“You must have the grossest job in the world. Why on earth would anyone want to be a Gynecologist?” my twenty something patient asked, as I was examining her ‘nether regions’.
“Well, I do enjoy helping people” I lamely replied. I was doubtful she heard me, as she had already returned back to texting at this point.
I smiled as I left the room, remembering my surprisingly similar thoughts at her age.
I wanted to be doctor for as long as I could remember. But when I started medical school, the two specialties I knew I didn’t want anything to do with were OB/GYN and Pediatrics.
There was little doubt in my mind that Family Practice was my chosen path. I chose Oklahoma State University because of its focus on primary care. I had shadowed several FPs and truly enjoyed the continuity of care and relationships that occurred in Family Practice.
When I started my rotations as a third year student, I excitedly picked FP as my first month. The practitioner I worked with was amazingly kind and knowledgeable. He also had a passion for teaching and I was appreciative of the time he spent instructing me. Though we saw some interesting patients, there was also a lot of mundane colds and earaches. After about 3 weeks, I started to have doubts whether this was really what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was a little concerned, but knew I had a few (our school required 6 months of Family Practice) more months to decide.
The next month, I did an away rotation in internal medicine with a wise internist who had been in practice for 30 years. While I didn’t love internal medicine, I did love the doctor. I soaked up every bit of wisdom about life and medicine he sent my way. He inspired me to THINK and not just memorize facts. On my last day of the rotation he sat me down and said essentially that I had done well on the rotation, but he thought my personality was the most suited for OB/GYN.
I smiled on the outside, but internally I rolled my eyes.
My first thought was, “What a sexist!” I was sure he was saying that merely because I was a woman. OB was becoming a female dominated field, and it had been commonly suggested for me to consider it. However, the last thing I could possibly be interested in was doing PAP smears all day. Yuck. Child bearing had no interest to me whatsoever. It was WAY too messy.
I composed my initial thoughts and replied, with a simple, “I don’t think so.”
“When’s your OB/GYN rotation?” he asked.
“The last one of the year.” I replied, having postponed it to the end.
“You should seriously consider moving it up earlier” he encouraged me.
I thanked him for his advice as a courtesy. Then thanked him profusely for the other things he had taught me.
On the drive home I was still fuming about his remark. However, my thoughts began to wander. His wife and all 3 of his daughters were doctors, but none OB/GYNs. There were no other sexist things he had said or done the whole month. I respected him greatly and had trusted all the other advice he had given me. Perhaps, I should listen and at least move my rotation up to earlier in the year. After all, I wasn’t loving FP nearly as much as I thought I would.
After several frantic phone calls, I managed to set up a rotation with a local private practice doctor, in desperate need of some CME’s. I ‘did’ very little during this month, but what I observed was life changing. I observed his daily practice: his rapport with his patients, interesting procedures and complex diseases. He was able to practice preventative medicine in a real way (one of my passions) and also do fascinating surgeries. I witnessed babies born then later the same day the removal of a giant ovary full of teeth and hair from another patient. It was thrilling. On my last day of the month, I broke down in tears on the way home. I couldn’t believe my month was over. I didn’t want it to end. I had fallen in love with the crazy life of being an OB/GYN.
Then began the soul searching and prayer. How could I have a family and be an OB/GYN? As much as I loved my month of OB, the hours were harsh, and I wasn’t sure I could hack it. Was being an OB really God’s plan for me or just a selfish whim? After months of pro’s and con lists and long discussions with my husband, I finally felt a peace from God that this was the path I should take.
Finishing my last 6 months of family practice rotation only confirmed my decision.
This life is NOT easy. The hours do get crazy. Yes, there are days when I do get tired of looking a vaginas all day long. But the longer I do this job the more I love it. So here I am, 8 years into private practice reflecting on how my life is nothing like I expected it to be when I began this crazy adventure in medicine. I realize that it is amazingly better.
Thank you Dr. Bruns for telling me I should be an OB/GYN. You were right.
I was at an end of the year kindergarten party this week. After consuming the usual amount of sugary snacks associated with such class parties, but before saying their dramatic goodbyes that also included full body hugs, each kindergartner circled up to say what they were looking forward to most this summer. Most announced various beach and Disney trips, but one little girl began jumping up and down and squealed, “I’m excited about summer because my mommy has a baby in her belly!” Based on the way her mom’s eyes widened and jaw dropped open in horror, I’m guessing this new baby news was not yet meant to be public knowledge.
It’s hard to know when it’s ‘safe’ to tell people you are expecting. In this age of social media, it is difficult to tell just family and close friends. Even when you try to keep it quiet, the news has a way of sneaking out like it did for my friend whose great aunt had recently joined “The Facebook” and accidentally posted her congratulations on her wall instead of a private message.
Everyone’s biggest fear is making a big public pregnancy announcement, only to have to sadly announce a loss a few weeks later. With my first pregnancy, we called all our friends and family the day we found out. We simply couldn’t contain our excitement. Sadly about a week later, we experienced a loss. It really stunk having to then tell everyone we had a miscarriage, but at least people knew why I was sad and could offer their sympathy and support, which was very helpful. With the next pregnancy I was very guarded and waited until after 12 weeks before I shared the news.
When I see a couple for their first pregnancy appointment, after we see the heart beating strongly on ultrasound and they breathe their initial sigh of relief, one of the first questions they ask is “Is it safe to tell people we are expecting?” I get a sense they feel that if I give them the blessing, all will be OK. While I can never offer a guarantee, I can offer statistics that provide some reassurance as to when it’s safe to let all their great aunts know the exciting news.
Chance of miscarriage after a normal first trimester ultrasound (maternal age <35):
At 5 weeks the risk of loss is 8%
At 6 weeks the risk of loss is 7%
At 8 weeks the risk of loss is 3%
After 12 weeks the risk of loss is < 1%
While many women choose to wait until after the first trimester to tell their news, if the baby has a normal heart beat at 8 weeks, their chance of a normal pregnancy is 97%.
Risk factor that might increase the chance of miscarriage:
Maternal age >40
History of >2 miscarriages
High blood pressure
Untreated thyroid disease
Abnormally shaped uterus
Sadly, miscarriage is very common with up to 15% of pregnancies ending in loss. This rate can increase an additional 10- 25% if you count “chemical pregnancies,” when a woman’s initial home test is positive only to have her cycle start a day or two late. Due to the high rate of chemical pregnancies, I encourage my patients not to rely on ultra sensitive home tests days before their period will normally start, but instead try to wait until they are at least a week late.
The decision of when to announce your pregnancy is a very personal one. I was initially horrified when I realized I was going to have to “unannounce” my first pregnancy after my loss, but eventually I was thankful I had the support of all my friends as my heart was healing. For those looking for the best time to share your news, know this: the risk of loss drops dramatically once you have seen a healthy heart beat, and then becomes extremely low after the first trimester.
When my alarm began blaring at 5:20 am on January 21, 2004; I immediately hit the snooze button. I am normally a morning person, but the last few weeks of my pregnancy were beyond exhausting. As I reluctantly climbed in the shower I purposefully avoided the mirror. I really didn’t want to catch a glimpse of my giant whale body. I had stopped feeling like a ‘cute pregnant lady’ long ago. My feet where still swollen from the night before; I noticed my sock indention from the previous day’s work.
I was lucky. My pregnancy was healthy and had gone quite smoothly, with the exception of one small hiccup: at 32 weeks I learned that my son was breech, and he never flipped. My c-section was scheduled for 39 weeks. If I am completely honest with you, I was more afraid of a vaginal delivery than a c-section. A small part of me was slightly relieved that things would be nicely scheduled and I would never have to face all the drama of labor.
My parents had their plane tickets to Ohio. It would all happen in 2 more days.
I was in my OB/GYN residency training during my pregnancy. I worked 80 hours a week, often 12 to 14 hour days. Residency was challenging enough when you weren’t carrying around 50 pounds of extra baby weight and having to pee every 5 minutes. However this was my final day of work. Tomorrow I would take an exam, then the baby would be here on Saturday. It was surreal to know exactly when the baby would come. I couldn’t wait to meet baby Ryan (we didn’t know if it was a boy or girl, but the name was to be Ryan either way).
My last day at work was not an easy one. I was assisting with several surgeries and it was during the first case that the headache started. As the afternoon progressed, I started seeing little spots. I knew these were the sign of preeclampsia, so I stopped by labor and delivery to have my blood pressure checked. It was dangerously high. I wanted to go home and get my things, but my fellow residents insisted I stay and get blood work. “Really, I’ll be fine” I said. I had no insight. Intellectually I realized I had preeclampsia, and shouldn’t leave the hospital when my blood pressure was sky high, but it didn’t compute emotionally. It was strange. There was also an element of denial at play. This could not be happening to me.
I had seen patients act this way many times and assumed they were non-compliant. I realize now when patients have an irrational response to an emergency that it is likely denial more than ignorance. So often we spend so much time picturing and planning how our special day is supposed to happen that when things go awry, it zaps the wind from our sails and leaves us stunned in disbelief.
My doctor arrived and decided the c-section should be done immediately and a magnesium drip would be started to treat the preeclampsia and help control my blood pressure. I attempted to argue that I really didn’t need it. Magnesium was a miserable drug. She just glared at me, “Of course you are getting magnesium.” I took a deep breath and complied.
After several blubbering phone calls to friends and family, they set me up for delivery. My mom didn’t get to be there, but my husband and friends (fellow residents) were there to support me.
As they wheeled me into the cold OR, I realized I was terrified of the “unknown” despite doing hundreds of c-sections myself. As I lay strapped to the OR table, I felt vulnerable and afraid. It was so awkward to be on the other side of the knife. As the surgery got underway, though I felt more calm; comforted by the familiar sounds of the instruments and operating room banter.
As he was born, the entire room cheered. “It’s a boy” someone said. My husband and I were overwhelmed with joy.
As the doctor held him up over the blue sheet for me to see him, I remember thinking that he looked blue and they should really get him to the warmer. Myself, my husband and my friends (who we’re running various cameras) we’re all crying and cheering. It was an amazing day.
As I held him in recovery and nursed him for the first time, I remember thinking how incredibly blessed I was. I couldn’t believe how deeply I could love this sweet little boy. What an amazing gift.
This age sends most suburban moms to their inboxes in search for Botox Groupons, but not the runners. Runners love getting “more mature.” They know that the older you get, the slower your qualifying time is for the notoriously elusive Boston Marathon. My training has gotten more serious over the last few years and my times have continued to get faster. I knew this year was my best chance to make it.
My running partner Abby and I decided to train with Hanson’s Advanced. This is similar to the training we used for Chicago 4 years ago, but with even more miles. It was an 18 week training program were we ran 50-60 miles a week, often starting before 5 am in order to get all the workouts in before life started. Abby, being younger, needed to finish 10 minutes faster than me to get in to Boston, so we trained for time of 3:40 (I needed 3:50).
I originally heard about the Wineglass marathon in a Runner’s World article. It’s a point to point well organized race, with minimal hills and cool fall weather in a small town that is ideal for a BQ (Boston Qualify). The race turned out even better than promised. I would highly recommended it for anyone wanting to BQ or looking for a beautiful, well organized fall marathon or half.
The Town of Corning
We flew into the precious little airport of Elmira, New York on Friday night. Originally we had booked flights into Rochester which is two hours away; not realizing Elmira was an option and only 15 minutes from the hotel. On the flight I read Meb Keflezighi’s book 26 Marathons where he details the lessons he learned in each of his professional marathons. His book and amazing story of the American dream were so inspiring. He gave a talk at the pasta dinner Saturday night before the race, but we were bummed that we had missed out on getting tickets.
We stayed at the Radisson which was the race hotel and uber convenient for all the race festivities. The rooms were comfortable and the restaurant was tasty and reasonably priced. My first 2 marathons were large races (Nashville and Chicago) that required walking miles after the race to get back to our room. Having to only walk two blocks and not having to fight any crowds was perfection after running 26.2 miles.
Saturday morning found us well rested. We drank coffee in bed and walked down to the hotel buffet for a tasty breakfast. We relaxed and read books uninterrupted, without hospital pages or small children demanding snacks. It was amazing. During our “shakeout run” we explored the town of Corning in an unsuccessful attempt to calm our nerves.
My brother, who lives in Syracuse, came to spend the day with us. He joined us to pick up our packets at the Corning Museum of Glass. The museum is famous for their glass pumpkins and you can actually sign up to make your own. Sadly these spots were sold out; but we did get to design our own wineglasses which was a cool experience and a great memento.
Saturday night we went to bed early with hopes for a good night’s sleep. It is a point to point race, so you must get up early to catch buses to the start. All the race material encouraged us to get on as early a bus as possible. Neither of us could sleep well, so we ended up getting up at 4 am and having plenty of time for our bagels and coffee and to catch an early bus at 6 am.
The bus ride was supposed to take about 30 minutes, however we ran into a bit of a hiccup. When our bus driver exited the freeway and pulled up to the stop sign at the end of the off ramp; she pulled out a large paper map and asked if anyone knew where we were going, because she wasn’t quite sure. Those of us in the first few rows laughed at her funny joke initially, but then an awkward silence developed as we realized she was not joking. A runner in the front row kindly pulled out his phone and used his GPS to help guide her to the starting line. When we got there the police stopped us to notify the driver she had to enter through the back streets, which required us to backtrack for another 20 minutes. As the bus driver attempted to turn the bus around, mumbling under her breath and running over a few curbs in the process, the nervous energy in he air was almost palpable. Despite the hiccups, the bus full of type A marathoners and New Yorkers, was amazingly kind to this bus driver. No one complained, and everyone thanked her for volunteering for us. She did eventually get us to the starting line and really, I would have much rather spent that extra time on a warm bus than waiting around at the start line.
The Starting Line
At the starting line there were plentiful port a potties and a large tent with chairs for you to sit in while you wait for the race. Yes, you read that correctly, chairs to rest your legs. I have been in a lot of races, and I have never had this option. It was FANTASTIC!
Thanks to the tent, we did not have to spend an obnoxious amount of time in the que before the start. There were not enough people to need corrals, so all the racers lined up by the appropriate pacers and before we knew it, we were off. The initial few blocks were down hill and the crowd thinned out quickly, so we were able to find our stride almost immediately.
After a week of taper, I felt strong and ready to run. The first 10 miles seemed to fly by. Our plan was to start out at an 8:20 pace and then attempt to go faster in the last 6 miles (when the race really starts), but every time I looked down at my watch I was going closer to 8:10. I kept trying to go slower, but I couldn’t seem to calm my adrenaline enough to hit my desired pace. After training in the draining heat and humidity of Tennessee for four months, the 50 degrees on race day was indeed perfection.
With picturesque small towns, country roads and colorful fall foliage, the course felt like we were running through a Bob Ross painting. A decent hill took up most of mile four, but otherwise the course was mostly flat with a net downhill elevation. The small towns were lined with spectators, but the roads in between were peacefully empty.
As we approached the half way point, I could tell that I couldn’t hold this pace for the rest of the race. I wasn’t hurting, but I was having to put forth more effort than felt comfortable. Abby’s goal was faster than mine, so I decided to try to stay with her through 20 miles and then slow down; however at mile 15 she picked up the pace further, so she went on ahead without me.
At mile 17 was when the race really started for me. It began to feel like someone was jabbing toothpicks under my left toenails with each step. I have lost toenails before, but never felt such sharp acute toe pain. It was time for all the mantras and to focus hard on my pace. Many times during this stretch I thought abut the lessons learned in Meb’s book and all the many ways he pushed through the pain to go on to marathon victories.
Luckily, by mile 20 the toe pain had subsided, but now every other part of my body began to hurt. The Wineglass used the Race Joy app for friends to track you during the race. Not only could they track you, but they could send you messages during the race that would play through your earphones. There were preset phrases and songs they could send or they could type out a personalized message. Hearing encouragement from family and friends in those final miles was a huge boost. The app also gave you your mile splits, average pace and estimated finish time in your earphones at each mile. By mile 20, I don’t think I hit the wall; because I never felt that I couldn’t keep going; but I knew that I could not go any faster than I was currently going. I was secretly hoping to qualify for both New York and Boston, but I realized around mile 20 that wasn’t in the cards. In those agonizing last few miles, I was totally fine with that. The idea of running 2 marathons in 1 year seemed ridiculous. I was so ecstatic that I was going to BQ, and I didn’t care about anything other than getting to the finish line to make the pain stop.
I passed Abby at mile 21, neither of us had the energy to even talk. I felt bad for not trying to encourage her, but I could tell she was giving it her all. I wish we could have both crossed the line together hand in and with a time of 3:35, but it was not meant to be.
The last five miles were a blur. It was a weird feeling, I was in so much pain, but I knew I was almost there. As long as I kept moving, then I was going to Boston. The course was wound through the town and through several parks. Some areas of the the paths were at little uneven so you had to pay attention not to stumble–this would probably be my only compliant about the course. I walked through one water stop in the last mile and quickly realized that was a mistake as my legs started to seize up and it was challenging to start moving again.
The Finish Line
The final stretch of the race was down the quaint main street of Corning. It reminded me of the final stretch of many of our local races that finish in downtown Franklin. When I crossed the finish line, I had nothing left. I gave that race all I had. My gait was so pained that one of the volunteers offered me a wheelchair. I was tempted but I knew if I could keep moving I would feel better. My final time was 3:40. I was going to Boston! Then I saw Meb.
Meb was at the finish line congratulating the winners. I was overcome with emotion and I stumbled toward him, arms outreached like he was my son returning from war. I gave him a giant sweaty hug and thanked him for the inspiration in his book. As the tears ran down my face, I told him that I qualified for Boston. He graciously congratulated me and didn’t complain about my body odor. I then heard Bart Yasso announce my name as a finisher of the race. It was an epic way to finish a marathon.
Abby finished a few minutes after me. While she didn’t qualify for Boston (she is younger so her cut off is 10 minutes faster), but she set a 6 minute personal record and she was content with that time. The Radission was thankfully only two blocks from the finish, but it felt like another two miles as we limped to our rooms. Every muscle fiber hurt in our body hurt, but we had never been happier.
I can never wait to get into the shower after a race, but after the Wine Glass it was more like a crime scene than a spa. Between the screams of pain from the water hitting our chafing and the blood stains on the floor from our bleeding toenails, I’m surprised no one called the police while we were showering. After celebratory naps, we ate dinner at The Cellar, a fantastic restaurant that was only a few blocks from the hotel. Sunday night we slept like babies and spent Monday visiting a few of the local wineries near Watkins Glenn which was only 30 min away and near the Elmira airport . We had a late flight, so we got to explore the country side a little more.
The Wine Glass Marathon was phenomenal race. It still seems surreal that I actually qualified for the Boston Marathon and that I will get to participate in such a significant race. If you had told me 10 years ago that I would ever qualify for Boston, I would have laughed at the absurdity of that statement; but now at age 44, I am making plans to head to Hopkinton April 2021!
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 (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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As I wandered across the square looking for Abby, the band began to play the Billy Currington song, “People are Crazy”. 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 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.
200 hilly gorgeous Kentucky miles. 6 runners. 1 van. This was the challenge that was pitched to me this spring. My immediate reply was an emphatic “no”. I had completed the Tennessee Ragnar Relay 3 times in the past with a full team of 12 runners. Those races had been challenging enough. However my BRF (best running friend) was team captain and with some slight nudging I found myself 4 months later on a brisk October morning standing at the Bourbon Chase starting line, with only 5 other runners with me. I zipped up my sweatshirt to ward off the chill and watched the fog drift over the Jim Bean Distillery as our runner 1 took off with the distinct smell of sweet mash filling the air. I still couldn’t really believe I was about to run 33 miles in the next 24 hours.
Abby and I had trained hard. We knew the steep terrain, sleep deprivation and long miles were going to be a new level of challenge for us. She came up with a training plan that was a morphing of Hanson Marathon method with Ragnar training. It incorporated lots of hill work and then in the last month added in a day each week that included multiple runs a day. Every other week she had us doing hill sprints BEFORE our tempo run. This was one of the most evil running workouts I’ve ever tried, but I think it was super helpful to build the level of fitness we needed for this race.
We drove up the night before the race so that we could be well rested for the start. However, between traffic, stopping for dinner and the time change we didn’t get to bed until after 11. We were up early for breakfast, coffee and the starting line. As we headed to the van, we could see our breath and immediately realized that the weatherman was liar. It was much colder than anticipated (i.e. packed for), so we dug out our sweat pants and ear warmers and drove to the Jim Bean Distillery where runner 1 took off at 8:30 a.m.
With a 12 person Ragnar team each person runs 3 “legs” of the race. The course is broken up into 36 segments. Where the runners hand off the baton (which is actually a slap bracelet with a chip in it) is called an exchange. With a 6 person “ultra” team, you can divide the legs however you want, we decided for logistic purposes to each run two legs at a time, so still running 3 times, but with longer segments.
Challenge 1: Eating
During Bourbon Chase we were all eating and running around the clock, so I had to eat strategically. We needed our normal amount of calories, plus calories to refuel from our runs (which varied from 8-16 miles) while making sure we had time to “digest” before our next leg. We were all running at different times, so we couldn’t really stop at restaurants. All food had to be taken with us in the van. We all had different plans. Abby had analyzed her caloric needs with the precision of a NASA scientist and planned accordingly. Mike brought no food and gambled on gas station cuisine. Myself I ate a combination of peanut butter sandwiches, bananas and protein bars.
Run 1 ( legs 7/8)
Pulling into Maker’s Mark Distillery was like arriving at a giant party. White Vans were lined up as far as you could as you could see and hip hop music floated across the shamrock green fields. This was a major exchange. If we had been asane normal team on 12, this exchange is where the two vans would hand off; so there are twice as many people/ vans/ craziness at the major exchanges.
I took in the sites and enjoyed ‘real’ bathrooms at Maker’s Mark as I waited for Eric to finish his leg. I was filled with nervous energy after a week of tapering and carb loading and 6 hours of watching my teammates run. Eric was all smiles when he rounded the corner. He finished with strong strides as he slapped me with the bracelet. I bolted off through through the property at Maker’s Mark and then out the country roads that surrounded it. Despite my best effort I did start out faster than planned, but the hills kept me humble. The course took me past farmland and country churches; up steep hills and winding roads. This leg was only 9 miles, so I didn’t bring water, but instead instructed my van to bring it me at the next exchange. Even though we didn’t change runners at every exchange, the van would meet up and check on the runner to make sure they were ok… at least this was the plan. As I neared exchange 8, I was feeling the heat and looking forward to my Gatorade; however, my van had taken a wrong turn and was MIA. I sent them a “gentle reminder text” that I would be needing fuel and headed on to exchange 9.
One of my favorite parts of running an ultra was the “in between” exchanges. When you are running 2 legs in a row, you simply pass through the first chute and say ” Ultra team” so the person working the booth doesn’t try to find your team mate. As I passed through the chute the other runners would whisper in awe “look it’s an Ultra runner”, while cheering you on and shaking their heads in disbelief at your craziness (and/or they were checking their phones). It was completely beast mode*.
My team caught up with me around mile 8 and I was able to get some much needed nutrition. The route was challenging, but the views gorgeous and reminded me of the back roads of Oregon County, Missouri where I am originally from.
While not all the routes where overly scenic (Jeff had to run 16 miles along a major 4 lane road), everyone’s first legs went well. A couple of wrong turns (we also missed Jim at his exchange) and some forgotten glide, but overall everyone’s first legs were successful.
Run 2 (legs 19/20)
Run 2 was my night run. This is where the whole Ragnar thing gets a little tricky . It’s all fun and exciting when you are running at 2 in the afternoon through beautiful farmlands, but 10 miles at 2 am…. that is its own challenge. In Ragnar’s past I have found myself on rural country roads, where it was simply me, my head lamp and the moon. When the shadows start playing tricks on you and the car coming toward you starts to swerve a bit; it becomes a complete mental game not to lose your cool. This year’s night run was not remote, but its challenge (in addition to the exhaustion and dark) was cold pouring rain, even though the weather man had not mentioned precipitation in the 2 million times I had checked the weather the week before. As I waited for my teammate in the chute, shivering in the rain, I began doubting my running choices for the first time this race. When I finally took off, the pelting rain and wind were completely miserable, but after a few miles I warmed up. The feeling slowly returned to my frozen hands and I fell into the familiar cadence of my run. The route was beside a major highway, so another challenge was dodging roadkill (I’ve never seen so many dead raccoons in my life). This leg was physically and mentally exhausting, but I stuck with the mantra of “only run the mile you are in”, so after 10 “individual miles” I gladly passed the bracelet to Jeff, changed into warm clothes and curled up in the van.
Challenge 2: Exhaustion
After my night run I drifted in and out of sleep. After my legs, the rest of the night exchanges were a blur. Each time the my body finally relaxed enough to drift to sleep, we would stop and the slamming of doors and rush of cold air would would once again startle me awake.
At the Four Roses Distillery exchange, I awoke to the beautiful smell of my teammates eating hot fresh donuts. Jeff and I had slept through their initial exit of the van, but they kept remarking on the magnificence of their pastry creations, so Jeff and I decided we had to have some as well. The (free!) donuts were being made in a food truck that was a 10 minute walk up a hill, which feels like quite the trek at 4 am and on tired legs. But alas, we made it and grabbed some soul warming hot chocolate as we waited in line and debated which donut delicacy we would order (bourbon bacon perhaps?). As we approached the window to order, the line stalled out. We soon discovered much to our rumbling tummy’s dismay, they had run out of donuts and would have to make some more. There is no level of disappointment akin to that of an exhausted runner denied a donut at 4 am after already running 19 miles. But alas, somehow I dug deep and was able to overcome this adversity, because that’s just the sort of strong woman that I am.
I have run the Tennessee Ragnar 3 times and it was always an awesome experience, but the towns of Kentucky embraced the Bourbon Chase and its runner with a level of hospitality that was truly amazing. The people of Stanford, Kentucky opened up a couple town down shops at midnight to let the frozen, exhausted runners use their bathrooms. After 16 hours of using porta potties, there are few things as beautiful as sparking clean, flushing, real porcelain toilets. They also gave out FREE homemade baked goods, coffee and cocoa. Thank you to the volunteers who stayed up all night feeding tired stinky runners. Your kindness was appreciated.
I think everyone struggled a bit on the night runs, but no one complained. We all fought the demons of exhaustion, tired legs and fear to come out victorious. Sure we may have lost one runner (so sorry Jeff about exchange 23!) but we ran all the miles and survived the night.
Challenge 3: the STANK
One big difference between running with women and men is the smell. When women finish their run, they quickly clean up (I used epic wipes) and change into fresh clean clothes immediately. Then they carefully secure their sweaty clothes in a large ziplock bag complete with a fabric softener for further odor control. Men sometimes change out of their sweaty shirts in a couple hours and then toss them on the floor (only slight exaggeration involved). Luckily, I do not have a very keen sense of smell, because our van had had quite the STANK.
Run 3 (legs 31/32)
On minimal sleep, lots of coffee and tired legs I set off on my last and longest run. I started out in a suburban setting, but quickly found myself running through the rolling hills and million dollar horse farms that make Kentucky famous. The first several miles of road were lined with stone fences and antebellum trees. The weather was cool and overcast, not great for photos, but perfect for running. I marveled at the massive barns that resembled mansions (one looked exactly like Brentwood Baptist Church) The horses pranced on perfectly manicured pastures sometimes coming to the fence, curious of the strange slow creatures who only ran on two feet.
My IT band began to hurt on and off around mile 7, not enough to stop, but enough to slow me down a bit, especially on the vicious hills. By mile 10 I was ready to be done, no amount of scenery could soothe the ache in my leg. I ran with another runner the last 2 miles which helped distract me from my overall misery and when I saw my final “one mile left” sign I was ecstatic. As if to pour salt on my already aching wound, the final half mile was straight up one last ridiculous hill. I gave that last mile all I had left and with jubilation I slapped that bracelet on Jeff’s wrist and I WAS DONE.
We approached Lexington and finished the race together 31 hours after we started. Downtown Lexington was blocked off for the after party. After sampling some free bourbon, we ate our weight in pizza; took the world’s longest, hottest shower and slept the best sleep of our lives.
The Bourbon Chase volunteers were top notch and the race felt extremely well organized. Our captain Abby was also an amazing leader, organizer and overall wonderful person and without her it would not have been such a great experience. It was also extremely helpful to have a driver so that when we weren’t running, we could a whiff of rest. Ben was so generous stay up all night driving us around in a stinky van (although he did get donuts and I didn’t… not that I’m still bitter about that or anything). Seriously, Ben we can not thank you enough.
Looking back on the entire Bourbon Chase Ultra experience it was definitely the most physically challenging race I have ever done, but also the most rewarding. The training and the race required hard work, but so do most of the best parts of life. There is just something about pushing your body to its limits and coming out victorious. We chose the “Van less traveled by**” and that my running friends, has made all the difference.
*beast mode refers to a state of performing something, especially difficult activities, with extreme power, skill, or determination. Also, an obnoxious term used by middle aged suburban athletes to make them feel better about their athletic ability.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.