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Oak Barrel Half Marathon Race Report

Nestled in the rolling hills of middle Tennessee is a tiny town famous for whisky. Every ounce of Jack Daniels is produced in Lynchburg, Tn. This ironically dry county hosts the Oak Barrel Half Marathon every April attracting 1500 runners from 30 states. Over the last few years, I’d began to hear that the Oak Barrel half was a fantastic race, but the endorsement always came with the disclaimer to beware “Whiskey Hill”.

The first challenge was getting a bib. The race is sells out quickly. I’m talking “Disney fast pass for Pandora” quickly. I set my alarm for early on the Sunday morning that the race went on sale and was able to get a bib in about 10 minutes. A friend who signed on an hour later, was not so lucky.

I checked the finish times from last year and realized that if I had a really good race it was possible for me to place in my age group. However, after talking with some people who had run it the year before I realized how crummy the weather was in 2018 (30’s with drizzle) and that was likely reason for slower times.

Abby and I trained diligently for “Whiskey Hill” in the early mornings when it was dark and cold. We added hill sprints to our speedwork and rolling hills to our tempo run.

Abby (my best running friend/ training partner), Russ (my husband) and I drove up the morning of the race. The drive from Franklin is about an hour and 15 minutes of windy back roads and small country towns. We stopped at a gas station in Shelbyville on the way. As I stood stretching in the corner, the cashier asked all the “regulars” that came in if they wanted their “usual breakfast sandwich” or “the special”. I love that sense of community. That’s REAL Tennessee, where you can be a “regular” at the gas station.

Parking was limited, so we got there about an hour and 15 minutes early which allowed us to get a decent parking spot and plenty of time to pick up our bibs. The race swag was top notch: a windbreaker race jacket for signing up and swiftwick socks for finishing. The volunteers were so plentiful, that all the lines moved super fast. There was even someone directing traffic at the porta potties. (How on earth do you get anyone to volunteer for that job?)

The race started at 8 am, right after the Tennessee fog had dissipated from the hill tops. I had studied the topography of the course and broken the race up into 4  segments on my garmin. The Race started with 4 flat-ish miles. My goal was not to go out too fast, so I set my garmin parameters to keep me around an 8:10 pace and this felt comfortable. The scenery was gorgeous, filled with green grass, wild flowers and lots of trees which provided much needed shade later in the race.  The course wound in and out of the forest and farmlands which were stocked with (sometimes malodorous) livestock. The first half mile was a little crowded, but after that the crowds thinned and I was able to dial in my pace. Mentally, it really helped to be able to break up the race into manageable chunks.

Whiskey Hill was no joke.

At mile 4 I reached the famous “Whiskey Hill”. This mile is the toughest mile of the race with an elevation change of 380 feet. We knew this was coming so we had trained with lots of hill workouts, even adding ridiculous hills into our tempo runs. Inflatable arches at the bottom and top of the hill mark this grueling segment’s beginning and end. There is also a special award for the man and woman who runs this section the fastest. They get the title “King (or Queen) of the Hill” and a coveted pok-a-dot t-shirt to wear with pride.

Me running up “Whiskey Hill”

I set no pace parameters on my garmin while running the hill. I told myself that my goal was to go as slow as I needed to to reach the top. The hill was challenging in the lower half, but gets steeper as you reach the top. The last few hundred feet were crazy steep; but I did manage to run the whole thing.

After climbing the hill, the next four miles were mostly flat along the top of the plateau and these were unexpectedly hard for me. Mentally I was planning for it to be “easy” after I finished the hill, but I underestimated the fatigue in my legs. Also the plateau was not as flat as I thought it would be. There were several small hills. Even though they were short segments, some were quite steep. This is where I mentally started to struggle. My legs were tired and I realized I had a long way to go. I was having to push to keep my goal 8:00 pace. I kept telling myself “You are tired, not hurt. You can push through tired; you always do” and “Run the mile you are in”. I always run without music in races, but I think I will try music next time to see if that helps with the mid-race mindgame.

Russ finished strong in his second half marathon at Oak Barrel.

I ate my GU at mile 8 and then zoomed down the hill at mile 9. Once I hit the down hill section of the race I set my garmin to keep me under 7:55 pace, with no max pace. I felt so strong and energized after flying down the hill that I almost went “all out” but thankfully I decided to hold back until the end.  A painful “side stitch” hit me that last mile and left me feeling short of breath, so I’m glad I didn’t push it too early. As I rounded the final stretch, I cruised past the distillery and made a left into downtown Lynchburg.  When I crossed the finish line, I had nothing left. I had given that course my all.

Ugly finish line picture

I inhaled some water and headed back out to cheer on my running partner Abby, who came in shortly after me.  As I walked back to the finish line to find her, I stopped by the leader board and saw my name at the top of my age group. I won my age group. I couldn’t believe it. I was sure that the weather would make for a faster course and I wouldn’t have a chance, but I was overwhelmed with emotion when I saw my name. All those early morning freezing hill sprints in the dark had paid off.

So thankful for to have such an awesome runner friend who lives a block away. I have lost track of how many races we have trained for together.

As I wandered across the square looking for Abby, the band began to play the Billy Currington song, “People are Crazy” and I just sat down and cried. This was my dad’s favorite song and I hadn’t heard it since he passed away 4 years ago. I always think of my dad when I race, but the scenery, paint horses and farms along the course had already left me a little misty eyed with memories. That song, just put me over the edge. It wasn’t grief per say; I was simply overwhelmed with the sweetness of my memories of my father at such a special moment for me.

Abby eventually came to rescue me and we rewarded ourselves with some of the free food in the quaint town square. There were tents with hoe cakes (cornmeal pancakes), grilled cheese sandwiches, delicious beef stew and pimento cheese sandwiches. They were all delicious and free. We then collected our free socks and went to meet up with Russ (my husband). We missed him finishing; as his time was faster than I thought it would be for his second half marathon (Go Russ!).

We hydrated and hung out for another hour until the awards ceremony. As they began to announce the winners, I was shocked to hear my name called for third overall in the female masters category. I jumped up and down and squealed like a teenage girl meeting her favorite boy band. I have placed in my age group a couple of times in smaller races, but have never placed in an overall category.

The “trophies” were made of the tops on the Jack Daniels whiskey barrels.

The Oak Barrel Half was challenging; but that it also what makes it so awesome and rewarding. The scenery and swag were great; but it was all the volunteers who came out to help that really made it a special race. I will definitely set my alarm next year to get up early to sign up and come back to defend my title as “The Third Fastest Old Lady”.

Stay tuned for my next challenge: The Wine Glass Marathon in October where I hope to qualify for Boston.

Race Swag: Windbreaker, socks and  a “medal” made from whiskey barrels.

 

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Lessons Learned from My Dad

Kendall Patterson 1953-2015

Kendall Patterson 1953-2015

I lost my dad last year.

He was the rock in my life that I took for granted; not realizing the true weight of his presence until he was gone.

His death was surreal. I can still feel the plastic of the ICU waiting room chairs as the trauma surgeon began to say words that I couldn’t process. The phrases ricocheted in my head, as my mind refused to accept the grisly truth. The bullet had torn his abdominal aorta. The team did everything they could, but the blood loss was too great.

He was gone. No warning. No chance to say goodbye.

The year that he died, I felt like I was stumbling through a numbing fog that would be randomly interrupted with intense raw painful sorrow. My grief was like a wound, ripped open repeatedly by the most random memories. This year the fog is lifting. The wounds are still aching, but slowing healing as I begin to come to grips with the reality that this is the new normal of my life.

There are a million things I miss about him, like the way he greeted me as “Daughter” in a mockingly formal clipped tone with a half smirk and a side hug. I miss his almost daily phone calls, “just to check in”. My heart hurts when I think of all the times I swiped “ignore” on his calls because I was in the middle of something. I told myself I would call him later, but often never quite got around to it.

I have found comfort in his memories and meaning in the lessons I learned from him through the years. My parents were divorced so I lived mostly with my mom (and wonderful stepdad) growing up, but was extremely fortunate to spend the last 10 years living in Tennessee near my dad. He and I were always connected, but I’m so thankful that he was able to have to a close special relationship with his grand kids these last 10 years as well. In honor of father’s day I wanted to share some of the lessons learned over the years from my no where near perfect, but pretty wonderful dad.

 

Me and my dad

Me and my dad

 

1. Birthdays are special

Dad and Tom at one of Ryan's birthdays

Dad and Tom at one of Ryan’s birthdays

I was raised in family where birthdays were a pretty big deal. Everyone gets to feel special on their birthday. I assumed all families were this way until I got married and my husband found it strange that all of my extended family sent him birthday cards.

My dad used to call me crazy early on my birthday. He said he wanted to be the first one to wish me “Happy Birthday”, but really he was just being ornery. He did this to everyone in the family. On HIS birthday, he also called me obnoxiously early so I could get “The privilege of being the first to wish him a Happy Birthday”.

Everyone in our family, not only felt the pain of his loss on his birthday, but we all missed that brief dependable 6 am call on our own birthdays as well. On my husband’s birthday last fall, he mentioned sadly as we headed to bed that he didn’t get any phone calls to wish him happy birthday. Sure there were texts, cards and Facebook messages, but that special early morning old school phone call was painfully missing.

Dad the jokester

Dad the jokester

2. Lonesome Dove is the best

My dad was a true cowboy and he was obsessed with all things horse related. He had a rule that he would only watch a movie if it has horses in it and the mini series Lonesome Dove was his legendary favorite.

He knew the story word for word and could quote every clever Augustus McCray line perfectly. He even had a horse named “Lori Darling”.

Much to my teenage annoyance, he made me watch the mini series many times when it premiered. I reluctantly agreed that it was a tolerable story, but honestly didn’t think much about it until he left us.

Last year I read the book. It was beautifully written ( I really hope he read the book while he was still alive). I didn’t really plan it but I finished the book and then watched the miniseries on the week of the anniversary of his death. Hearing Robert Duvall deliver all the witty lines that I heard my dad say over the years was oddly comforting.

My dad's love of Lonesome Dove inspired one of his friends to make this sign which is an homage to the series. The sign hung in his barn for years and now it hangs in my house to remind me of my dad.

My dad’s love of Lonesome Dove inspired one of his friends to make this sign which is an homage to the series. The sign hung in his barn for years and now it hangs in my house to remind me of my dad.

3. Do What you Love

My dad was a hard worker. He toiled for years on the GM assembly line full time during the days, while tending to his farm in his spare time. He was an outdoors man and needed to be outside for his sanity. He hated the assembly line, but nevertheless put in his time, providing for his family until he could take early retirement. He enjoyed several years of retirement/ farming until he went back to work at something he enjoyed, helping his friend and cousin at Lewisburg Heating and Air. I am so glad that he took those years off to enjoy his farm and spend extra time with the grand kids.

Dad worked for years on the line at GM

Dad worked for years on the line at GM

He always encouraged me to find a job that I really loved. “You spend a lot of time working, you don’t want to be miserable”. This simple but wise advice was key in my choice to be an OB/GYN.

Dad having fun with the boys on the farm

Dad having fun with the boys on the farm

4. Enjoy nature

When I think about my dad, I usually picture him sitting on the porch. It’s sunrise and he’s holding a steaming cup of coffee, watching his cows mill around the field in the morning mist. Sometimes, I see him in the afternoon. He’s sitting with his chair kicked back on 2 legs enjoying a sweat tea or a natural light, while he jokes with friends or watches the kids run around the yard. Other times, I think back to the many hours that he and I spent on horseback, riding on one of the many trail rides we did when I was growing up (he had me riding a horse before I could walk). All my favorite memories of my dad are when he was outside, because that is where he was happiest.

Trail riding

Trail riding

6. There’s no place like home

There are many traits they say I got from my dad. It’s said that I walk like him, I work hard like he did and I know I mumble like him (half of our phone conversations where the other person saying “What?” over and over). One thing I didn’t get from him is my wanderlust. While my dad loved nature, he loved the nature in Tennessee and had no desire to travel any where else. Well, the only place he wanted to go but didn’t was Montana, but other than that he was perfectly happy to stay home. All. the. time. He was content with his farm and his life. The only power strong enough to pull him away was family (mainly grand kids).

Each summer dad would have sevreal loads of sand hauled in to his spring fed pond to create "Papa' beach". The boys would spend hours playing in the sand and the best part for dad was that he didn't have to go all the way to Florida.

Each summer dad would have several loads of sand hauled in to his spring fed pond to create “Papa’s beach”. The boys would spend hours playing in the sand and the best part for dad was that he didn’t have to go all the way to Florida.

Love the look on dad's face as he watches Carson on the pony.

Love the look on dad’s face as he watches Carson on the pony.

7. Carry Cash

My dad always carried around an obnoxious amount of money in his wallet “just in case” he needed it. I on the other hand rarely have a twenty and put everything on my credit card. This frustrated him excessively, especially when I would travel. I would usually stop and get a some emergency cash to appease him if I was taking a road trip (he would always ask if I had enough money…. even when when I had a real job). This year since he’s gone I always think of him when I hit the atm before I travel. One of the many mundane things that remind me of him.

We had a million bon fires at the farm. Perfect crisp fall evening, where we roasted hot dogs and eating way too many smores.

We had a million bonfires at the farm. Perfect crisp fall evenings, where we roasted hot dogs and eating way too many smores.

8. Family first

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13 is the scripture that I read at my dad’s standing room only funeral.

In his life and his death he put his family first. He loved us all fiercely and completely. He cared for us all and gave sacrificially to provide for his family

He was always looking out for us. I never needed to check the weather, because I knew dad was glued to the weather channel and would call me if a storm was even remotely close. He was fairly obsessed with the weather. Once on vacation, after my dad had spent an hour watching the weather channel, my son Ryan asked him ,”Papa why don’t you just walk outside and see what the weather is instead of watching it on TV”.

I knew that my dad would do anything for me or my kids. I remember a few months before he died, we were staying at his house and I woke up at 2 am to the smell of bacon cooking. I drug myself into the kitchen to see what was going on, only to find Carson perched on the counter and my dad bent over the stove. When I inquired as to what the heck was going on, I was informed that Carson was hungry and wanted bacon and eggs. The fact that it was 2 am did not seem to bother either of them.

The time we went to see Willie Nelson perform a benefit concert in a field in Leper's Fork.

The time we went to see Willie Nelson perform a benefit concert in a field in Leper’s Fork.

I keep rewriting this post, each time failing to find the perfect words that his memories deserve. But these are the stories that have brought me comfort and put a teary smile on my face. I want to share them with others who also loved him, if I can muster the courage to actually hit “publish” on this post.

This father’s day I’ll celebrate the wonderful father that my husband has become and the blessing of my (step) father who did most of my raising. But every father’s day from this time forward will always be bittersweet. I will always greatly miss my dad, but I am continually thankful for the years that he was a part of our lives. 

 

The power of grandchildren even got my dad to go to

The power of grandchildren even got my dad to go to Disney

Orange Beach

Orange Beach

 

 

April/May in Review

I decided to combine my April and May writing updates due to April’s writing being a little sparse. With two races back to back, I didn’t get quite enough done as I hoped.

While, this I didn’t actually write this post, I did get quoted in this article, which I found to be quite amusing. Does getting misquoted in Cosmopolitan Magazine make me famous?

An article I wrote on skin to skin at the time of c-section was featured in the Tennessean, our local paper (print and online). Somehow having an article in an actual newspaper seems so grown up.

Speaking of grownups, my April post for WebMD was on the very grown up topic of nipples: Know Your Nipple Changes: 5 Changes to Watch For.

I also had an article over at Grace for Mom’s where I tried to answer the question of when it’s “safe” to tell people you are expecting.

Chicago marathon training starts next week. Hopefully I will get a post on here soon about my Ragnar Relay adventures in May.

 

 

 

I

My Crazy Spring Break

I inhaled the crisp mountain air, as I swooshed down the mountain. The panoramic view of snow capped mountains and giant evergreens was so perfect it looked like a cheeesy 70’s landscape painting. The edge of my skis cut through the powdery snow, which provided the perfect amount of resistance as I sailed down the mountain. Adrenaline pulsed through my veins, as I fought to maintain the delicate balance between speed and control…

“Mom! Moooooom! Is it time to go yet?” Carson, my 6 year old, elbowed me in the stomach, obnoxiously pulling me back to reality. I wiped the drool from my chin and realized that we were not in Colorado. We were in the Tampa airport, where we had been for the past 5 hours.

The morning had started smoothly enough. We had made it to Nashville airport on time, all children and luggage accounted for. We sailed through security, without any “special screening” for my ethnicity vague looking husband. However on arrival at our gate, we discovered our carefully planned direct flight to Denver had been cancelled due to weather. Our best chance to get to Denver was to fly to Tampa and catch a flight from there later that afternoon. So away we went, on what was to be one of the strangest travel experiences of my life.

Shortly after I was awakened from my snowy dream, I was informed by my Hubs that the Denver airport was shut down due to a nasty blizzard. Our flight from Tampa to Denver was also cancelled. Our choices were: return to Nashville (with no chance to get to Denver) or stay in Tampa for 2 days and fly to Denver on Friday afternoon. I did not like either of these choices. During my 30 minutes of denial and tears, the direct flight to Denver filled, and we got the last remaining seats on a connecting jet through St. Louis.

We were all ridiculously disappointed. This was our first Colorado ski trip in 8 years and we (and by “we”, I really mean “Russ”) had been tediously planning it for months. We quickly realized though, that if we were going to be stranded somewhere, Tampa was not a bad place. So we rented a car and checked into a hotel while wearing our puffy ski jackets and carrying 2 giant suitcases full of fleece. Luckily we had packed swimsuits (for the hot tub at the condo), so the first thing my travel exhausted boys did was cannonball into the pool. Then we made a trip to Sears to buy shorts and t-shirts.

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When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.

My first thought was to go to Disney (about an hour away), but the planner in me was already so frazzled by this hiccup, I didn’t think I could handle going to Disney during spring break with only 1 day notice (I need months to plan my fast passes!). We realized we were staying 10 minutes from Busch Gardens, so that was our new destination.

We arrived at Busch Gardens right when the park opened then next morning, hoping to be first in line for the rides. Beating the crowds was great, except that several of the major attractions didn’t open until a couple hours after the park opened {insert sad trombone}. Busch Gardens is half zoo, half amusement park. The bigger roller coasters were a little too intense for my gang, but the boys enjoyed the animals and the tamer rides. It was frustrating that they charge extra for fast passes and the safari tour (both included in price at Animal Kingdom). We also kept missing the train which takes you through the park to see the animals in the fields.The kids had a great time, despite not being able to ride a ton of rides due to long lines and my youngest being vertically challenged.

I loved the “Gardens” at Busch Gardens. The park is decorated with several elaborate topiaries shaped like various animals. I made my gang mimic the bushes for the photo ops.

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My Octopii

Our flight didn’t leave till 4 o’clock the next day, so we decided to visit nearby Clearwater Beach and go to The Clearwater aquarium. This is the home of the dolphins Hope and Winter from the Dolphin’s Tale movies. The drive across Tampa Bay was gorgeous. It was quite surreal to be driving a thin bridge across the ocean lined with palm trees when we were supposed to be in the mountains. The actual aquarium was interesting but Winter was shy that day, so it was difficult to get a good look at the dolphins. I enjoyed the experience, but honestly my boys were underwhelmed.

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Tampa Bay

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Hope the dolpin

We got to the Tampa airport around 2 and finally arrived at our Condo in Keystone at midnight, where my brother and sister were waiting for us. It had taken us 2.5 days to get there. I could almost hear the hallelujah chorus playing in the background as we unloaded our suitcases.

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View from Condo

The next morning we dropped our young ‘un at ski school (it was his first time), but then discovered that our pre-rented skis did not get dropped at our condo as ordered. We grudgingly ventured out to rent equipment, which seemed especially painful, because I JUST WANTED TO GO SKIING AND NOT WASTE YET ANOTHER HOUR OF MY LIFE. Alas, I took a deep breath and realized I was finally inhaling that crisp mountain air I had been dreaming about and all was good.

When we finally got on the the slopes, the snow was perfect. The lift lines were not bad and Keystone itself was phenomenal. The blizzard that had delayed us was at least thoughtful enough to leave us the most fantastic powder. At the bottom of the first run I was able to catch up with a friend from high school who also happened to be there (the wonders of FB), but as we were chatting I noticed my older son was acting a little off. He and the hubs both had awful headaches and headed back to the condo. They texted me later that they had altitude sickness. Seriously people, you can’t make this stuff up.

I then went back to the condo to care for my family. I then took advantage of the afternoon with no kids and skied my quads off with my brother.  Please don’t judge me, I promise that I did text frequently to make sure they were still OK.

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Keystone with my brother (to whom I am currently making payments to ensuring the go-pro videos of me skiing are never released)

Luckily, everyone felt better with some rest and fluids and the whole family was ready to ski together on Sunday. Finally.

On day 2 of skiing I decided to work with Carson instead of sending him to ski school. Not sure if this was my best idea. There were many tears and tantrums. And Carson got frustrated too. Eventually, he got it figured out and by the end of the day he made it down the mountain, albeit falling a million times. Even when he would fall, he would shout “This is soooo awesome!”

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My ski buddy

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The last day, everything seemed to finally come together. I skied with my boys in the morning and they both zipped down the mountain like it was nothing. Their grins were epic. Watching them have so much fun together was worth all the drama getting to the mountain. Russ and I also remember how much we loved to ski. We all can’t wait to go back.

So how was my spring break? Not what I planned, not relaxing, not cheap and definitely not low stress. Despite all the drama, it was pretty awesome. I got home with some great stories and special family memories that I think we’ll be talking about for a long time.

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February in Review

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First long run of the year

It’s time to start training again. I love spending my Saturday mornings pounding out the distance and chatting it up with my girlfriends. If we also catch a marvelous sunrise, then that’s the gravy. If we still have time, we grab eggs and coffee at the Frothy Monkey Coffee Shop. Our post run body odor usually assures us an isolated table.

This spring I’m running the Nashville Country Music Half at the end of April. No PR goal for that one, simply going to enjoy the race. Next up will be Ragnar Tennessee in May and *fingers crossed* the Chicago Marathon in the fall.

Writing:

My WedMD Post this month was on herpes. I wanted to call it “Is This Burning an Eternal Flame?…. No, It’s Herpes!”  Sadly, my editor nixed that. (Sorry,now I’ve forever ruined that song for you).

Could it be Herpes? 

I also posted over at Mother in Medicine about my recent realization that I am old:

That One Time When You Unknowingly Insulted Me  

 

Now onto March.

 

January in Review

Belated Happy New Year!

January in Nashville was a little extra fantastic this year. We had some full blown snow days, complete with sledding and snowmen. This is a rare treat for us, so we relished every snow ball and cup of hot cocoa.

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January also marked by oldest son 12th birthday. We have a tradition at our house where my husband tries his best to honor our kids often extremely specific birthday cake requests. This year Ryan requested a chocolate cake with white icing and sprinkles that contained an optical illusion.

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He nailed it!

I was feeling sentimental so I linked to my own birth story on our FB page and everyone seemed to enjoy it.

January is also cervical cancer awareness month. My article for WebMD ‘How to Avoid Cervical Cancer’ went over really well.

Remember the first of the year is a great time to schedule your annual exam!