Category Archives: Running

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.

 

 

 

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

Marathon Training: Chicago Here We Come

I am on week 13 of my preparations for the Chicago Marathon and I’ve reached the point in my training where I have begun to doubt my sanity. I’m averaging about 50 miles a week, by rising so early that the glowing digital numbers of the clock often make me cringe when I set my alarm. I dream about GU and rest days. My foam roller is my best friend. Actually, there is no doubt, I’m likely insane.

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I ran my first marathon in Nashville a couple years ago and made all the rookie mistakes.  When my running buds decided to put their names in the hat for the Chicago marathon lottery, I couldn’t resist the chance to run the windy city and hopefully redeem myself on a flatter course. When all four of us got bibs we were ECSTATIC.  However we quickly calmed down and realized we had to to actually start training for this monster.

The commitment that it takes to put in miles to properly train for the most honored of distance races, is not something I take lightly. Last time we went with the good ol’ Hal Higdon training program. At the time I felt like the training was going well, but due to combination of heat, hills and going out too fast I crumpled at mile 20. I wanted to try something different this time, so I decided to go with The Hanson Method. This plan skips the super long runs and instead embraces the philosophy of “cumulative fatigue” (I often insert some more colorful adjectives to this term under my breath when I’m on my 54th mile of the week, but since my grandma might read this, I’ll leave those to your imagination). By spreading the mileage out over the week and focusing on speed work and tempo runs the Hansons hope to train your legs to improve their lactic acid threshold (that’s fancy talk for teaching you how run with stupidly tired legs). There is only one rest day and they down play the need for crosstraining and weight lifting (so no crossfit for me lately).

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How do I like this training? After a particularly painful speed workout, we recently googled Mr Hanson’s home address to determine the feasibly of toilet papering his house but alas, luckily we were too stinking tired to follow through on our plans with all the cumulative fatigue. Joking aside, the training seems to be going well. My legs are tired, but nothing hurts and I’m rarely sore. I’m actually really enjoying the the challenge of the speed work. Even though the mileage is higher, the plan seems to work better with my schedule since my entire Saturday is not wasted on running. I guess we’ll find out in October how well it really works.

Despite a full schedule I have only missed 1 run so far this summer. Usually when I’m on vacation, I don’t always run everyday if I’m walking a lot, but this summer I stuck with the plan no matter where we ventured. On a recent trip to NYC I ran 10 miles one morning only to walk an additional 11 miles around the city throughout the day. I slept quite well that night.

Birthday run in NYC. We ran through the "Highline trail" and then along the Hudson River trail.

Birthday run in NYC. We ran through the “Highline” and then along the Hudson River trail.

Run though Central Park.

Run though Central Park.

Felt very safe running in Central Park. However, it was far hillier than I expected.

I felt very safe running in Central Park. However, it was far hillier than I expected.

Running through Pigeon Forge on another weekend trip I ran past this quaint old mill at sunrise.

Running through Pigeon Forge on another weekend trip, I ran past this quaint old mill at sunrise.

I have 2 new pieces of running gear that I AM CRAZY about. First is my Garmin 235 and second are my perfect running shorts. If I know you IRL you can skip this next paragraph because I am sure I have already told you how much these items have improved my running life whether you wanted to hear about them or not.

My old Garmin went to GPS heaven (which is ironically difficult to find) right as I started marathon training. I got the Garmin Forerunner 235 as a replacement and I love it so much that I want to marry it and have little Garmin babies. It is a combination running watch/ smart watch. I can and do wear it all the time. It tracks your heart rate on your wrist and sends your texts from your phone. You can program it with training runs and it will prompt you with a vibration if you get off pace. I have found this especially helpful for a tempo run.

Recently I discovered that it can also predict your “race finish time” which I found a little presumptuous, until a friend who has run a million marathons told me his watch accurately predicted his PRs. When I checked my predicted marathon time my jaw hit the floor. MY WATCH THINKS I CAN BQ (that’s qualify for Boston, for you non- runners… not that any non runners would read a entire paragraph dedicated to praising a fancy running watch). I have very mixed emotions about this. While I’m pleased my watch thinks so highly of me, I do feel now feel a little pressure to up my goal time. I was originally planning to try for sub 4 hours, but now I know that my watch thinks I can run 3:36! I feel like an Olympic gymnast who’s coach tries to push over her limits; not caring that I have sprained ankle, but demanding I do the vault anyway.

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Being blessed with “athletic quads,” I have a hard time finding running shorts that I can tolerate, let alone really like. Most traditional running shorts chafe and a lot of biking style shorts are too short for me. My new Lulu Lemon Speed track shorts are the perfect length, comfortable, don’t chafe and have pockets on each side that are the perfect size for my smaller water bottle. I have now bought them in every color.

New shorts accompanied by what has to be the best running shirt ever.

New shorts accompanied by what has to be the best running shirt ever.

While my first marathon training took place during a crazy cold winter, this time I’m training in heat and humidity. Even in the wee hours of 5 am when we are often out pounding the pavement, the air already feels like jello. Well, hot jello. I guess it feels more like pudding, but you get the point. I’m not sure which is worse, running through pudding or tundra; but I’m definitely learning the art of electrolyte replacement and hydration.

The car gets really stinky when you've just ran 16 miles in 90% humidity.

The car gets really stinky when you’ve just ran 16 miles in 90% humidity.

We have 7 weeks to go and I’m feeling ready. My planned pace is 8:50 which would give me a finish of 3:50. Faster than my original goal, but not as crazy fast as my “smart” watch wants me to run. This pace has felt comfortable in my tempo runs. Plan A is to run negative splits so I may start out a little slower, so I can finish strong.  Plan B is to finish and have fun.  Regardless, I looking forward to running down Lake shore Drive in October.

 

 

 

 

Dear Nashville Country Music Half Marathon

Dear Nashville Country Music Marathon (CMM),

We need to talk.

First off, Yes, I’m aware that you have pretentiously changed your name this year and you are now preferring to be called the ” St. Jude  Rock ‘n Roll Nashville Marathon and half Marathon.” But Nashville, is the home of country music and you and I, we have a long history together. In my heart you will always be “The Country Music Marathon.” So, CMM, let’s move on.

I’m simply going to come right out and say it: I’m breaking up with you.

I would like to say that it’s not you, it’s me; but we both know that it’s you.

It’s not that we haven’t had some good times together. We have. There was 2013 when, despite the torrential rain and 45 degree temperatures, I set a PR of 1:53. When I crossed the finished line and saw my time, I was so ecstatic I could barely contain my joy. However, the hypothermia I got while waiting for my ride in the rain did put a damper on the overall experience.

This year was our fifth year together and despite my better judgement, I once again decided to race your awful course. As is our tradition, I gathered the night before with my running buddies. We planned our splits and ate Christina’s magic teriyaki noodles that we superstitiously devour before each race. My head hit the pillow meticulously early with last minute prayers for good weather and no injuries.

5 years together...

5 years together…

On race morning, I arrived at your course giddy with anticipation, only to discover there was a weather delay. CMM, I know it technically wasn’t your fault that it was storming, but it did really stink to be all carbed up and carefully hydrated only to have to wait around additional hour in the drizzle. The good news was that I was lucky enough to find a nice restroom to use at the last minute before the race in the Holiday Inn Express (thank you Holiday Inn Express, I’m totally NOT breaking up. You rock!). The bad news was I had to “identify as a man” to use it. (Ain’t nobody got time to wait in line for the ladies room on race day.)

The storm delay was finally lifted

The storm delay was finally lifted

My friend Abby and I were aiming to finish you in under 1:53. We had been training our quads off getting ready for The Ragnar Relay, and we felt great. When our corral took off we went out strong. We were trying to pace 9:00 min/mile to start, while hoping for negative splits near the end. There was just a few problems: your crowds and your hills. The course was so thick that our first split was 10:04. We were constantly weaving back and forth through all the walkers. Yes, there were people walking at 1 mile. I think the rain delay caused the racers to completely abandon the corral system leading to total chaos. While it was exhilarating to not get passed once in the race, it was also exhausting and frustrating to expend so much energy weaving around slower runners.

I know, CMM, that you think you are so awesome for attracting so many first time racers, but it’s a little annoying when they walk in a full width line in the middle of the road going uphill. It was impossible to keep my stride. Twice during the race I accidentally ran into other runners.

Which brings me to the other issue I have with our relationship: Your hills. Every year I think to myself, “I train on hills all the time, I’ll be fine on the country music course” and every year I curse you and your excessive elevation changes. You were especially nasty this year by adding that curved hill at mile 12. Because turns and hills aren’t enough on their own, you thought you would combine them in the last mile to make sure that both my lungs and thighs were searing with equal amounts of pain as I cross the finish line. I think mile 12 was when I decided that we would have this little talk.

While I did finish with a respectable time of 1:54. I could have easily been a minute or two quicker on even a slightly less crowded, hilly or weaving course than yours. My friends Shannon and Christina both finished the full 26.2. They did an awesome job despite your hilly drama, but I think they may be finished with you as well.

My friend Shannon rocked the full 26.2. (although I think she is breaking up with you as well)

My friend Shannon rocked the full 26.2.

I’m not saying that we can’t still be friends. You will always be special to me. You were my first marathon. I do love running the streets of Nashville, I just don’t love running them as fast as I possibly can. We’ll still hang out. If we didn’t, I’d miss the bands at each mile, music row, the Gulch and my favorite: the awesome retired couple that sit in their lawn in all dressed up drinking champagne while cheering on the runners.

We're questioning our sanity in this picture

We’re questioning our sanity in this picture

So sorry sweetie, we’ve had a good run, but it’s over. And, yes if you must know, there is someone new in my life. His name is Chicago and I am running him in October. Don’t worry, you will always be my first, and we have had a lot of great memories together–but it’s time to move on to a course that is doesn’t have such hilly drama. It is a long distance relationship, so that could cause some issues. I promise to keep you updated.

We are never, ever, ever getting back together. (but I am keeping your t-shirt because its super cute this year)

We are never, ever, ever getting back together (but I am keeping your t-shirt because it’s super cute this year)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Route 66 Tulsa Half Marathon: A Run Down Memory Lane

In addition to being the city where I went to high school, college and med school; Tulsa is also the city where I learned to love running. Though I haven’t lived in T-town for nearly 15 years, it is home. My parents still live here and each corner of the geometrically laid out city holds a little note of nostalgia.

Nearly 20 years ago I Iived in a duplex near Riverside drive and the adjacent river parks trail system. I figured it was a waste to live so close to such a beautiful trail and not run on it. Before I knew it, I was pounding out 3-4 miles a day, and a year later I signed up for my first “long race” The Tulsa Run, a 15 k that’s put on every October.

I ran the Tulsa Run, a simple out and back course down Riverside drive, for the next 4 years. I loved the crowds, costumes, race T-shirts and adrenaline. Those were days before Garmins and I never worried about my splits. I ran to be healthy and because I liked to run (and eat cake). I didn’t worry about my time, I was simply thrilled that I had manged to run such a very long way.

Each year since I moved away, I have searched for a way to make it back for the Tulsa Run, but it never pans out. This year I realized I once again would miss my favorite race, but I would be in town for Thanksgiving–and with a little creative travel plans, I could make it for the Route 66 (Half) Marathon.

Since signing up for the race,  I have been excited about the chance to run through one of my favorite cities. While I was able to stick pretty closely to my training schedule over the last few months, my race week preparations read like a list of what absolutely not to do the week before a race:

  • Worked 70+ hours (including delivering 10 babies in 1 week…. hello ice storm of 2/2015, nice to see you again)
  • Didn’t get enough sleep
  • “carb loading” was mainly ice cream and wine
  • Day before race, drove 12 hours solo with my children and ate mainly fast food

About half way through my drive from Nashville to Tulsa,  I realized that despite frequent breaks to stretch and attempt to keep my children from beating each other, my glutes were cramped and achy. I wasn’t sure how this would effect the race, but I doubted I would be hitting sub 1:50. I readjusted my goal to finishing strong and decided to put my goal pace at 8:40. I would try not to obsess about my time, but instead focus on enjoying the experience of racing past my favorite landmarks.

Thankfully my awesome sister picked up my packet for me and had it waiting for me once I finally made it to my parents house.

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Laying out my gear the night before. With a starting temp of 25 and and ending temp of 40, picking the right clothing combo was a challenge.

 

The race started at 8 am, so I was able to sleep in until 6 which was fabulous. As an added bonus my (step)dad drove me to the race so I didn’t have to fumble around for parking and wait in the cold. Instead I cozied up in the car with him until about 15 minutes before race time. Despite my absolute spoiling of sitting in the balmy car while all the other losers were freezing in the the 25 degree weather, my toes still went numb in the 15 minutes I waited in the corral.

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Excited to start my 7th half marathon and my first race in Tulsa in 15 years.

Like most big races, the crowds were thick for the first few miles. I was in corral A (first of four starts) so there wasn’t too much weaving. I was hoping to enjoy the art deco architecture of the many familiar Tulsa skyscrapers, but instead I was too busy trying to avoid snapping my ankle in the many pot holes that have infested the streets of Tulsa. The state of Tulsa’s streets are embarrassingly terrible, I mean third world country bad. I love you Tulsa, but you need to work on those pot holes.

At about mile 3 I had found my pace. I felt good running about 8:40 and I could finally feel my toes. The new trouble was as soon as I could feel my toes, my core was too hot. I realized that I no longer needed my jacket and I had made the mistake of pinning my bib to my jacket instead of my under shirt. I should have worn a throw away outer layer, instead of a jacket. It was a rookie mistake.

The course wound through many of the older gorgeous neighborhoods of midtown Tulsa. A few streets had a spectacular golden and crimson leaves left on their trees. Half frozen spectators shivered as they rang their cowbells and held their signs like “Go Random Stranger” and my new favorite “Run like someone called you a jogger.”

The jaunt through Cascia Hall private school was great in that there were lots of spectators, water and music. It was not so great in that there were 200 speed bumps.

Next came Woodward park, which is slightly less awesome, but still gorgeous, without its azaleas in bloom. The race was well organized with frequent  water stops, including a festive one at Woodward hosted by blue cross employees.

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Favorite sign outside the Philbrook Museum of Art. (photo credit Route 66 marathon)

The jaunt down Brookside (Peoria) was rowdy. The staff from Lulu Lemon were out in full force with hilarious signs and crazy loud music. Running through Brookside was literally a “run down memory lane” with fond flashbacks of my college days of drinking heavily flavored coffee at Java Dave’s and seeing wannabe grunge bands at the IKON.

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Everyone loves a good gynecology joke. Thanks Amber.

Up ahead, I saw my own cheering station where my dad and sister were holding up signs. It is so encouraging to see familiar faces along the route, between their hugs and the GU and water at mile 7, I was supercharged for the next few miles down Riverside drive.

The course then twisted back through the neighborhoods. At mile 9 there was an unofficial block party. Residents had set up a balloon bridge over the road, Journey was blasting “Don’t stop believing'” and tables were set up with Jello shots and beer.  I was still running about an 8:30 pace and the thought of alcohol made me want to spew, but several of my comrades were partaking in the festivities and continued to pass me.

Over the next several miles I was glad I had kept a conservative pace because there was an obnoxious number of hills. Luckily I have “athletic quads”according to the skinny sales lady at Lulu Lemon, so hills don’t scare me, but they also don’t allow for a speedy finish either.

As the course headed back to downtown we ran partially across Southwest Boulevard and under the cool “Route 66 bridge”. A guy was dressed as Gandolf at the bridge holding out his staff to each runner announcing “You may pass!” He was great. I geekily laughed for half a mile.

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Photo via Route 66 Marathon

One particularly sad moment was seeing a poor lady running without shoes. She had the rest of her gear on, just no shoes. I’m not sure if she couldn’t afford shoes or if perhaps her luggage got lost. Regardless, I slipped her a $20.

The course finally flattened out around mile 12. I was tired from the hills but still felt I could finish strong. I was particularly inspired by one of the wheel chair racers who was encouraging us runners. She was so positive and inspiring, I felt like I was inside a motivational meme. As positive thinking inspired adrenaline began to surge through my veins, I picked up my pace. My positive thoughts were then quickly interrupted by searing pain in my hands and a jarring pain in my knee as I suddenly found myself kissing the pavement in what had to be quite an ugly fall. My choice phrases to describe Tulsa streets are not repeatable, but needless to say I was quite irritated. Several runners kindly stopped to help me, but it was my pride that was injured more than anything. No blood was dripping, so I got up and finished.

Between the pot holes, speed bumps and hills I think this course could officially be considered an obstacle race. All kidding aside, I really did

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Loved the zip up jacket and medal.

enjoy the race course and the scenery. I hope to do the race again next year, maybe it will be my new Thanksgiving tradition. Not sure I would want to ever do the full marathon here, but it would be particularly cool to run through the “Center of the Universe” section of the course. (This is where my husband proposed to me).

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Quick Trip is the best place to “refuel” after a race in Tulsa

 

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Celebrating with my sister at the finish line

I regretted not having more rest time before the race, but it was unexpectedly pleasant to have some downtime after the event. Also, I’m not feeling nearly as guilty about indulging in all my Tulsa favorites like Braum’s, Hideaway and Taco Bueno.

I always imagined when I grew up that I would live in midtown Tulsa, work at St. Francis, buy all my gas at Quick Trip* and run everyday on the Rivertrails.  I love my life and job in Tennessee and realize that is where I belong, but this year I’m thankful for the chance to run through the beautiful city of Tulsa.

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*I’m a little obsessed with Quciktrip

 

Learning to Breathe Again: Turning 40 in Paris

On the morning of my 37th birthday it dawned on me, much to my chagrin, that I would soon be turning 40. Obviously this is something I had always known, but for some reason 37 was the age that it sunk in that I was no longer a spring chicken. The crows feet were forming and I realized that it had been some time since a patient had obnoxiously inquired if I “were really old enough to be a doctor.” I made a decision that if I absolutely must turn 40, I would embrace it.  I wanted to mark the occasion with something fabulous and I could think of nothing more fabulous than a week in Paris.

After three years of dreaming and planning, last month I spent my birthday week in the city of light. My husband and I always like to have something to look forward to, not to “wish our lives away” but to have a focal point on the difficult days and a “project” we can be excited about together. The timing of this adventure ended up being perfect, as a recent cascade of events that ranged from tragic (death of my father) to inconveniently annoying (wreckage of my car) had lead to the last six months being the most difficult season of my life. Faith, prayer and the support of my friends and family helped me make it through the awfulness. However, there were some difficult days that the only thing that got me by was the the thought that I would soon be in Paris. 

Iceland

We flew Iceland Air to France, via Boston (since we plan our own travel it always becomes overly complicated) and spent a day in Reykjavik. Iceland is worthy of it’s own post, should I ever get the time, but to sum up, I would say it’s a quirky, gorgeous, treeless, unique and cold Island. We enjoyed our 30 hours there and would love to go back and spend more time hiking and exploring. We took the I heart Reykjavik Tour and it was great.

Russ and I touring Rekjavik. Where we looked like homeless people because we kept having to but more layers as we walked around town to keep from freezing to death.

Russ and I touring Reykjavik in our official Icelandic Guild hats. We we looked like homeless people because we kept having to put on more layers as we walked around town to keep from freezing to death.

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We made a day trip to the Blue Lagoon. It’s a geothermal spa. The mineral water is the craziest color of blue and 100 degrees, whereas the outside temp is 45 degrees (the lifeguards wear Parkas).

We ate in this funky place. The menu is on the left, beside the ordering line. You ask for fishkebabs (or mink whale steak), they walk around to your side of the counter and take it from the shelf, then cook it and bring it out to the family style table.

 

Paris

People keep asking me about my favorite parts of our trip, but really the best part of Paris was  simply “Paris.”  As we sat in cafes, walked along the Seine and observed the beauty of the architecture, it was as if the city’s energy was coaxing us the feel more alive. Strolling through this ancient city I felt minuscule next to its history and intricate beauty, but at the same time I felt inspired to create and dream.

The sky was so crazy blue it looked photoshopped

The sky was so crazy blue it looked photoshopped.

 

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Night tour in an 2CV convertible. Watching the tower twinkle at midnight gave me goose bumps.

Being in Paris was an obvious reminder of the world that exists outside my silly suburban bubble. Sometimes it takes a trip half way around the world, to one of the most densely populated cities on our planet to be able to slow down. With each block I walked, I begin to slowly feel myself relax. With each breath, I breathed a little deeper. Each step I took, felt a little lighter.

One of my take away moments was sitting at a sidewalk cafe with a local guide. As we got ready to leave I decided I wanted a coffee. As I started to ask the waiter for a coffee to go, our horrified guide quickly stopped me and looked at me as if I had just slapped his grandmother. “This is Paris” he said, ” We do NOT get our coffees ‘to go’, we sit and sip and enjoy the coffee and the company of of friends.” I laughed at my own American ridiculousness and I drank my coffee from a ceramic cup, savoring every sip.

Fun to see the Love Locks bridges before they take them down

Fun to see the Love Locks bridges before they take them down.

The food was phenomenal. Meant to be savored, not gulped.

The food was phenomenal. Meant to be savored, not gulped.

The question "Do you want a crepe?" is always a rhetorical one.

The question “Do you want a crepe?” is always a rhetorical one.

 

Versailles

Since my husband was still recovering from his ruptured his achilles tendon on our trip, we looked for ways to reduce his walking. We discovered the Blue Bike Tour of Versailles and it was truly a highlight of our adventure. We took a train from Paris to Versailles, then stopped at a local market to pack a picnic lunch. We spent several hours biking through the grandly manicured gardens of the 20,000 acre 400 year old estate of Europe’s largest palace. It was truly a marvel. We stopped for a picnic lunch at the end of the mile long the canal looking back at the palace, and much like riding the gondola in Venice, it was a crazy surreal magic moment. The entire time I’m eating my baguette and drinking my wine, I’m thinking that this has to be one of the most perfect moments of my life.

Picnic lunch on the grand canal at Versailles at the end of the mile long canal behind the palace. The canal is cross shaped with treelined paths surrounding it, perfect for biking.

Picnic lunch on the grand canal at Versailles

I’ve been dreaming of walking the famous hall of mirrors at Versailles since I was a girl. While the grandeur of the Palace was mesmerizing, it was the wind in my face as I biked the country side that was my favorite part. I see now why Louis XIV made Versailles the capital of France during his reign.

Hall of mirrors at Versailles

Hall of mirrors at Versailles

Versailles main entrance

Versailles main entrance

Palace view of canal

Palace view of canal

 

My Birthday Run

As a morning person and a runner, I knew I wanted to start my actual birthday with a run. I started at 6 am and ran from our hotel (Hotel Therese, which I loved) to the Louvre. During the day, the Louvre’s courtyard is teaming with tourists, but at sunrise it was only me and my running shoes making cadence on the ancient stones of the courtyard.

Birthday run around the court yard of the Louvre

Birthday run around the court yard of the Louvre

Next I jogged along the Seine, taking in the surreal beauty of the sunrise. I followed the Seine down to Notre Dame, made a lap around the ancient church, gazing up at her intricate flying buttresses and then forced myself to head back to the hotel.

Notre Dame later in the day with all her crowds. It was fabulous to spend some alone time with her at daybreak.

Notre Dame later in the day with all her crowds. It was fabulous to spend some alone time with her at daybreak.

I jaunted back and forth across each bridge of the Seine, running both on the street level and river level. I knew I would likely only get in one good run on my trip and I wanted to experience the city in my favorite way: at day break with a brisk jog. I payed no attention to my pace, I was too busy smiling.

Sunrise run in Paris

Sunrise run in Paris

Lunch on Eiffel Tower

Six months ago my life was turned upside down, when my dad was murdered. {Damn. Just writing that sentence makes my fingers shake.} Afterward, everyone told me to take the time to mourn. I tried, but the realities of my life and my responsibilities kept getting in the way. Over the next few months, each time life would start to creep back towards normal and I would start to feel like I could maybe breathe again, something else would happen. My husband ruptured his achilles tendon and was unable to walk for 6 weeks, upping my stress level as I then had to do all of his household work in addition to my own (side note: I will never take him for granted again!).  About the time he could walk with a crutch, my grandmother passed away, I wrecked my car and then another close family member was diagnosed with cancer. I felt like a dark cloud was hovering over my head that I just couldn’t shake.

In the midst of all the drama as we are planning this trip, Russ came up with the idea to eat my birthday lunch on the Eiffel tower at the Jules Verne Restaurant. I resisted at first, as it seemed like a ridiculous splurge, but I’m so glad we did it. The moment I sat down and peered out the window over the city, I was overcome with all the emotion and anticipation of the last six month. I began to cry bittersweet tears for the beauty of the moment, in the midst of all the heartache of this season. Thankful for the opportunity to get to experience something so amazing, heartbroken that I wouldn’t get to tell my dad all about it.

40 th Birthday lunch at the Jules Verne Restaurant in the Eiffel Tour

40th Birthday lunch at the Jules Verne Restaurant in the Eiffel Tour. We got to bypass the 1.5hr line and take a private elevator straight to the second level. We relaxed and spent 3 hours eating a meal at a Michelin starred restaurant while enjoying one of the most fantastic views in the world.

I guess at super fancy restaurants they expect you to eat with tiny utensils

I guess at super fancy restaurants they expect you to eat with tiny utensils

Eiffel tower observation deck obligatory selfie

Eiffel tower observation deck obligatory selfie

Jules Verne dessert course. Every single bite was delicious.

Jules Verne dessert course. Every single bite was delicious.

When I got back home, I spoke with a dear friend who said that she prayed for me that my black cloud would simply fall into the Atlantic as we flew across it. I loved that analogy, because that is really what it felt like. The Paris trip was a turning point and beautiful transition for us. My heart is healing. I’m now making time in the midst of the craziness of life to sit on the porch with my coffee and savor the little moments and remember what It felt like to walk through the vibrant beauty of Paris. On my morning runs, I’m beginning to appreciate the gorgeous colors of my Tennessee sunrises again. Am I still grieving? Of course. But the pain is beginning to transition from a sharp raw grief to a bittersweet ache and I feel like I’m breathing again.

 

Thank yous:

A giant thank you to our parents my for watching our kiddos while we were gone. Especially Russ’s parents who road-tripped the kids to Oklahoma via Branson.

Thank you to Wendi Mihalko who helped us plan our meals. Every place she suggested was amazing! She has since started her own of travel consulting site. If you are traveling abroad I would highly recommend her.

Thank you to our guide in Paris, Micheal @ Paris Find. He was excellent, knowledgeable, affordable and simply a nice guy. If you want to pretend you are in Paris you can follow him on Instagram where he posts the most lovely pictures of his city.