to stick with it. I realized this more at my second CrossFit gym, which is the one I ended up joining. Once you’re dedicated to being part of the group, the conversation goes beyond saying ‘Hi.’

I also started learning and recognizing more of the CrossFit movements. The movements were weird to me at first. There are so many different free weight, machine, and barbell exercises you can do and so many different angles and way to focus on various muscle parts. CrossFit had a much smaller list of exercises we did, and yet they were WAY harder than a lot of what I’d done in the weight room.

For example, I know how to squat. But I’d never tried squatting holding the bar in front of my body or over my head. Overhead squats use so many muscles versus the leg press which focused mostly on my quads. Where I was used to doing heavy weight, I was started to have to scale back. First, I needed less weight so I could focus on form. Second, several of the exercises I did on my own isolated only certain muscle groups, these new exercises needed several muscle groups working all at once and not just the big muscles, but the smaller stabilizing muscles too.

Because I’m a runner, I definitely have a few exercises I do on my own that we either don’t do in CF at all or not very often, such as abb and adductors with the cable machine and doing more one-legged squats. If I didn’t run and need to focus more on my legs, CF class would be all the strength training I’d do.

Wall Balls: hold a heavy ball, do a squat, then pop up and throw the ball up high on the wall. So much fun!, said no one ever.

Wall Balls: hold a heavy ball, do a squat, then pop up and throw the ball up high on the wall. So much fun!, said no one ever.

I liked the first gym I went to, but it still wasn’t quite what I needed. The WODs soon seemed kind of short and really random, and the only morning class was really really early and the commute was almost 20 minutes. I figured I could at least try another one before deciding where to stay. But I knew I wanted to stick with it.

My second gym was also awkward at first. Another newbie trying CF who would probably be gone when her Groupon was up. But this place definitely had improvements over the previous one – you just have to find a place that works for you. Even though the new gym was a smaller, less fancy facility, I found it a much better fit. The quality of the workouts really stood out.

The workouts were structured into 3 parts – Warm-up, Skill, and WOD. And there was always a goal or purpose to the workouts – maybe it was focusing on conditioning for competition or focusing on strength when we were stuck outside in the winter – but it had more cohesion to it and was more challenging for me. We also finished with stretching and got all this done in one hour!

It also required 3 On-Ramp classes, which included learning clean-and-jerks and snatches. What a concept! In fact, we still work on learning and perfecting form even outside the On-Ramp classes. My motivation was back – a place I felt comfortable going to with a program I believed in that didn’t take lots of time. Going in the morning sucked at first, but it’s made the time I would just use for sleeping more productive.

Is it Leg Day yet?

Is it Leg Day yet? At CrossFit, every day is every part of your body day.

Most CF gyms you have to sign up for a specific time slot because there is limited room in the class. By signing up, I was committed to getting my butt up early and going. I had paid for my three classes a week, and I was going to get my money’s worth. No one was paying me to sleep in. And it’s more motivating to go workout when you have other people working out with you.

But no matter what your experience is, CrossFit is hard and awkward when you start. There is so much to learn – even things you though you knew will have a new or better way of doing them. But CF is great at scaling exercises, so you do get a great workout while working towards getting stronger. I still can’t do a pull-up yet, but I can use the green band as assistance and complete a pull-up that way. Now I’m using the lighter purple band. Soon, all by myself??? My tiny T-Rex arms dream of this day!

I’ll have been doing CF for a year in June. I’ve already seen a lot of improvement, and have lots of goals to work towards. I’m glad I didn’t let my insecurities and my fear keep me from trying something new.

One day, I’ll have the best darn looking snatch in the box.

trex wishful thinking

Like It Dirty, Rough, and Hot? Try a (Summer) Trail Run!

As a runner, I obviously enjoy some degree of pain and suffering. But a trail half marathon was a whole new kind of enjoyable and unbearable pain and suffering. My first trail half is definitely on the list of the hardest races I’ve ever done.

The Kansas City Trail Nerds hosted the 8th Annual North Shore Trail run on September 7, 2013, at Clinton Lake near Lawrence, KS. This used to be an 8-miler and 5K race but has now become a 5K, “10K,” and “Half Marathon” distance event. I use quotes because the 10K (6.2 miles) turned into 7 miles, and the half marathon went from 13.1 miles to 14 miles. Rumor is the Clinton Lake State Park got the race date mixed up so the Trail Nerds had to use a different loop of trail than usual – and that loop was 7 miles.

I might not be a very photogenic runner, but I love this pic. Why? Because it's proof I'm ahead of Jason :)

I might not be a very photogenic runner, but I love this pic. Why? Because it’s proof I’m ahead of Jason (in the chartreuse tank top) :)

Now another mile doesn’t seem like no big deal, especially if you’re a long distance runner who thinks half marathons are the best distance ever, and I was training for my first full marathon. Not for trail running. Trail running is brutal. And it takes FOREVER. My 8 to 9-minute miles become 11-minute plus miles. Depending on the terrain. Depending on the weather. Depending on how tired I was by that point.

To set the scene:  it’s September. A cool, crisp morning – perfect for capris and a t-shirt ensemble or perhaps shorts and a long sleeve tech shirt. The leaves are changing. The breeze is blowing. The woods are just begging for you to traipse through them the next few hours.

HA HA.

THIS IS KANSAS.

IN SEPTEMBER (also known as Another One of Those Endless Summer Months Round These Here Parts)

By 9am start time, it’s already well into the 80s, probably will be a heat index of almost 100 by the time we’re done. The sun is beating down. The lake breeze is as dead as my feet will soon be. The gorgeous wooded trails are what they call “technical trails.” Technical being the Trail Nerd term for “lots of freakin shit for you to climb and trip over.” The inviting shade is suddenly a suffocating canopy of humidity. Rocks, roots, branches, uneven terrain, and giant spiders are out to get you. Every muscle in your lower body will be used today. And maybe your arms too – brushing a branch out of the way or hoping to God that spiderweb was empty.

My first trail run was the year before in August 2012 – the Trail Nerd’s Psych Night 10K. So that gave me plenty of time to forget HOW FREAKIN HARD A RUN IN THE WOODS IS. (read “How to Look Good While Running: Run a Night Race” for more about nighttime trail running and how to avoid being eaten by raccoons) I knew I’d be slower, knew I’d be sorer, and knew it’d be hard, but by mile 3, I was starting to really, really reconsider having signed up for a HALF MARATHON of trail running.

It took me over an hour and a half to complete the first 7-mile loop. I emerged from the woods gasping for air and dripping sweat. I’d been soaked since about 10 minutes into the race. I found water at the aid station and something else I’d never experienced at a race before – Coca-cola.

Here's my awesome waterbottle that kept me alive. This is also what a T-Rex looks like running - notice the tiny arms dangling and powerful thighs working.

Here’s my awesome waterbottle that kept me alive. This is also what a T-Rex looks like running – notice the tiny arms dangling and powerful thighs working.

I’m clearly a Mountain Dew girl, and I can’t stand syrupy colas, but ice cold Coke on a hot ass day was THE BEST THING I’D EVER TASTED IN MY LIFE. I was amazed. Apparently the soft drink is an easy way to get easily digestible carbs (sugar) back into your body. I didn’t care the science behind it – I just felt like life had been breathed back into my body.

I started the second 7-mile loop feeling refreshed and had a fellow runner to talk to. He’d run the Portland Marathon, which I was training for, and he gave me some tips. We exchanged race stories, but I soon had to leave him behind. He was run/walking a lot, and I just wanted to be DONE. So I kept my slow but steady jogging pace and wished him luck.

Then it was just me. And the woods. And the raccoons? Do raccoons eat people? Maybe only at night? What’s that sound? Is there anybody out there? Will I survive this? Is this gonna last forever? I started stumbling bad. Zoning out is dangerous because that’s when you miss that rock or don’t see a branch coming. I started walking every so often. I’ve NEVER walked in a race.

I don't know who she is, but she's doing a lovely job modeling good running form and the official race shirt. It had the cool race logo (in the bottom right corner) on the back.

I don’t know who she is, but she’s doing a lovely job modeling good running form and the official race shirt. It had the cool race logo (in the bottom right corner) on the back.

I kept drinking water. I ran out of energy chews but was more worried about water. I filled up when I found a water tank. I even gave some of my water to a girl with a Camelbak. A Camelbak and she was OUT of water. THAT is how HOT this damn run was. My Garmin wasn’t helping either. It kept saying I had a LOOOONG way to go. Are you sure, Garmin? Can  you read accurately in the woods? Why are you being such a bitch today? Where’s the end???!!!

Everytime I saw a person, I kept asking if the end was near. They kept saying it was just up ahead. I was pretty sure it was in the next ten seconds when I’d melt into a puddle. Finally, the steep hill that lead me out of the woods was there. I wanted to run up it, conquer it in my usual Hill Master style, but I was so. tired. and. couldn’t. breathe. anymore. I looked up, and there was Jason, my fiancee.

“Hey, you! How are you doing?”

“Don’t look at me!” I cried, ashamed he caught me walking up a hill. But then I didn’t care. We walked up the hill, and I mustered a last little jog past the finish line.

That race was exhausting. But I got my AWESOME finisher medal. The medal was the only reason I didn’t switch to the 10K like Jason. Was it worth wandering the woods in a hot inferno for 3 1/2 hours? HELL YEAH. I’d always wanted a Trail Nerds medal and here it was. In my hand. My sweaty, sweaty hand. We also got sweet shirts with the race poster illustration on the back. I wasn’t a big fan of the yellow color, but that’s probably because it so loudly announces my position to the raccoons.

The was this awesome bronzy rendition of the race logo with this cool blue shellack stuff in the water part. Even the ribbon is a work of art!

The was this awesome bronzy rendition of the race logo with this cool blue shellack stuff in the water part. Even the ribbon is a work of art! Only the Half Marathon finishers got a medal.

I remember getting a really delicious lunch with Jason and my friend Michelle who also suffered through the half in Lawrence afterwards. She is an awesome inspiration when it comes to trail running. But I was so tired I wasn’t really noticing my food. I even got a Coke to go, but it didn’t taste the same as during the race.

I was so tired we ended not going to the KU football game that night. But I didn’t care. I had survived! The difficulty of this race – both the terrain and weather – definitely helped my marathon in October seem easier. I  had my struggles during the marathon, but they were much easier to work through. Especially without the eminent threat of death by raccoon.

*Thanks to Mile 90 Photography for the cool pics!

This medal has so much detail! The Trail Nerds have a great race artist.

This medal has so much detail! The Trail Nerds have a great race artist.

NO New Year, New You: Upgrade to Version 2014.01.01

Why do English teachers even bother to tell us to avoid cliches? They happen anyway. Everywhere. Horrible cliches are a dime a dozen.

And none of them annoys me more than the annual “New Year! New You!” No, I’m not new. Trust me. I wasn’t born yesterday. Or the day before that. Or the day before that. Or the day before that…

#7 is a constant battle for me.

#7 is a constant battle for me.

I’d like to think I’m still new and young, but let’s not fool ourselves too much. After all, self-deception is on the list of things I shouldn’t do this year. Although I can’t help but occasionally entertain thoughts of ruling the world and having a swear jar for cliches. I’d be rich, which would be a lot easier than the other ways English majors can go from rags to riches.

Accompanying the “New Year, New You!” cliche is all those silly resolutions you’re supposed to make. And they’re always the same. Lose weight! Be a better person! Attain Nirvana! But there’s more than one way to skin a cat, so several articles are always written about these same few resolutions. But a lot of these resolutions seem so shallow.

So what if I lose weight? Now what? I’m skinny. And now I have to maintain a diet of salads to keep this body? What am I able to do with my skinny body besides stand there and look pretty? Why did I want to be skinny in the first place? Because all of the glossy girls in the glossy magazines act like it’s so great?

Instead of focusing on a checklist of things we’re supposed to do or not do this year, we should think more about the key items we want this year. What dreams do we want to attain? And why?

I didn't get the adorable little body from just lying around all day. Oh wait...I did. #hatemeformygenetics

I didn’t get this adorable little body from just lying around all day. Oh wait…I did. #hatemeformygenetics

To succeed, your goals need specific desired results. And your resolutions need tangible steps you can measure and do to get these results. But mostly importantly, it has to be because these steps get you to what YOU want.

So for example, you could want to lose weight. But just writing down “Lose weight” doesn’t mean anything. Writing down “I will work out for an hour 3x a week to lose 10 pounds by spring because I want to fit into my jeans from college” is waaayyy more motivating. But maybe losing a specific amount shouldn’t be your focus.

Daisy: I thought you were going to be more productive this year. Mason: I'm starting tomorrow...

Daisy: I thought you were going to be more productive this year.
Mason: I’m starting tomorrow…

Say after adding this to your plan, implementing it for a few months, the scale still reads the same. But do you feel happier? Can you now workout without dreading it? Does it feels easier? Then perhaps you’ve attained your true goal. Maybe your end goal is to be a healthier person or feel better about yourself.

It’s not fair to measure yourself against others. Or even your past self sometimes. Knee problems and the Freshmen 15 (more like 20) hit me hard my first year and a half in college. I stopped running, there were curly fries served in the dining hall, and there was nothing like an ice cold soda (or two or three) to get me through that late night assignment. But then I got tired of feeling horrible, not being able to sleep well, having to buy new clothes…

So I signed up with a personal trainer and learned various ways of working out since I couldn’t run. Suddenly going to the gym for a couple of hours was a great way to put off that dreaded Shakespeare paper. I came out of college in the best shape of my life. I weighed about 8lbs more than I did in high school, but I had muscle definition and was able to run half marathons with much better times than back in the day.

So when making resolutions and trying to decide how to measure that you’ve accomplished them, you can’t always measure yourself in the same ways you used to. Age, your lifestyle changes, new jobs – they can all affect how you will attain your goals.

I definitely don’t have the free time to work out like I used to. Which means I’ve gained weight and had to change my workouts to get the most bang for my buck. But I ran my first full marathon last year. And because of my training, I was able to finish the marathon without walking and my muscles weren’t sore the next day (can’t say the same for my joints though – it was no picnic). But my goal was To Run a Marathon. And I did that. And now I don’t ever have to do that again. (just kidding, I have a running addiction, it’ll happen again just probably not for awhile.)

I was trying to think outside the box...then I got stuck in it.

I was trying to think outside the box…then I got stuck in it.

So keep the bigger picture in mind too. It would be nice to go down a size in my jeans now, but if I can still run years down the road because I keep my thunder thigh muscles strong, well, that’s more worth it to me. Running is my passion.

I think a lot of these typical resolutions aren’t inherently bad, but the way they’re presented in the media and the motivations behind them are. Think of the dreams you have and focus on why you want to make them happen. When your resolutions are your own, there’s nothing cliche about that.

Today is NOT the first day of the rest of your life. It’s just a newer version.

Like when iTunes asks you if you’d like to upgrade (NO!!!!). It’s still inherently the same program, but a supposedly a better, easier to use version (then why does it take me two days every time to figure our where my playlists are!?). So this year, I have list of what’s new for Jenny v.2014.01.01.

New Features:

-Ability to do at least ONE unassisted pull-up (using the bench to reach the pull-up bar does NOT count as assistance)

-New last name since you just got married; you will do this by filling out lots and lots and lots of paperwork and then later decide if you were going to go through all this effort, you should have completely changed it to something cool like Veronica Foxwell

Updates:

-Improved raquetball skills by playing more/actually hitting the ball

-Ability to run faster a get new PR (personal record) for a half marathon by running more and running faster and not getting bronchitis this year

-More frequent blogging and covering new topics that don’t always involve running

Bug Fixes:

-Growing a few more inches so you can reach the pull-up bar WITHOUT the bench

-Cutting back on sugar and alcohol because although great vices for writers, these things tend to have undesired consequences when not done in moderation

-Help Jason mow the lawn because it’s really not fair to make him do it ALL the time but as soon you’re pregnant this update will quickly become outdated

This is me in Cross-Fit. T-Rex, however, LOVES squats.

This is me in Cross-Fit. T-Rex, however, LOVES squats.

Of course, this program will never be perfect. And as I go I might find certain additions cause other parts of the program to not work as well. For example, my love affair with Mountain Dew and beer might not be compatible with my goal of eating healthy, but if I modify it to just having a few on the weekends, that would still keep the program on track. I owe it to myself to put my best foot forward and go for the gold.

I also owe my cliche swear jar roughly $14.

P.S. Please do NOT go back and count through this entry all the cliches. I already did that for you. And if I’m off by 2 or 3 or 10, well, I’m only human. And by human, I mean English major.

In Pursuit of the PR: Running My Way Through 2013

I ran 13 races in 2013. This was in no way on purpose, as evidenced by my English major fuzzy math. If you’d asked me how many races I was running last year, I’d have calculated that give or take a few, carry the one, and round up that I was running roughly…uh… A LOT.

13 races equals out to be 1.14 races per month, which doesn’t sound like much, especially since .14th of a race has to be like 2.45 miles, especially considering I’m making all this math up because my fingers don’t do decimal points. But it was the most mile-heavy racing schedule I’ve ever attempted. This schedule included completing 6 half marathon in 9 weeks. Something I never would have done without being under the influence of an incredibly powerful force: Jason.

Our relationship starting by training for the KC Half Marathon in 2011 – 4 weeks before the race. He’s notorious for saying “We’ll be fine!” and doing crazy things. Like a bunch of half marathons in a row. Or marrying me.

I started the racing season off easy with the Westport St. Patrick’s Day 4-mile run on March 9. I like the promise of beer afterwards and seeing other runners’ fun costumes.

I love you, baby, but I'm still going to beat you!

I love you, baby, but I’m still going to beat you!

This year, the goal was to BEAT JASON. A PR (personal record) would be nice, but mostly I had to BEAT JASON. I’d spent weeks tortuously training on the treadmill with sprint workouts and was ready to be reminded why I run them (it’s not for the love of the alliteration, but that does help).  I knew the course and when to use my Secret Weapon.

At mile 2, I saw Jason waaaayyy up ahead of me. “Son of a bitch! How’d he get up there?!” I was on high alert making sure he didn’t pass me. How had he slipped by? He was the only dork in a bright red Hospital Hill shirt in a sea of St Pat’s Day green. “He only trains like once a week!

“Hey, baby!” My head jerked to the side. There was Jason. Wait? How?

“I thought you were way up there,” I pointed to his distant doppelgänger. “I thought you’d passed me.”

“I am now!” And the cheeky bastard took off. But my Secret Weapon was approaching. Almost all of mile 3 is this long gradual uphill. It sucks. But not for the Hill Master! I passed Jason about halfway up. I used my thunder thigh powers to put some more time between us. I eventually did pass Jason’s doppelgänger in the last half mile of the race, but then I was super paranoid because if I saw a red shirt it could either be Jason OR his bearded hipster body double (turns out he just looked the same from behind).

I finished in 30:56 minutes – 7:44 min/mile. I was STOKED. I had beat my previous time by almost 2 minutes and the year before that’s time by like 5 minutes. And I BEAT JASON. But not by much. We celebrated with a beer crawl. This was an AWESOME start to the season. Half marathon PR here I come!

Survived my cold and the cold weather all for this awesome piece of bling!

Survived my cold and the cold weather all for this awesome piece of bling!

The next race was the Dallas Rock N’ Roll Half Marathon on March 24. This race I was nervous and excited about. It was a weekend road trip with 3 of my friends from the Athletic Club where I used to work. Knee problems were flaring up so my training was somewhat behind – my longest run was 9 miles…on the treadmill. Originally Jason and I just had 5 half marathons on the schedule, but the opportunity for a fun girls’ weekend was too cool to pass up.

Nothing like a selfie in the mirror - I also am not advocating socks and flip flops, but it was colder than I packed for.

Nothing like a selfie in the mirror – I also am not advocating socks and flip flops, but it was colder than I packed for.

The Rock N’ Roll series races are not cheap, but they are totally worth it. True to its name, we had lots of music all along the course. We spent half the day at the expo checking out clearance gear, sampling fitness foods, learning about other races, discovering recovery techniques, and taking lots of goofy pictures. We enjoyed the free giveaways and came out excited for the race.

This race taught me to pack one of EVERYTHING no matter where your out of town race is at. When we left Kansas, it was supposed to be 50s/60s in Texas, so I packed shorts and flip flops. That morning it was almost 40 degrees with this freezing cold north wind whipping around. We got lucky and hung out inside the hotel lobby by the starting line, but I was regretting not packing more. Usually as a girl I pack too much, but you’ll never be sorry when it comes to racing.

Tally pretending to eat a crawdad. We had an awesome feast of crawdad, boiled veggies, and beer with Sarrisa's family while in Texas.

Tally pretending to eat a crawdad. We had an awesome feast of crawdad, boiled veggies, and beer with Sarrisa’s family while in Texas.

Besides my knees, I’d also gotten a cold the week of the race. I probably should have stayed home from work one day, but I figured it was just a cold. So I spent the race paying attention to my knees and blowing my nose a lot – not that the cold wind helped. I finished in 1:52:39 – about 8:30 min/mile. It was again a very good sign. My PR to beat is 1:49:23 from 2008. I was one out of six half marathons down and already just 3 minutes off!

I returned from Dallas with more confidence about this racing season. This was it! My season! Two days later I was at the doctor’s office being diagnosed with Bronchitis. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Two weeks later was Rock the Parkway Half Marathon on April 13. And I still had bronchitis. But I  had the go-ahead to run from my physician. My mother was less than thrilled, but I assured her, “It’s ok, Mom. The doctor says I can.” I didn’t mention that my doctor’s actually a nurse practitioner. But mostly that she’s also a runner. She took a nap in someone’s yard during the Hawaii Marathon. Which she assured me was perfectly fine, as this was the 70s.

Picking up some post-race Dew on the way home and showing off my awesome new boots - I found ones that not only fit my giant calves but were loose!

Picking up some post-race Dew on the way home and showing off my awesome new boots – I found ones that not only fit my giant calves but were loose!

Even though I lost my 1:50 pace group on mile one, went through half a box of Kleenexes during the race, coughed every 3 minutes, and was tired as hell, I ALMOST PRed. I was FOUR SECONDS off my PR. But, I can’t lie to my fans (and by fans, I mean my mother). I was a dirty runner on steroids. Prednisone to be exact. Actually I was on Prednisone and three other prescription drugs.

But, I figured, if I could almost PR while sick with bronchitis, I could for sure pull out a PR next time. I was so close! With injuries! With illness! On Roids!

One week later, April 21, was the Kansas Half Marathon in Lawrence, KS. I had the  home team advantage as I ran up and up and up and sometimes down around the KU campus for years. The huge hill at Mile 8 was my way back to the dorms freshmen year. But…

I’d never really run up that hill AFTER 8 other miles. ONE WEEK after doing another half marathon. The first three miles of this race were promising. I was with the 1:45 group and feeling great. Then I slipped back to the 1:50 group. Then I ran into my friend Sam, and we ran the rest of the way together. If I hadn’t had his encouragement and energy distracting me from my pain and keeping me going, this race would have been more of a disaster than it was.

Making pimps jealous with our finisher medal swag. These things were HUGE. KS Half Marathon on left, Rock the Parkway on right.

Making pimps jealous with our finisher medal swag. These things were HUGE. KS Half Marathon on left, Rock the Parkway on right.

Mile 6 is when I started to feel like, hey, didn’t you just run one of these things? The hill at mile 8 was brutal. Then the hill at mile 11 was EVEN MORE BRUTAL. I was no longer on any meds except an inhaler, but my breathing was definitely not as efficient as it used to be. We finished in 1:55:08, making our goal of under 2 hours.

Disappointed but not defeated, I geared up for the next half marathon that was thankfully two weeks later on May 11, Running with the Cows. This is a small race out in the middle of nowhere Kansas but it’s AMAZING. We got SO MUCH FOOD at the end of this race I’ve almost forgotten how long and hot and horrible it felt running it.

I ran with my best friend Jen, who’d come to town specifically for this race. It’s a long inside joke that we call Jen a cow (she’s tiny!), so she had to run her namesake race. Jason and Jen have a long competitive history, more so than he and I do, so when he passed us mile 1, Jen was a bit on edge. But no big deal. We had 13 miles to out pace him.

But then mile 6 at the turn around point he was STILL ahead of us. Jason said as he passed us on his way back he could “feel the hostility.” We assured him we were happy for him…mostly. Again I got lucky and ran into Sam during the race, so the three of us had fun talking and plotting how to catch Jason. But I was starting to die. As beautiful as it is to run on gorgeous (paved) country roads out in fields and see cows and farms around you, it’s also Allergy Hell. Mix recovering from bronchitis with allergy season, and I was starting to sound like Darth Vader.

Completing the Heartland Series with more big bling.

Completing the Heartland Series with more big bling.

Mile 11 though we caught Jason. He was dying. He’d run very well but maybe had gotten a bit too eager and was now capping out. Jen told me if she couldn’t keep up, to keep going, that at least one of us had to beat Jason. So I dug in and passed him and ran the last two miles on my own. The last two miles were soooo long. You could see everything for miles in the country but never seemed to get any closer to anything.

I finished in 1:51:57 with Jen and Sam close behind and Jason not far behind that. We celebrated by getting not just a finisher medal but TWO finisher medals. The past 3 half marathons were part of the Heartland Series – the first year you complete all three races you get a medal. Next year, we get a giant belt buckle. Serious swag. We also found the cafeteria full of food – both homemade and catered. The best was I got an ENTIRE Chik-fil-a sandwich. I went over to the booth, they held out a sandwich, I looked at them in post-race bewilderment, took it with two hands and held it like a squirrel with a coveted nut, mumbled thank you, and stumbled off. It was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. And tasted.

Jason and I have our first year finisher medals for the Heartland Series. Sam, on the far right, is holding the Belt Buckle you get for completing it 2 years.

Jason and I have our first year finisher medals for the Heartland Series. Sam, on the far right, is holding the Belt Buckle you get for completing it 2 years.

One week later on May 19 was the notorious Leavenworth Five Trails Half Marathon (now renamed the Buffalo Bell Stampede because we can’t impress upon you enough that this is Kansas!). People complain about Hospital Hill being hilly. NO. This half marathon has it beat. The goal for this race was to just finish because it’s so hard, and it was our last race in the Leavenworth Race Series. I ran 10 miles of it the year before as a long training run since Jason was signed up for it. But last year had gone really well. The weather was cloudy, I was having a great running day, and all those hills were so much fun!

This year, I couldn’t breathe still, and it got hot and humid. And suddenly there seemed to be like 10 times more hills than I’d remembered. Mile 11 I was still going up a long ass hill on the side of the road with the sun beating down on me. The girl I’d been following the whole race started talking to me.

“Great job. Keep it up.”

“Thanks…you…too.”

“Is this your first time?”

“I’ve run…some of the…course. But not…this far.”

“It’s a tough one.”

“Yeah..Is this your…first time?”

“No. My aunt’s one of the race directors. We have to run it every year.”

“That’s cool… Hey, when do…the hills stop?”

And that’s when she stopped responding. And that’s when I knew it wasn’t going to get any better. And it really didn’t. The last half mile you run around the high school until you finish by doing a lap on the track, which was kind of cool. Like how they finish in the Olympics. Except this wasn’t the Olympics.

On the left, our finisher medal for completing the Leavenworth Race Series that started in Aug 2012. The wine was for 3rd place in my age group. And then the colorful finisher medal for the half marathon on the right.

On the left, our finisher medal for completing the Leavenworth Race Series that started in Aug 2012. The wine was for 3rd place in my age group. And then the colorful finisher medal for the half marathon on the right.

I finished just under 2 hours – 1:59:15. I also beat that girl. I’d been stalking her the whole race and used her as motivation to keep my pace up. Ironically, she got first place for women in her age group. I was only ONE year older than her age group. And I got 4th place in mine. But then I got bumped up to 3rd place because the overall women’s winner was in my age group. So I was awarded a bottle of wine, and the younger girl just got a medal. Winning!

June 1 – Two weeks later was Hospital Hill Half Marathon – this was The Race. This is my favorite KC race, usually one of my strongest races because of the hills, and where I really really want to get my PR. Jason knew how much it meant to me and got us a room at the race hotel, the Sheraton at Crown Center. We relaxed that evening, knowing we could wake up and just pop on down the elevator to the starting line. No leaving home 2 hours early to play the stupid parking game.

Our view of The Hospital Hill from our room in the Sheraton. Sleeping on hills is what gives me my Hill Master powers.

Our view of The Hospital Hill from our room in the Sheraton. Sleeping on hills is what gives me my Hill Master powers.

I also was a blogger for this race. Several of us wrote entries about running to help people prepare for Hospital Hill – whether you did the 5K, 10K, or half. I met a lot of these people both in person and through their blogs, and it was really cool to get more involved in the running community. To hear stories of what inspired them to run. To hear stories what inspires them to keep running. It made the race even more special and personal.

The finisher medals from the past 3 years for the Hospital Hill Half Marathon fit together like a puzzle. 2013's medal was the final piece.

The finisher medals from the past 3 years for the Hospital Hill Half Marathon fit together like a puzzle. 2013′s medal was the final piece.

We got so lucky that the weather wasn’t scorching hot – it started out in the 60s and wasn’t the humid mess Kansas can be that time of year. I paced the race really well. I ran by myself – I never found Sam, and Jason knew he wasn’t going to keep up on this one. No music or anything. Just me and my thoughts. I was mostly worried about Broadway Hill at mile 10. The year before I let it break me and lost a lot of time slowly climbing up it.

This year the last three miles was a lot of looking at my Garmin and doing math in my head. Which is a pretty big deal for me since I can’t do math hardly standing still and here I was trying to figure out how many minutes per mile I needed to get my PR while wheezing uphill. There were definitely several times during the race when I had to slow down a bit and try to breath. Even with taking my inhaler beforehand, it wasn’t the same. Ever since getting bronchitis, my sprint workouts had suffered and just a nine-minute mile felt like I was pushing it. But I wanted my PR so bad!!! Just suffer through now and enjoy the victory forever!

We found Sam and Emily at the post-race party and got a pic. These guys are awesome runners, and I always enjoy seeing them at races.

We found Sam and Emily at the post-race party and got a pic. These guys are awesome runners, and I always enjoy seeing them at races.

I finished in 1:50:56 which was NOT a half marathon PR but it WAS my Hospital Hill PR. So I tried to be happy with that, but thoughts of Next Year I’m Gonna were already popping up. I still celebrated with food and beer. The next race was months off, and it was time to recover!

Just kidding! In our usual crazy runner style, Jason and I found another race that we just had to run one week later. But this was a fun run – Martini Mile. It’s a relay race for teams of four people; each person runs a mile. We had Jason, myself, a co-worker and his former cross country star buddy. We almost got 3rd place for the mixed gender teams! We’re ready for next year now we know there’s two decent sized hills in the mile and ways to make handing off the baton faster (we used an empty bottle of Mountain Dew, which I may or may not have finished drinking that morning before the race at 1pm).

This is my Martini Mile shirt. The kid is my adorable cousin Quintin. I love his shirt too!

This is my Martini Mile shirt. The kid is my adorable cousin Quintin. I love his shirt too!

Later in June, we got the cool opportunity to meet a running legend – Billy Mills. The only American to gold medal in the 10,000-meter run. We went to his birthday dinner hosted by the KC Track Club and heard him speak. I definitely am blogging more about this. We met him there, and he was also there as part of the Double Road Race. Bob Anderson, Kansas high school alumni and founder of Runner’s World, was starting a new race. You run a 10K and then an hour later run a 5K. Your overall score is the two races combined. It definitely involves a lot of strategy and figuring out how to pace both races and recover in between without your muscles getting stiff.

The day of the race was June 30, and it was gorgeous! It was high 70s and no humidity – Bob got really lucky because he obviously did NOT remember his summer days in Kansas, or he would have NEVER scheduled that thing in late June. But it was not an A game day for me – still suffering from what my doctor now called either adult asthma or allergy-induced asthma, my breathing was killing me. Looking back, my race times are still pretty good, but I guarantee you that I did not feel good pulling those off. And I had a lot of disappointing training runs. I just wanted to breathe again!!!

Getting to meet Billy Mills was such an honor. He's a very inspiring runner!!!

Getting to meet Billy Mills was such an honor. He’s a very inspiring runner!!!

The 10K went ok – my main motivation was to beat this 10-year-old. Seriously, he was 10. He was ahead of me most the time but that last mile I passed him. It’s hard for someone that young to understand how to keep an even pace. But he beat me (by not by much my pride must add) in the following 5k. It was a boring race that went around Corporate Woods through parking lots and business streets – the 10K was 2 loops and the 5K was one loop. So we saw the same lack of scenery three times. But the shade was nice. I remember sprinting hard at the end of the 10K, finishing strong like I always do, and looking up to suddenly see Billy Mills there. He won his race by sprinting hard at the end, so he said something about my strong finish and congratulated me, shaking my hand. I was so out of it. I think I said thanks. It was surreal.

Our next race wasn’t for months. Finally. We had the Portland Marathon on October 6. Before that, I convinced Jason to sign up for the North Shore Trail Half Marathon with the Trail Nerds on Sept 7th. It would be a good way to get a long training run in with all the fun perks of a race. Or would it?

Ha ha. This race really was HELL. I don’t ever want to repeat it, but I’m certainly thankful for how much stronger it made me. I have a full entry coming soon about this race so I won’t say too much. This race started out at 9am in the 80-degree, 90% humidity of Kansas in the woods by the lake in Lawrence. Also trail running is A LOT harder and slower than regular road running. I knew this going into the race from doing the nighttime trail 10K the year before, but I’d never tackled 13.1 miles.

I figure it’d take me 2 1/2 hours to complete this race. I’d be slower but not bad. Nope. I walked every so often. I NEVER walk. But sometimes you wasted more energy trying to run and struggle up a rock-studded hill than just walk up it. My legs tired of dodging things all the time. And with a marathon coming up I didn’t want to twist anything. And it got so hot.

Like I said, these medals were LEGENDARY. I had to suck it Buttercup and finish it!

Like I said, these medals were LEGENDARY. I had to suck it Buttercup and finish it!

Jason dropped down and did the 10K, which actually turned into 7 miles. My 13.1 miles ended up being 14 miles. The state park had gotten the race date mixed up, so we were running on a different trail loop, which was 7 miles. I remember finishing the first 7 miles in almost 2 hours and thinking there was NO WAY I wanted to run those 7 miles AGAIN. But I had to. Because the finisher medal was epic. Legendary! And I’d never not finished a race. As long as I could still move, I was doing this. It was 3 1/2 hours later that I emerged from the trail melting, delusional, and so thankful I didn’t die alone in the woods. I didn’t want to be on that show 1000 Ways to Die – #451 Death by Raccoon.

Having a three and half hour race in the heat of Kansas though made the Portland Marathon feel that much nicer. It was beautiful fall weather the day of the race. Jen, Jason and I had a great time running it. This time breathing didn’t matter so much because our average pace was 10:45-11:30 minute miles. It was about the experience and finishing the greatest race of I’ve run to date – The Course is Strong With this One: My First Marathon Saga.

After running 6 half marathons in 9 weeks, running a new kind of road race, meeting one of my running heroes, surviving a trail run in a heat advisory, and completing my first marathon, you’d think I’d be pretty satisfied with myself and call it a year.

Marathon complete! Time for beer!

Marathon complete! Time for beer!

Ha ha.

I had one more race to do – aka one more way to worry my mother. We ran the Kansas City Half Marathon just two weeks after the full marathon. It wasn’t a completely off the wall idea – I researched first. Most running experts tell you to take a whole week off of running and some recommended a half marathon a few weeks after. It was kind of pushing it though.

I did take it easy with the running. I returned to Cross Fit less than a week after the full marathon because my muscles never got sore – just my joints had bothered me during and after the race. But I was still kind of dying. My coach kept telling me to get my strength from my hips, and I kinda wanted to tell him to try using his hips after running for five hours straight. For once my little T-Rex arms looked good.

But since this race started Jason and I’s relationship, and we were getting married the next month in November, it seemed appropriate to run it. Also, the past two times I’ve run the half I haven’t had a lot of training in. This year we were over prepared.

Oddly enough, this medal was bigger than our full marathon finisher medal.

Oddly enough, this medal was bigger than our full marathon finisher medal.

The race went well for being two weeks after our first full – I finished in 2:02. I was aiming for under two hours, but it was pretty obvious that wasn’t going to happen. My legs were still tired from the full, and the KC Half is deceptively hard. It doesn’t seem like a lot of hills like Hospital Hill, but it’s got a lot of gradual uphill.

Then, finally, we had just one more race. This race we ran with Jason’s family and my friend Bridget. The Monster Dash 5K. It was a great way to end racing season because I finally did a race without caring about my time. In fact, for the first time ever, I wore a costume. While running. Bridget was Cat Woman (she wore her running shoes not the stiletto boots during the race) and I was Bat Girl. We quickly discovered Halloween costumes don’t breathe. So, if any sports companies out there want to make the next new thing, I recommend sweat-wicking workout costumes. Seriously, they’d be a HUGE hit in the running community. We’re a goofy group who’s easily amused.

We also got a pretty big finisher medal for doing a 5K. I didn't a get a medal the for the first half marathon I ran in 2003! It's the new running thing - awesome bling.

We also got a pretty big finisher medal for doing a 5K. I didn’t a get a medal the for the first half marathon I ran in 2003! It’s the new running thing – awesome bling.

I had several other fall races I would have liked to run in November and December, but with the wedding that wasn’t going to happen. We’d already put off enough wedding planning by running half marathons then spending the rest of the weekend sleeping and eating and drinking beer. It was time to recover and focus on the next race – the rest of our lives together.

And time to sign up for next year’s races. :)

The Course is Strong With this One: My First Marathon Saga

My first full marathon was a sci-fi movie: it was a trippy journey through time and space full of strange surprises,  plot twists, and Darth Vader playing the bagpipes whilst riding a unicycle (really! I have pictures! It was NOT post-marathon hallucinations) The whole time I was never really sure how it was going to end. But it was totally worth it.

Google the Portland Unipiper to see more of this incredibly talented dude.

Google the Portland Unipiper to see more of this incredibly talented dude.

Our journey began by flying from Kansas to Portland the Wednesday before the marathon. It felt like a whole different planet – we went from high 80s sweaty humid weather to low 50s chilly humid weather. The sun had vanished and someone had replaced it with fog machines. Lots of fog machines. It was eerie and pretty at the same time.

On our way to Eugene one morning on the hunt for Voodoo Doughnuts.

On our way to Eugene one morning on the hunt for Voodoo Doughnuts.

We’d start the morning being able to see the road and maybe 200 feet in each direction. But everything was grey, and it felt COLD. But by 2 pm, the fog was lifted and it was sunny and warm – and BEAUTIFUL.

There were trees EVERYWHERE. And they were real, not those on-purpose trees you find in cities (that’s what Jason called them). Besides being bathed in green, there were mountains in the backdrop with sprawling meadows beneath full of sheep and cows. The leaves were also starting to change. The closest we’d been to anything like this was looking at L.L. Bean catalogs.

Hiked up a trail to this breathtaking view at sunset in Corvallis

Hiked up a trail to this breathtaking view at sunset in Corvallis.

So the morning of the Portland Marathon, 7am on October 6, 2013, was really special. It wasn’t just race day – it was Sunday. Literally, SUN Day. It started out in the upper 50s and was in the low 70s when we finished – and it was SUNNY…the WHOLE TIME! It was such a beautiful morning and perfect fall running weather it was ridiculous. Having trained in what felt like God’s armpit all summer, we had an advantage with the weather.

We also had the 2-hour time zone difference advantage. 7am in Portland is 9am in Kansas. All week we were in bed by 9 or 10 pm PST and then up at 6-7am PST. So marathon morning was time-wise early, but didn’t feel early to us.

This is same drive back from Eugene that afternoon. Total transformation!!!

This is same drive back from Eugene that afternoon. Total transformation!!!

We took the light rail, the Tri Met, to the marathon start and found our corral in 20 minutes. This was probably the easiest time we’ve ever had getting to a race. Most Kansas City races, even though we live within 20 minutes of them, still involve leaving at 5:30am for a 7:00am race because of a little game we hate to play called Find a Parking Spot for All 10,000 Runners and Their Supporters in Two Downtown Parking Garages.

So we got to the starting line downtown and tried to find our corral. They had different blocks of streets for each corral, and our corral was based on our projected finishing time. Jason and I were in Corral D, hoping for around 4 hours, and Jen was Corral E for about 4 1/2 hours. We decided to go with Jen to her corral and had her husband, Jon, in tow as our moral support, but mostly to give him all our extra clothes and stuff to carry.

Lots of runners, supporters, and Port-A-Potties in Corral E

Lots of runners, supporters, and Port-A-Potties in Corral E

I felt very awake but surprisingly calm in the crisp, cool and dark morning air. Mostly, I just wanted to finally finish this thing. After months and miles of sweat, sore muscles, frequent cat naps, and eating twice my body weight in food, it was marathon time. I also couldn’t wait to start training for a half marathon again. Running a full marathon really put into perspective why I find 13.1 miles the perfect amount of racing challenge without under or over doing it in training. Half marathons are a hobby, but training for a marathon is almost like another job.

Corral E was a block full of nervous and excited runners. It was a mosh pit of people trying to gear check their backpacks, attach bibs to their shirts, and hope to God they could make it through the Port-A-Potty line before the race started. Suddenly, through the chaos and chatter, came the loudspeaker announcement – the race was about to begin!

Before every race anywhere, the national anthem is sung. Because one year something happened to the sound system before the Portland Marathon, the lead singer wasn’t audible. But the runners kept singing, strong and loud. So this year, to show our solidarity and support for the Boston bombings and to show our support of the running community in general, we sang the national anthem acapella. It was haunting – the song hung in the air above our heads as a chorus of runners showed their patriotism, camaraderie, and the fact that besides running, hey, we can sing pretty well too.

Singing a song and waiting for the race to start

Singing a song and waiting for the race to start

We followed this up with a lively rendition of “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond. Having grown up in a household of two hardcore Neil Diamond fans (thanks Mom and Dad!), I actually was exciting for this because I know the ENTIRE song and not JUST THE CHORUS. But we sang just the chorus because this too was a tribute to Boston. Apparently it’s sung before Boston sporting events, especially Red Sox games. Also, back in Portland’s history, there was a coin toss between two politicians of what the name of Portland would be – either Boston or Portland. Clearly Portland won. Although, City of Bearded Hipsters could have been a close third.

The gun went off! The race had begun! And we! We stood there motionless. Seriously, it was about 10 more minutes before our corral got to cross the starting line. We eventually lost track of Jon in the crowd, which is saying something considering he had about 10 more clothing items to carry. We nervously chatted about the race, agreeing to stick together and make sure to pace. A marathon is not something you want to start too fast. Which is why I really love long distances – because I’m a Pacer. I’m not a Sprinter, I’m not a Fast Runner, I’m a Pacer. And I’m totally fine with that because at mile 9 when you’re dying from starting out too fast, I’m passing your tushy because I’m the slow and steady turtle who keeps even splits and probably just took an espresso Gu shot.

Here's Jason pre-race looking all bright-eyed and bushy bearded. He grew this beard in a week specifically to fit in with the locals

Here’s Jason pre-race looking all bright-eyed and bushy bearded. He grew this beard in a week specifically to fit in with the locals

So I was excited for the marathon because I knew this was a race to take slow. And it was my first so any finishing time was going to be a PR. But like several first times, this one was going to hurt. And it did. But not right away.

Mile 1: We knew Portland was going to be entertaining when in the first half mile we went through Chinatown and saw this awesome sign “Hung Far Low Cocktails” Oh yeah. I had to go back later and get a picture of that. The excitement was undeniable. The Chinese dragon dancers were pretty cool too.

Mile 2-4: Full of spectators and their funny signs. A South American band with pan pipes. We had some uphills through neighborhood areas. I always love a good hill being the Hill Master. In fact, that was my name on my bib: HILMASTR. When registering, you could customize your bib with an 8-character name. Hill Master was my nickname from high school cross country. I thought Jason’s should have been BAMF for Bearded Awesome Mother…well, you get the idea.

Miles 5-6: It started getting hot. I was in shorts, a thin tank top, and long-sleeve half-zip top. I had unzipped my top and rolled up my sleeves. Glad I had my Adidas hat on too because there was lots of sun and no shade. We started heading out of downtown.

I think the name pretty much sells itself

I think the name pretty much sells itself

Mile 7-9: We were out by the railroad tracks. It was SO BORING. It was one of those racing tricks where you run down a road for a mile or more and then back up the same road, so it’s the same scenery! But, we had some pretty interesting entertainment including the Portland Pirates, a live Pep Band, a Spanish-singing Jamaican-sounding band, and mountains in the background. My hamstrings started getting tight from having so much flat course and my feet and lower back were hurting. Even with the insoles I’d gotten, my Mizuno Wave Rider 16s just weren’t working for me for distances over 9 miles.

Miles 10-12: We went through more of Portland. Now it was more the side neighborhood places on the outskirts of downtown. We smelled Beer and Bacon going past a local pub. The foodie in me secretly hoped someone was passing out bacon to runners even though I learned my lesson last year about eating bacon before racing. We got a good long downhill, and my knees got a bit twingy – a quick sharp pain that disappeared after I tightened my patellar bands. I kept waiting for the halfway point.

Running on this boring road but we can see the bridge. It's getting closer! But then again, that's what we thought last mile

Running on this boring road but we can see the bridge. It’s getting closer! But then again, that’s what we thought last mile

Mile 13: We hit at 2 hours and 20 minutes. This meant we probably wouldn’t make my 4 hour goal, but I was okay with that. I felt like my body was more sore and tired than it should have been at that point. I blamed my shoes. At this point too, it was still flat, and we were running on the side of a boring ass road outside of town. There wasn’t much scenery or spectators.

Miles 13-16: I knew the Big Hill was coming. And I was getting excited. Running on the shoulder of a boring road was wearing on me. Our conversation was dying off. We got to the point when we started asking each other when we’d have kids. We didn’t even know if we’d survive this race to have kids! There was no shade, the sun was beating on me. I took my Cliff energy gel shot near Mile 15. It was an espresso flavored one with 50mg of caffeine. I waited for the kick in the tushy I knew I needed.

Mile 16: The Hill. OMG. It was SUCH A RELIEF. Everyone else around me was walking up it, but I took a deep breath and dug deep. This was MY MOMENT. Time for the Hill Master to do what she does best. I’d had several spectators cheer me on by my nickname, but we’d just passed the security checkpoint with the Army volunteers. Anyone without an official racing bib was turned back so there were no spectators to cheer me on. Just my hamstrings that were so relieved now my thighs and calves were doing all the work. Having an incline meant using different muscles, which felt so good after all that flat boring road. And it was shady. And at the top was the glorious bridge we got to cross. I got to the top and had to stop and wait for Jason and Jen. I guess I’d gotten so excited I’d just flown up the hill.

Victory! I've reached the top of The Hill, although this picture really can't portray how long or steep it was

Victory! I’ve reached the top of The Hill, although this picture really can’t portray how long or steep it was

Mile 17: St. John’s Bridge. It was beautiful. Suddenly the past 5 miles of boring were worth it. I got great pictures. I even took a selfie to prove I was still alive at this point in the race. This was quite an accomplishment considering my fatigue and tiny T-Rex arms. My joints again started aching on the cold concrete.

We got to run across this after conquering The Hill. It was a very memorable marathon moment

We got to run across this after conquering The Hill. It was a very memorable marathon moment

Mile 17.5: This is where the trio split – Jen was ready to fly, I was ready to listen to my music, and Jason wanted to go slower. So we mutually said our good lucks to each other and we’ll see you at the finish lines. It was sort of bitter sweet, but for me it was a nice break. I’m used to running by myself and there was something fulfilling to me finishing the race by myself. It was reflection time and right when the marathon started messing with my mind.

Mile 18 – 20: I turned on my iPod shuffle only to be assaulted with blasting My Chemical Romance’s “Black Parade.” I have a 3rd generation iPod shuffle which means it’s a stick without any controls but the on/off button. My headphone controls weren’t doing anything! I finally got the volume down after 1/4 of a mile of running awkwardly messing with my headphones. But now my iPod was stuck at one volume, which wasn’t blasting anymore, thankfully, but wasn’t quite as loud as I would have liked. “Eye of the Tiger” came on and I got PUMPED. I don’t care how overplayed this song is, it’s a running theme song that gives me the energy I need every time.

Here's my selfie taken on the bridge. Not a great photo but remember I'm taking this with my T-Rex arms

Here’s my selfie taken on the bridge. Not a great photo but remember I’m taking this with my T-Rex arms

My journey became a musical mush of madness. After awhile, not only were the volume controls frozen, so was my skip button on the headphones. I COULDN’T CHANGE SONGS. Luckily, my iPod shuffle had lots of my favorite running songs. The night before the marathon, I made sure I had plenty of songs to last me through the whole race. My iPod now had roughly 20 hours of music on it. But sometimes songs you like just aren’t what you need when running, so it was interesting what I got stuck listening to.

The race became more scenic. The road had houses on the left and dropped off the right. There was a breathtaking view of Portland – the fall trees, the mountains, the unique buildings. Literally breathtaking as breathing was barely happening. But I kept taking in…out…in…out. Thud…thud…thud. I had to keep moving. And I was starting to feel better. The music and the scenery meshed, making a magical journey, alliteration included:

“I’m waking up…to ash and dust…I wipe my brow and I sweat my rust…this is it…the apocalypse….”

“I don’t want to go through the motions…I don’t wanna go one more day…without your all consuming…passion inside of me…I don’t wanna go through my whole life…asking what if I’d given everything…I don’t wanna go through the motions…”

“There’s gotta be more to life…than chasing down every temporary high…to satisfy me…cuz the more that I’m…tripping out thinking there must be more to life…well it’s life I’m sure…there’s gotta be more …than wanting more…”

“Something has changed within me…Something is not the same…I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game…I’m through accepting limits…cuz someone says they’re so….it’s time to try Defying Gravity…I think I’ll try Defying Gravity..and you can’t hold me down”

Those songs stuck out in my head as ones that really motivated me to keep going. I also had some upbeat pop songs (Backstreet Boys! cuz I’m old school like that) and a few of my favorite kick-some-butt Linkin Park songs too:

“I bleed it out digging deeper just to throw it away” became in my head “I run it out digging deeper just to keep it away,” thinking about how I would beat the pain.

Another song I don’t remember if it came on or not that I find very inspirational for anyone is Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” I frequently think of these words: “You better lose yourself in the music, the moment, you own it, you better never let it go. You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, this opportunity only comes once in a lifetime”

I hoped this marathon wasn’t my only chance, but I was going to give it all I had. And right now all I had left was one more energy gel, strawberry with 25mg of caffeine, and it was enough.

Mile 20: I hit it at 3 hours and 40-some minutes with only 6 miles left. I can do this. I can do this. Suddenly, I knew, without a doubt, that I was going to finish this thing.

Mile 20-23: I started getting randomly emotional. I’d get choked up or almost cry thinking about what I was doing. I’m not one who cries easily, but this race meant so much to me. I started remembering all I’d overcome to do this race. How in 8th grade my cross country coach wouldn’t let me run our first meet because she thought I was too slow. Or how my high school cross country coach always seemed to push me hard and get annoyed that I also had marching band commitments during the season. But then she nominated me for the senior female Athlete of the Year award and I won it, even though I wasn’t a varsity star runner breaking records – I was just a student passionate about running and spread that to the rest of my team.

I thought about how in college after my freshmen year my knees were so messed up I couldn’t run. I took two years off going to the chiropractor and learning how to weight lift, unsure of if I could run again. But I did. Because I wanted to and no one was going to tell me I couldn’t.

How running changed my life because that’s how I met Jason. We stupidly trained for the KC Half Marathon in only 4 weeks. But we pulled that race off and came out of it in a relationship that’s still going. I knew we could pull this off too.

Most people were walking by now, but not me. I don’t like to walk during races. That’s why I pace. I will keep running no matter what. I understand some people need to walk, but at this point, I just wanted to finish. And as soon as possible before my body completely hurt like hell. I started slipping…

Mile 23: Only a 5K left. Only a 5K left. Only a 5K left. That’s 30 minutes. Maybe. Maybe 24 minutes. Maybe. It’s only a 5K left. God, I hurt.

Mile 23.5: Hurting. A lot. Only 2.5 miles left. This is the longest 2.5 miles of my life. There’s people! Lots of people! With beer! OMG you’re my new best friends! I took a Dixie cup shot of beer. It was DELICIOUS. I normally skip the jello shots during the Wesport St. Patrick’s run, but this was different. I was running my first marathon, and hell, you only live once. I took the shot down with a hearty thanks.

This bridge was cool looking but at this point I was pretty over the scenic aspect of the marathon. I was ready for the finish line aspect

This bridge was cool looking but at this point I was pretty over the scenic aspect of the marathon. I was ready for the finish line aspect

Mile 24: Broadway Bridge. Another good photo opp. But damn, I fucking HURT. A LOT. Before I hurt, but it was bearable. Mostly my feet and knees felt worn. But now. Shit. Now I HURT. Like my everything below my waist is just ready to quit. I just want to finish. The photographer. He focuses on me. I smile. It’s probably the most pained forced smile. It’s a grimace. But I smile. Because it makes me feel stronger. And reminds me that I’m going to do this. Amongst all these walkers, I’m still plugging along. My feet. My ankles. My lower back. My knees. My joints. Ah, my joints.

I remember Backstreet’s “Beautiful Woman” song coming on (it’s a deep track off their Never Gone album). And trying to think the song was about me, this beautiful strong woman who wasn’t going to be stopped by temporary physical pain. Thank God for Body Glide.

Mile 25: Last. Mile. Hurt. So. Bad. I realized until about Mile 24, I was fine with the discomfort and pain, but now I just wanted to finish. And to have it over with. We were just winding around downtown, trying to make that final couple of miles. People kept telling me I could do it. That I looked strong. Maybe it’s because of my giant Wonder Woman thighs, I thought. Some weird angsty Avril Lavigne song came on. I suffered through.

Then, weirdly, a Celine Dion song I don’t remember putting on my playlist,

“A New…Day…Has…Come…For a miracle to come…Everyone told me to be strong…Through the darkness and good times…I knew I’d make it through”

After that, I turned off my music.

Mile 25.8: Running in silence. There are lots of spectators lining the streets. Lots of signs. The best one: “You’re running better than the government” Ha ha. Hope my body doesn’t shut down too. Lots of walkers now. But no. I’m still running.

Kind of a tease but hilarious. So close! So close!

Kind of a tease but hilarious. So close! So close!

Mile 26: There’s a giant sign with a fat Viking Lady and opera music blasting. It says, “It’s almost over.” Ha ha.

Around the corner. It’s now quiet. No more spectators. Trying to sprint strong like I always do but knowing my sprint is probably barely reaching 10 min miles. But I see it. The finish. And I do. I finish.

Mile 26.2.: I stop. OMG. I stop. And it kind of hurts to stop. But it’d hurt more to keep going. A little girl offers me a rosebud. It’s small and pink and kind of wilted already. I think about asking for a new one. But this one suites me because it looks how I feel. After a bit I walk over to the table and ask for a different one. I get a white one.

The rose is also looking pretty edible at this point

The rose is also looking pretty edible at this point

Then I get a Popsicle. I’m not really hungry. But I know I need to eat. And keep moving. And the popsicle reminds me of the Hospital Hill Half Marathon 3 years ago when it was hot as hell. It was one of my worst races but I managed to finish under 2 hours anyway, and when I got done, they handed me a popsicle. I’ve never loved popsicles more than I did then. This brings back memories and again the emotions start to overwhelm me. I FINISHED.

I then move on to a banana. I have to ask the girl to peel it for me. It’s just a small section of a banana, but all my coordination is gone. Not that I had much to begin with. Just ask my racquetball partner. I also find a small quarter of a PB sandwich, but it’s hard to choke it down without a drink. I find out the water is back down the street by the finish. I wonder like a zombie to the water.

I’m trying to think straight. I’m trying to recover. I have my phone. I got a text to go to the family meeting area, but that’s two blocks away. While wondering, a lady hands me a small bag. “Here are your coins and pendant, dear,” she says. Oh yeah. We get a commemorative coin and a small pendant that looks like the finisher medal. I look down. I have a finisher medal on. Ha. Awesome. I finished.

The Hill Master just blinging blinging with my Finisher Swag

The Hill Master just bling blingin’ with my Finisher Swag

I also get my photo taken. In the picture I’m smiling, but my eyes say, “AHHHH! I need a nap!” I also find the table for the finisher shirts. I get mine. Wondering if I should get a small now instead of a medium because I think I just lost 10 pounds running that thing. Then realize I’ll probably gain it all back with Voodoo Doughnuts and craft beer anyway. I see a rose on the ground. I go to pick it up and realize if I bend down, I might not come back up. A photographer sees me, rushes over, and picks up the rose. I incoherently thank him for his kindness. I can’t explain how much this means to me.

I’m almost out of the two blocks of finisher chute when Jason calls. He’s finished and he wants a picture with me. Since our relationship started with running together, and he’s the one who roped me into this mess, I hobble back and find him. We take a cute picture together that I still need to go and buy for way more money than I’d like to pay. But I want proof we finished our greatest race to date.

The Finisher Chute is two blocks with only runners and volunteers. It's peaceful and quiet but the end of the race is anticlimatic. We turn a corner, there's no more spectators, and we finish the race in silence. No Chariots of Fire music here

The Finisher Chute is two blocks with only runners and volunteers. It’s peaceful and quiet but the end of the race is anticlimactic. We turn a corner, there’s no more spectators, and we finish the race in silence. No Chariots of Fire music here

We make our way out of the finisher chute to the family reunion area. We find Jen and Jon and Jen’s family. We also find Darth Vader. I get a picture and realize this is the best racing photo I’ve ever taken. I just ran a marathon and got congratulated by Darth Vader. Who is freaking awesome. I have a cardboard cutout of him in my living room. It’s like it’s all coming full circle.

We limp our way to the Tri Met to go back to our hotel. I look forward to a shower. To a nap. And to lots of beer. But mostly, I look forward to moving on with my life. Now that I’ve done a marathon, I feel like I can do anything. Like get married. Ha ha. Seriously, this marathon was a huge part of why our wedding planning wasn’t as on schedule as we’d hoped. But that was fine.

Just chillin' like a villain with my good homey, Darth Vader. He came from far far away to congratulate us!

Just chillin’ like a villain with my good homey, Darth Vader. He came from far far away to congratulate us!

Because that too is going to be a long journey. Something we can’t go into at Warp Speed. We’ll have to pace. And take it on together. Knowing there will be trials and tribulations and other alliterative things to get through. But we can do it.

My official final time was 5 hours and 2 minutes. My Garmin showed I finished at 4 hours 50 minutes because I stopped it when we stopped at aid stations. But the coolest thing was the race results show I passed 192 people in the last 5 miles, and only 20 people passed me. The Pacer. That’s right. I paced, I raced, and I finished with an average 11:30 minutes per mile pace. Wibbly Wobely Timey Wimey. The three companions. We finished in 5 hours, but it only felt like mere moments strung together by our love for running. I’ll never forget you, Portland Marathon. Thank you.

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