Indy Mini Marathon Race Recap

My husband, who grew up in a racing family, watched the Indy 500 every year of his youth, some years on TV but many times from the stands at turn 1. When I read that the Indy Mini Half Marathon included a lap around the famous speedway, I knew that I had a chance to finally convince my non-runner hubs to do a half marathon. He had always joked that the only half he would do would be the “Maui Half” but I dangled the carrot of Indy and he took the bait. We had begun seriously talking about a trip to Hawaii in the next few years, and realistically I knew that after his first half, he would much rather lay in bed and rest than hike volcanoes. Indianapolis seemed a better bet.

He followed Hal Higdon’s beginner half training plan as close as he could. Around week 3 of training he hurt his back and needed a week to recover, but managed to get right back on track. His knees began to hurt with increased mileage, but he switched to HOKA running shoes, added some core work and tried knee braces and was able to push on through.

His baseline was barely running 2 miles a couple times a week on the treadmill. At the beginning of the process he shook his head incredulously at the training plan questioning how it it was possible to ever run so far. I encouraged him to trust the process as each week we added another mile to the long run. When we hit 8 miles for our long run, he found his pace. He realized after 4 miles it all feels the same. The running zone.

Race Weekend

We dropped the kids at school Friday morning then headed up 65 for an easy 5 hour drive to Indy. It had been almost a year since we had gotten away together as a couple, so a big part of the fun of the weekend was simply enjoying each other’s company. I don’t love road trips, but I also have become jaded by years of traveling with small screaming children. Five hours with a cute, witty companion was actually quite lovely.

In my travel calculations, I forgot to consider the time change and stopping for lunch, so we got to the expo a little later than I planned. I was hoping to make it in time for the Meb Keflezighi meet and greet, but that didn’t happen. The expo was was huge even though this race was only a half. There were 20,000 runners, so the swag stands were in full swing.

Expo!

As we walked into the expo we were greeted by the pace car for the Indianapolis 500, and I knew we had chosen the right race. The Indy Mini is part of the city’s May festival that leads up to the 500 on the last weekend of the month. Throughout the town we saw banners celebrating the race. I get the feeling that the 500 is Indianapolis’s Christmas, and May is their December. I could feel the excitement in the air, and Russ was all grins and nervous energy as we picked up our shirts and bibs. The convention center was less than a mile from our hotel, so after we took in all the sites, we headed back to the hotel to get changed for dinner.

We picked the right race.

We ate at Osteria Pronto, an Italian place in the Marriott Hotel downtown. The atmosphere was that mix of modern and rustic that seems the current trend. The food was good, but not life changing. Russ had the lasagna, but despite never having GI issues before, found it didn’t sit that well overnight.

We stayed at The Conrad, which was a gorgeous hotel located a cozy 2 blocks from the starting line. They had coffee and bagel for the runners in the lobby race morning, but we had lucked into some free room service coupons, so we started the morning with french press coffee and danishes.

We didn’t have to be in our corral til 7:30, so we were able to sleep in til 6 (which felt like 7 am ‘our time’). As soon as we hit the lobby, you could feel the excitement of the crowds. We followed the bib wearing masses to the start. We watched the runners pile into to the corrals, as we stretched out our quads. Old, young, svelte and plump; all in it together to run 13.1 miles and a rare chance to make a lap around Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Ready to run.

Russ’s step father Bill had passed this last fall, so as we prepared for the race, Russ donned his late step father’s Indy 500 Old Timers Club hat. Bill was a racing enthusiast, writer, announcer, promoter, and risk manager for the largest motorsports insurance company. The years that Russ had see the Indianapolis 500 in person, it had been with his mom and step dad, so this race was a special.

Bill Hill’s classic Indy hat

Our wait in the corral seemed shorter than usual (perhaps because my last race was at Disney where half the event is in the corral), but still festive and nerve wracking. Runners filled with nervous energy were jumping around and fidgeting with their Garmins. Blaring music filled the air, as the occasional beach ball bopped us on the head before we could send it flying back across the crowd.

The Race

Russ’s goal was 2:15, so our corral was in third wave. We were quickly off through the streets of Indy. The crowds were thick and we spent a lot of the first two miles weaving through the runners trying to maintain a 10 min/ mile pace. The area between downtown and the speedway was not that visually appealing, consisting mostly of run down houses, many with bars on the windows. Despite the aesthetics, the crowd support was great, and the volunteers were out in full force with water and gatorade stations at every mile. There were also abundant porta potties with minimal lines.

Heading down Main Street of Speedway, Indiana, a small town completely inside of Indianapolis.

The excitement built as we headed down the stretch toward the speedway, in the shadow of the giant walls of the grandstands. We then made a sharp left going through a tunnel that filled me with childlike excitement and then we emerged in the infield of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Who doesn’t love to run through a tunnel?

The track is 2.5 miles long, lined with a quarter million seats. The music was loud and the runners were giddy with excitement, but I know that could be no comparison to what race day must feel like. I can’t fathom racing a car around that track 200 times at speeds of over 230 mph. Russ was all grins as we ran on the famous speedway, filling me in on Indy trivia, like how the winner always drinks a glass of milk and in the 90’s a tradition started where the winner of the race would get down and ‘kiss the bricks’.  The original racetrack was all bricks hence the nickname ‘the Brickyard’. When it was finally paved, they left a literal 3 feet of bricks at the finish line in homage to the famous nickname. As we approached the start/ finish line of the speedway, we were give the opportunity to stop and ‘kiss the bricks’.

Kissing the bricks

Exiting the speedway, we cruised back toward downtown. Around mile nine, I saw a man lying lifeless beside the course, as a women knelled next to him removing his bib, for what I presumed was to access his emergency contact. I went into full doctor mode and rushed over to assess him. Luckily he informed me that it was only a sprained ankle, before I began the chest compressions and emergency breathing.

At mile 10 we made a pit stop and when I asked Russ how he was feeling, he said that he felt awesome. “That means it’s time to speed up” I answered with a mischievous grin. We ‘stood on the gas’ and headed for the straightaway.

The final half mile was lined with checkered flags, sticking with the racing theme. We finished strong and were rewarded with a milk jug shaped medal. We hydrated, called the kids and walked the couple blocks back to our hotel, once again thankful for the close location The Conrad.

We took it easy the rest of the day and then ate a fabulous steak dinner at the Capital Grille, replenishing all calories burned in the race. We slept in Sunday, then ate at Russ’s favorite local diner, Charlie Brown’s. It is the kind of place that’s filled with locals and the couple beside us literally ordered ‘the usual’. The portions were huge, greasy and delicious.

This breakfast reminded me of my favorite Ron Swanson quote: “Just give me all the bacon and eggs you have… Wait. Wait…”
“I’m worried what you just heard was give me a lot of bacon and eggs. What I said was give me all the bacon and eggs you have.”
“Do you understand?”

We left Indianapolis feeling a sense of accomplishment. We hauled our swollen bellies and sore knees back down I65 to Nashville. It was a fantastic weekend and great first (hopefully not last) half marathon for Russ in memory of a great man, Bill Hill.

The Indianapolis 500 is known as the “Greatest Spectacle in Sports” and while the Indy Mini may not be ‘the greatest race ever’ it still proved itself to be a fun, flat, well supported half.

Russ beat his goal by 7 minutes and finished strong.

 

Long sleeve tech shirt and milk jug medal

 

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Disney Princess Half Marathon Race Recap

This magical running tale begins about a year ago, when I discovered the existence of the Disney Fairy Tale Challenge. I had seen the postings of the Dopey Challenge Runners for years. However running a a 5K,10K, Half and Full four days in a rows seemed a bit excessive. If I’m going to be at the happiest place on earth, I don’t want to be so exhausted from running that I can’t enjoy it. Then I learned of the Fairy Tale Challenge: a 10K and a half marathon in two days sounded like the perfect ratio of challenge to fun.

My friend and fellow Disney fan, Ashley, had been threatening to start running for a bit, so I propositioned her with the idea of signing up for the Fairy Tale Challenge. I tried to ease her into the idea by first suggesting she could just run the 10K with me; however, she would have none of that. She cocked up her eyebrow and glared at me, in the way only Ashley can. “You think I can’t run a half marathon” she replied indignantly. At that moment I saw the look of determination in her face and knew that, in fact, she most definitely could.

As with all things Disney related, getting into the race takes planning. We set our alarms so we could be online the minute the challenge went on sale 10 months in advance. Ashley got in immediately. I, on the other hand, was busy ‘doctoring,’ so I was delayed about 8 minutes signing on. In those precious 8 minutes the challenge sold out. {insert dramatic pause} For another 10 minutes I frantically tried to get into the half–my apologies to any women who may have spent an excessive amount of time naked with their butts slowly becoming one with the exam table paper, but this was an emergency–and finally got my bib. 27,000 people running a race, and it sells out in minutes.

Ashley got serious about running through the summer. She trained and ran her first 10k (The Franklin Classic) over Labor Day Weekend.  Having completed a race is uber important, because you have to provide an official time to be assigned you corral. If you don’t have a race time then you get stuck in the last corral, and you do not want that!

The Race Trip

We caught a late flight out of Nashville and got to our hotel at the lovely hour of 2 am. Our number one ride priority was Avatar Flight of Passage, but we didn’t get a coveted fastpass. Despite our exhaustion, we caught the first bus from the resort and got to Animal Kingdom when it opened, so we could be in the first wave to ride it. We managed to only wait 45 minutes to ride a Banshee (normal wait is several hours). This ride is phenomenal! Totally worth the sleep deprivation. We rode the other major rides AK and headed back to our hotel after lunch to catch a nap, before the Expo.

The Expo was huge. You could get your picture made with Cinderella’s Carriage too, but the line was crazy long.

 

The Expo was held at the ESPN Zone and encompassed 3 buildings. You got your bib in the first building, then walked to second to get your t-shirt and see all the vendor booths. Disney race swag had its own separate building. While I love a good expo, this expo was almost too much or maybe I was a wee bit tired, with working all week, flying all night and riding roller coasters all morning.  Nevertheless we got our bibs and headed off to dinner, then early to bed.

We had a fabulous dinner at Trattoria Al Forno at Disney Board Walk Resort.

The Disney races are HUGE and they have to be over before the parks open, which means you have to be on the bus at 3:30 to go to the races. Yes, you get up in the middle of the night. Saturday morning, Ashley got up at some insane hour to run the 10k and I slept in till 6:30 and ran a leisurely 5 miles at the resort. At that moment, I was quite glad that I only got into the Half and not the challenge.

Ashley’s 10K shirt

We stayed at Port Orleans French Quarter, which had a lovely running trail along its waterway.

Saturday we spent part of the day at Hollywood Studios. We tried to make this a lighter day since we were running the half the next morning, but no matter where you are at in Disney there is a lot of walking. Ashley took a nap in the afternoon and then we headed back to Hollywood studios for dinner and tried to get into bed as early as we could.

 

 

Sunday morning the alarm began to blare at 2:45 am and I began to doubt my sanity. I crawled out of bed, threw on my Tutu and headed out to the bus. I was pretty hesitant to run in a costume, but Ashley assured that this was Disney and that was part of the fun. When I got to the bus stop at the resort there were at least 30 women waiting in the wee hours of the morning ALL dressed in various costumes. If you are going to do the Disney Princess Half Marathon, you must dress up.

The bus driver dropped us at the race starting zone, and the air was electric. Thousands of women (and a handful of men) were dressed as running Princesses ready to race their way from Epcot to Magic Kingdom and back. We grabbed some coffee and bagels, made use of the abundant porta potties and hiked the mile to our corral.  Even though it seemed like we were at the race ridiculously early, the time passed quickly. The race began at 5:30 am with fireworks. They released a new wave of runners every few minutes and EACH wave got their own countdown and fireworks. We were in corral F, so we did not actually get to the starting line until 30 minutes after the race started, but there were still at least 10,000 people behind us. This is a lot of people’s first half marathon and they all end up in the last corral. 

Miles 1-5 

We started the race in the dark and headed out on the highway. The first 5 miles were flat, actually most of the race was a nice pancake. There was not much crowd support, but just checking out all the outfits and enjoying the atmosphere made those miles fly by.  The sun began to come up as we ran under the Magic Kingdom sign. We were giddy with excitement! Around mile 5 we thought we were entering Tomorrowland, but we actually just ran through the edge of the park as we passed a full band of drummers from Epcot. This was one of my favorite moments, the sun was rising and the rhythm of the drums was gorgeous and invigorating.

Ashley (“Cruella”) running under the classic sign.

Miles 6-7

Miles 6-7 were inside Magic Kingdom. We started down Main Street and then took a right at the castle to run through Tomorrow Land. We snuck up to Fantasy Land and then ran THROUGH the castle to make our way to Frontier Land and out of the park. Running through Magic Kingdom was absolutely magical and everything I had hoped it would be. The streets were lined with crowds and there were several character stops (the lines moved super quick). Magic Kingdom was, by far, my favorite part. Seeing the castle for the first time each trip always fills me with a sense of wonder, but seeing it as I ran down Main Street with crowds cheering on both sides was absolutely thrilling. As we exited Frontier Land and ran through the back lots, they had the giant dragon from the parade with all the princesses there for a photo op.

I had to stop and get a pic with my favorite sign (I’m a HUGE Princess Bride fan).

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Main Street, USA

A different character was on each mile marker sign.

Miles 8-13

As soon as we exited Magic Kingdom, the road narrowed and we had to walk because the crowds were so thick. This had happened a couple times earlier, but this area was the worst. At one point there was a DJ playing music who told us we were all 30 minutes ahead of ” the balloon lady”. In Disney races, the last person has to finish in a set amount of time because the parks have to open. The balloon ladies are the final pacers, so if you get passed by a “balloon lady,” you get swept off the course, get no NO MEDAL and get a big DNF by your name on the internet forever. Luckily, we were in good shape for time, despite a few character stops and bathroom breaks.

Around Mile 9, the race became a little less magical. The temperature had soared to 75 degrees, and there was not a tree in sight. We were running on a boring freeway back to Epcot, the humidity was miserable, and the high from running through Magic Kingdom was wearing thin. While there was an occasional character stop and lots of water stations, there was not much else to look at. Mickey wasn’t there to cheer us on anymore, we had to find our strength within. Ashley needed to walk a lot the last few miles. She was getting dehydrated, and I could tell there were moments she wanted to give up, but I knew she was determined. She’d worked too hard for this to get “swept”. I did my best to encouraged her on to the finish line.

Mile 13

The last mile was inside Epcot. As we ran around the giant golf ball, the crowds and characters were out in full force. Music was pumping and Ashley found the strength to run the last mile. Minnie Mouse greeted us at the finish line. I was proud of my friend for finishing (7,000 people didn’t finish this race). We both got our medal (Ashley got 3 for doing the entire challenge) and scrambled back to our bus as soon as possible. It felt amazing to be done. We took the world’s longest showers and napped.

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finishers!

We hydrated and walked all the way around the world at EPCOT. We rode Soarin’ and Space Ship Earth, then headed over to Canada where we ate one the best meals I’ve ever had (definitely the best Disney meal ever) at Le Cellier Steakhouse. We laughed and ate until we could not hold another morsel in our body. Back at the room we went to sleep without setting an alarm.

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We ate “poutine” in “Canada.” It’s french fries with cheese curds and gravy. Otherwise know as the most amazing recovery food ever.

The last day we went to Magic Kingdom and had a fabulous day. We rode all our favorites (Space mountain, Seven Dwarves Mine train, The Little Mermaid, etc.) . We caught lunch at Belle’s Castle and snuck over to the Polynesian for a cocktail at Trader Sam’s Grogg Grotto Tiki bar. Once you walk inside, you feel like you are in actually in Tahiti. It’s Disney, so there are special effects associated with different drinks when they are ordered. I don’t want to give any other spoilers, but if you are lucky enough to find yourself at Disney sans children, it’s worth the effort to go there. Dinner was at the Kona Cafe. Halfway through dinner, the guy next to us starts choking, turning blue and needs a Heimlich, stat. I rush over and the realize that this guy is absolutely huge, and there is no way I can get my arms around him. We start to move him and luckily the movement dislodged the giant chunk of hamburger blocking his epiglottis. Phew, now on to fireworks.

The next morning we caught the magical express back to Orlando and boarded our flight back to our slightly less magical, but equally wonderful real lives. We missed our kids, but a Disney race made a great girl’s weekend. I came back refreshed and ready for the next set of challenges that lay ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cincinnati Flying Pig Half Marathon Race Recap

“It’s just a half.” I replied somewhat flippantly, when a colleague asked if I was nervous about my upcoming race. What I wanted to say was “While I can run 13 miles in my sleep, I’ve trained painfully hard for this race for the last few months and I really want to finish strong and PR; but I’ve heard the course is super hilly and hard. So, yes, I’m crazy nervous!” However, they were not a runner and I knew they were just trying to make polite conversation. An honest answer would have likely been met with the same response I get when detailing my tempo run splits or taper angst with non-runners: the glazed eyes, furrowed brow and polite head nodding of confusion and non-interest.

When training for a marathon I check every box on my training schedule, because I have a healthy respect for the distance and I don’t want to die. Half marathons, not so much. While I always “train,” I don’t usually follow any type of schedule or speed work. However for the Cincinnati Flying Pig Half, I followed the intense Hanson’s Method training plan and while it was the hardest I had ever worked for a half, my training was far from perfect. I managed to get in most of my speed work, but only hit about half of my tempo runs, which left my type A personality a little anxious as race weekend approached.

With the race looming on Sunday, half our gang drove up to Cincinnati on Friday. My son had field day on Friday, that I had promised to attend, so Shannon and I hitched a ride with her dad on Saturday morning… in his plane. I hadn’t ridden in a small plane in years and to be honest I’m a touch claustrophobic, so I was quite nervous at the idea of being trapped enclosed. I’m so glad I pushed through my fears, because it was so much stinkin’ FUN. With all the windows in the plane you could see so much better than a commercial flight. As we flew right over downtown Nashville, the Titan’s stadium and Batman building looked like kid toys. It felt like an amusement park ride. The flight was only an hour and half and when we landed, our friends were there to pick us up and whisk us off to the Expo.

I could totally get used to traveling like this.

I love a good expo, and the Flying Pig did not disappoint. The race shirts were adorable and we also got a backpack and poster. Next we walked around downtown Cincinnati, which had a great variety of hip restaurants and shops. We decided to eat lunch at Kruger’s Tavern. They had a fabulous (heated) rooftop patio where we relaxed and enjoyed our lunch. Later we headed back to the Hyatt, which was a perfect location for the race and across the street from the expo. That afternoon I did something beyond luxurious: I took a nap. By myself. On decadent hotel sheets. With no alarm set. It was heaven.

Expo!

Kruger’s Tavern

When I finally aroused, we headed out to Nicola’s, a quaint Italian place, for an early dinner. All the pasta and sauces tasted fresh and homemade. Our table was in front of a gorgeous picture window, that sadly overlooked a trash filled alley, but otherwise we had a great experience.  I had the gnocchi and while it was probably too rich of a pre-race choice, it was divine. The bread basket was an extra dollar, but I would have paid $20. It had a variety of types and flavors of breads and rolls, all fresh and warm. It was superb.

After dinner we went back to the hotel for drinks (of water for me) and an extended debate on what to wear for the race. The weather was predicted to be 38 degrees at the 6:30 am start and 42 at the finish. Perfect running weather, but a clothing challenge. I finally decided to wear short sleeves with capris, the only downside was that I forgot to pack a short sleeve shirt. Then with a sudden awful sinking sensation, I realized that I was going to have to do something obnoxious, something that would violate all my ethics, something truly mortifying: I would have to wear my race shirt  *I can barely even type it* on race day. I am a firm believer that you should never wear a race shirt unless you have completed the race, however my poor packing skills left me with no other choice. Before bed, I embarrassingly pinned my race number to my race shirt.

The 5 am wake up call jolted me from a deep sleep. It felt obnoxiously early, as it was actually 4 am “our time”. Regardless, I rolled out of bed, started up the coffee pot and choked down my bagel. We left the hotel a little later than planned because “she who cannot be named” was unhappy with her pre-race bowel evacuation experience.

We rushed to the starting line and slid into our corral as they finished up the last few bars of the national anthem. The first mile was a little crowded, but by mile two the crowds had thinned and I found my pace. My goal was 8 min/ miles. It seemed to take a few miles to warm up and the pace wasn’t as comfortable as I had hoped, but I simply concentrated on “running the mile I was in” and keeping the pace steady for the first 5 (flat) miles. I knew there were some big hills coming up, but when I actually saw the incline at mile 7, perhaps a few expletives might have escaped my lips. Mile 7 was one intense giant steep hill, but the crowd support was fantastic. A speaker half way up was blaring “eye of the tiger” and a guy with a megaphone and pink camo pants was holding a giant letter “F” and encouraging the runners to “Just F the hill”. It seemed to go on forever, but at the top we did get a little bit of recovery before the next monster hill.  The majority of the course from mile 7-10 was uphill. The view was beautiful, with green hills and glimpses of the river, but the hills were painful, physically and mentally. The real reward was that once we hit mile 10, it was all down hill, literally. You get to coast in the last 3 miles. I felt like I was flying. I finished strong and made up some time from my hilly miles. When I saw the finish line I knew I had hit my goal. I set a 3 minute PR on a difficult course. It felt amazing.

Half Marathon PR 1:45

After finishing I headed back to the hotel and jumped straight in the shower. One advantage to racing at 6:30 is that I was back to the hotel by 9 a.m. My friends also had great races, Abby set an amazing PR and Christina and Shannon had a fabulous time enjoying the race course. Once we all showered, we ate a fantastic brunch at Maplewood Kitchen and Bar, then road tripped it back to Franklin. It was a short but wonderful trip, with tons of laughs, coffee, blisters and love.

Cincinnati Flying Pig was a great race. I ran hard and hit my goal, but those hills were no joke. One of my favorite moments was as we ran across the first major bridge I looked over and saw a marine running with an American flag, with a budding sunrise reflecting off the river. It was one of those perfect running moments that makes you remember why the hell you do it. Why you get up at 4 am, deal with blisters and skip the wine. You do it for the stolen moments of gorgeousness, to feel your body pushed to its limits and to feel like a badass, running your best race at 41 years old.

 

Abby celebrating her incredible PR of 1:38

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Training

Tulips are blooming and April showers have empowered the grass to paint the landscape a vivid green. A sweet reward after all the bleak gray training runs in the early morning darkness of Winter. Spring is here and I am ready to race.

Done with using an entire load of laundry for one run!

The activities that bring me the most joy (other than being with my family) are running, travel and spending time with my friends. So this spring two destinations half marathons are on my schedule. Me and my local running group are planning to run the Cincinnati Flying Pig Half Marathon in May and then I’ll travel to visit one of my best friends and run the Seattle half marathon in June.

Friendships +Running + Travel = Best of Times.

Long run to First Watch for breakfast.

As we thought about our race schedule for the spring, we wanted to find a fun, close destination half. Even though I broke up with the Nashville Country Music Marathon last year, I almost caved and signed up after after I saw the medal for this year (it lights up!); but I stood my ground and decided to venture to Cincinnati, OH this year for The Flying Pig half marathon. The Flying Pig is know for great crowd support and party atmosphere but also for being a hilly course. Hopefully our Tennessee hills will have our quads in good enough shape.

 

Our initial idea was not to take this race too seriously and simply enjoy a girls weekend, but then after Chicago when we all made huge improvements in our time by doing the Hanson Method, we decided to try the same strategy for a half marathon. We have consistently been doing speed work and tempo runs and alternating our long runs between 10-14 miles a week, with total mileage between 30-40 miles. This is the most structured training plan I have ever used for a half marathon. It a lot of mileage for a half. I’m hoping to finish under 1:45 ( my PR is 1:48). Life, work, weather and vacations have caused me to miss far more workouts than I would’ve liked, but I have still trained much harder for this half than any others in the past.

Catching a gorgeous sunrise on an early morning run.

The Rock and Roll Seattle Half is late June, so I will have some time to recover in between races. I’m sure it will be a crazy hilly race, so likely I will try to enjoy the scenery and experience and not push for a super quick time.

Most of our long runs have been out and backs from our neighborhood, but we were determined to do a least one long run on the Brentwood Greenway. Sadly the weekend we decided to do it, there was a wee bit of flooding. We got lost due to trail closures and got chased by wolves (well we say a coyote on the other side of a field and it defiantly made us run faster). There were times it felt like we were doing a mudrun, but it was the most memorable 14 miles of our training.

The trail was a little damp.

 

Hoping that Cincinnati turns out to be a memorable race for all the right reasons. I plan to start out slow to save some energy for the hills. Hoping to run was my best half marathon, but even if I don’t, I’ve already had enough laughs in the the training to make the race a personal success.

 

 

 

5 Lessons I Learned From Writing a Book

Jessica and I at our first book signing. Feb 2011

I recently came across a bunch of pictures from our book signing and was reminded of this post which was originally published as a guest post on Jon Acuff’s (non defunct) blog. I pored so much of myself into the Pregnancy Companion manuscript, that thinking back to the excitement of the book signing brings a nostalgic smile to my face and fills my heart with warm fuzzies. So here’s what I learned from writing a book:

 

Three years ago, 5 days after bringing a new baby home from the hospital, I signed my first book deal. I was deliriously excited at two dreams coming true at once. In hindsight, I no idea what craziness lay ahead. Luckily, I learned a lot along the way.

  1. You find the time for what’s important

Writing a book is a staggering amount of work, but I’m used to hard work. See, I went to medical school for a zillion years. But working full time, with a newborn and a deadline felt overwhelming. I’m a morning person so I was up at 4 every morning to write furiously before work. Those months were fueled by caffeine and adrenaline, but amazingly worth it.

  1. The rewrites never end

“Working on my final round of edits today . Almost done!” was my facebook status about 900 times. I knew there would be edits, but by the 6th round, the thought of reading the manuscript one more time made me cringe.

  1. You can’t please everyone

The publishing experience takes this platitude to the extreme. I co-wrote a Christian Pregnancy Book. Mainstream Christian publications felt it wasn’t Christian enough (we actually mentioned *GASP* birth control). Secular media felt it was too religious. Different editors gave us opposite feedback. Eventually, we wrote the book that we believed would be most helpful to pregnant moms, and based on the response we get from them, we are pleasing the right people.

  1. Buy Books.

Previously I was a fan of borrowing books or checking out the library; now I buy books. All the time. I appreciate how extremely challenging it is to sell books. If I am ever at a book store and there is a signing going on, I stop what I’m doing and get in line. If the author has no line, I will stop and talk with him indefinitely, feigning interest in the subject, no matter how lame. “Oh a book about a civilization of bunnies, you say? How interesting!” Having been on the lonely side of a signing table, I know the awkward angst of sitting sadly with a fake smile hoping someone will stop by.

  1. My Definition of Success

I am an OB/GYN with a successful practice. My life has not been tainted with failure. When I got a book deal, I assumed that this venture would be met with the success that I’d grown accustomed to in life. Not because I was cocky, (OK, I’m a surgeon, so by definition I am slightly cocky) but because I felt it was a really great idea, and I was naive.  Despite the fact that everyone related to me thought my book was awesome, it was not the best seller I’d hoped it would be. It hasn’t even sold 10,000 copies. But it has helped people and genuinely made a difference in some women’s lives. That is why I wrote it and truly what is important to me. I had hoped it would impact women and be a best seller, but that is not the case. When I get discouraged, the royalty updates from my publisher go in the shredder. But the thank you notes from the people we’ve touched…those stay in a folder to remind me of my new definition of success.

Writing a book did not change my life or make me a millionaire. It did teach me that time management is key, that you can always find time for what’s important, and that success is best measured one person at a time.

Why I am Giving my Kids the HPV Vaccine

An immunization that could prevent cancer? It seemed like far fetched science fiction when I first heard the rumors as a medical student, but fast forward 15 years and now I  give it to my patients almost every day.

HPV (Human papilloma virus) infects the skin of the genitals and the throat, potentially transforming normal cells into cancer. It is also the culprit for genital warts. There are 2 vaccines FDA approved to protect against HPV and thus prevent these types of cancer.  Cervarix protects against HPV types 16 and 18, which are responsible for 90% of cervical cancers. Gardsil protects against the cancer causing types 16 and 18, but also prevents types 6 and 11 which cause genital warts.

The current recommendation is for girls and boys to get the vaccine at age 11. The virus is sexually transmitted, so the idea is to give it before the kids even start thinking about sex. If they don’t get it in adolescence, the vaccine can be given up to age 26.

I’m often asked by patients and friends if I plan to give it to my kids. The answer is absolutely yes and here is why:

It’s safe.

With nearly 57 million vaccines already given worldwide, Gardasil is a well studied, safe vaccine. The most common side effects are pain at injection site {duh} and fainting.  After getting the vaccine, it is recommended to sit down for 15 minutes to prevent the fainting side effect. Other common side effects include headache and fever. Allergic reaction to vaccines are rare. The data does not show any severe or unexpected short or long term side effects with the HPV vaccine.

I don’t want them to get cancer.

The HPV virus causes 12,000 cases of cervical cancer; 3,000 cases of vulvar cancer; and 8,000 cases of throat cancer each year. The vaccine has been shown to be 100% effective in preventing HPV 16/18 related disease if given before kids become sexually active.  Throat cancers occur most commonly in men, who get the HPV from performing oral sex on women who have the virus. Anal cancer can also be caused by HPV, but it is rare.

I’m not naïve.

We are raising our kids in church, praying for them, and teaching them not to have sexual relations before marriage. But honestly, this is a fallen world and I know a lot of “good kids” who have made stupid decisions along the way. HPV is spread by vaginal, oral, and anal sex. Actually, any genital to genital contact can spread HPV.

Statistically 80% of women will contract HPV in their lifetime. Even if my kid manages to make it to marriage without HPV, odds are his mate will not.

I don’t want them to get genital warts.

Genital warts are not deadly, but they are painful and embarrassing. I’ve gone through many tissues in my office as I’ve comforted sobbing woman after telling them that what they thought was a mole on their labia was actually a genital wart. Genital warts are also commonly seen in pregnancy, as the lowered immune state can lead to the dormant virus suddenly popping up as “cauliflower like” bumps all over their lady regions as they approach the delivery suite {the one time in their life where their lady parts will literally be in the spotlight}.

I don’t want them to get pre-cancer.

The pap smear has become increasingly effective in preventing actual cancer, but the real gem of HPV immunization is the prevention of cervical dyplasia or “pre-cancer.” There are over 1 million abnormal pap smears in the United States each year. Each one requires a colposcopy, where the doctor looks at the cervix under the microscope and takes biopsies. The biopsy shows pre-cancer up to 35% of the time. A cone or LEEP is then performed which cuts out a portion of the cervix about the size of a thimble. Then the woman needs repeat pap smears 2-3 times a year for several years. If the pre-cancer returns, then another LEEP or even hysterectomy is warranted.  The LEEPs are painful and multiple LEEPs can lead to pregnancy complications like preterm delivery.

Abnormal pap smears would not be eliminated by universal vaccination, but would be reduced by 70%. That would save significant anxiety, pain, and money for a lot of women.

Perhaps it’s the misinformed apprehension that some parents currently have about vaccines in general, or maybe just the fact that HPV is associated with sex that throws them for a loop, but currently only 33% of adolescents have received the full vaccination series despite overwhelming safety and efficacy studies. I bet if you ask the 350,000 women a year who needed cone biopsies or even the many who have genital warts, if they wished they could have had the vaccine, the answer would be an overwhelming yes.

I’m a Christian, a doctor and a mom. I love my boys and yes they are getting the Gardasil/HPV vaccine. HPV is a nasty virus that causes a lot of harm and emotional grief.  I don’t wish for them or their future wives to have any type of unnecessary cancer or disease.

Chicago Marathon 2016: Triumph of the “Hanson Method”

The Chicago Marathon 2016. 45,000 Runners going the full distance. The weather was 55 degrees of perfection. I had trained harder for this race, than any other. I stood on the starting line feeling rested and strong, with no excuses not to run my best race.

Shannon, me, Abby and Christina giggling our way to Chicago

Shannon, me, Abby and Christina giggling our way to Chicago

Marathon training for me is more about the camaraderie of the process. Seriously, who wants to get up at 4 am in the dark and run by themselves? I trained and traveled with 3 fabulous runners who also happen to be my dear friends. Our last marathon was also the first for Abby, Christina and myself (Shannon’s our veteran). When we tackled the hills of Nashville in 2014, our goal was simply to finish. I did complete it, but I crashed brutally into the “wall ” at mile 16 and never fully recovered for the rest of the race. Chicago for us was not about just finishing, it was about finishing fast ….at least “fast” for middle age suburban moms.

We read The Hanson Method book and followed the training plan excruciatingly well. It calls for 6 days of running, including intense speed work and blister making tempo runs. The plan packs in a ton of mileage but keeps the “long” runs at 16 miles every other week. We pushed each other to give it our all. I can’t can’t imagine training for a race alone, especially the grueling tempo runs. Even when we couldn’t physically train together due to our hectic schedules, we were constantly texting each other encouragement and/or complaining about how every last fiber of every single muscle in our legs was tired. Despite the intensity of the training we were all a little worried about the lack of the classic “20 miler” in our plan.

My last Tempo run

My last Tempo run

When we boarded the plane from Nashville to O’Hare on Friday, we left behind 10 kids, 4 husbands and all our responsibilities. We were all giggles on the way to the airport. We were going to Chicago. To Run a Marathon. Without Children! It was definatly helpful to go up 2 days before the race to have plenty of time to rest and hydrate before hand.

I was all nerves as we checked in to the hotel (the ‘W’ on Lake shore drive). The training had consumed so much of my most prized commodity: my time. As much as I wanted this opportunity to prove myself and finally have a few days of down time (yes, I consider running a marathon “down time”), there were many times I had felt selfish for choosing to run this race. Granted most of my miles were run before my kids/ husband even woke up, but working mommy guilt is often not logical. Regardless, I didn’t want my training to be in vain. I don’t get the chance to do this often. I wanted it to count.

I tried to follow all the rules including cutting out sugar and alcohol and keeping my caffeine to a minimum (one small cup of coffee… which for a busy OB/GYN isn’t nearly enough) the week before the race. I counted my carbs, which consumed 70% of my calories; which is annoyingly hard when you are not eating sugar. However, I did make an exception that was well worth it. Our dinner Friday night at Geja’s Cafe. I always eat at this quaint fondue restaurant when I’m in Chicago. It did not disappoint. The food, wine and atmosphere were spectacular.

Decadent dessert of chocolate fondue at Geja's Cafe

Decadent dessert of chocolate fondue at Geja’s Cafe

We rested surprisingly well, considering we all stayed in one room. The rooms at the W were quite small so I wouldn’t recommend 4 adults in a double, but we made the most of it. Saturday we slept in and ordered room service coffee. It cost a million dollars, but was worth every delicious drop. We scarfed down a breakfast of pancakes and then made our way to the expo. We walked a mile down Michigan Avenue to catch a shuttle from the Hilton. The skies were crystal clear and a brisk breeze wafted off Lake Michigan. It was a perfect day and the weather man promised race day to be its equal. The city was full of runners and you could feel the excitement in the air.

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Checking out the starting line on our way to the expo

The expo was ginormous and by the time we made it there, I think all the other 45,000 runners were also there. I would have loved to spend hours browsing the booths, but we were determined to save our legs. The convention center that the expo was held in was confusingly huge, and we had trouble getting an Uber back to the hotel.  When we finally did head back to the hotel, we got stuck in traffic. It seems that President Obama had come to watch us run as well. While that was nice of him; his motorcade kept shutting down the roads.

Christina ran her 4th Marathon in Chicago set a 20 minute PR

Christina ran her 4th Marathon in Chicago and set a 20 minute PR

The night before the race, we ate pasta in the hotel restaurant and headed to bed early. As much as I love Chicago, this was not the time for sightseeing or late nights out on the town. This was time for race prep.

With 4 marathoners sharing the same bathroom, this came in quite handy on race morning.

With 4 marathoners sharing the same bathroom, this came in quite handy on race morning.

Race morning I ate a bagel with peanut butter and banana, chugged as much water as possible, and headed out. The hotel lobby was packed with runners; the air was electric with race jitters. We were about a mile from the start and decided to walk rather than try to catch an Uber. In hind sight, we would have been fine driving, but I was worried about road closures and getting stuck in traffic.

Ready to Race

Ready to Race

We walked down Michigan Avenue then entered into Grant Park for bag drop and one last trip to the plentiful port-a-potties. Standing in the corral, I once again began to doubt my training. Per the Hanson Method training plan, I had never ran more than 16 miles… could I really run strong for 26? My mantra became “trust the process and stick with your plan.” I was determined to not go out too strong, so I had set my Garmin to alert me if I was going too fast for the first 20 miles.

Sometimes it seems that you are in the corral forever, but it was only a few minutes before I crossed the start line. As I ran through the city over the first few miles, the spectators were several people deep cheering on the runners with the typical cache of funny signs and encouraging mantras. But it wasn’t just the first couple of blocks, there was crowd support for the entire 26.2 miles. Not simply people standing there bored, staring at the phones and looking up at you annoyingly as you pass by because you are not their wife, but people cheering their heart out for every random stranger. I had read this about the Chicago Marathon, but I thought it had to be an exaggeration. It was completely true: the crowd support was amazing.

Me and Shannon before the race

Me and Shannon before the race

The first 13 miles my hips felt sore and tight, not painful but I was worried they would get worse. Thankfully they loosened up at about mile 14 and didn’t bother me anymore. I tried to keep my pace around 8:50, but my Garmin was off due to all the buildings. It was hard to know exactly how fast I was going. I was definitely conservative in the first half. Despite 45,000 people running the race, the course was not too crowded. I made sure I fueled frequently, taking in either a GU or gatorade every 4 miles. I loved running through downtown, across the bridges and down the middle of famous streets with the breezes off Lake Michigan keeping me cool. Mile 16 came and went in a blur, and when I rounded the corner at mile 20 I felt strong. I realized the the Hanson method had worked. I didn’t hit “a wall” instead I put a determined smile on my face and picked up my pace for the last 10K.

View of Navy Pier from our hotel

View of Navy Pier from our hotel

The last few miles I started getting texts from my family on my Garmin. I got an extra bolt of much needed adrenaline knowing that my family was cheering me on from 2 states away. When I saw the finish line, I started to cry. I had done it. I wasn’t sure of my time at that point but I knew I had ran my best race. I had trained hard and ran smart. I finished strong and ran the second half of the race 6 minutes faster than the first. At 3:54 it was a 30 min PR for me. That crazy Hanson Training Method had worked.

I did it! Marathon PR 3:54

I did it! Marathon PR 3:54

The volunteers at the finish line were so excited. I cried again when they put the medal around my neck, overcome with emotion and exhaustion. As I walked the famous 27th mile after the finish line, I felt euphoric. I was a real athlete.  A competitor. During those 26.1 damn miles I wasn’t a 41 year old mom, wife, doctor, friend or Sunday school teacher. I was just Heather, proving to myself that I could do something I never thought I could do in my wildest dreams: run a sub 4 hour marathon.

We all finished within 10 minutes of each other. After downing a celebratory beer, we hobbled back to hotel. The mile back felt more like 17 miles at that point. Fourluxurious showers later, we went out and ate our weight in Chicago style pizza. We slept like babies that night and headed home the next morning with new medals in our suitcases and giant grins on our faces.

We did it!

We are smiling because we are DONE! Abby also finished sub-4 with a time of 3:56.

I went to Chicago searching for marathon redemption and I found it. My first try at the classic distance in Nashville left me feeling defeated as I limped across the finish line. For my second try I trained harder, ran smarter and ran 26 glorious miles without hitting “the wall.”

Added my medal to my "wall of glory" in my closet

Added my medal to my “wall of glory” in my closet