How Bootcamp is Changing My Game

Since the reality finally hit me that I will be running 19.3 miles over 24 hours in less than 6 weeks (and 26.2 miles around the City of New York in less than 12 months!), I’ve decided to step up my fitness game, one month at a time.

This month, I joined Bulldog Strength and Conditioning for a month of bootcamp/ Crossfit-style classes, with the goal of upping my overall endurance and strength training game in the home stretch before my next half marathon and spring race season.

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My friend Kevin found this place about a month ago to get us ahead of the holiday weight gain by taking a drop-in class the Saturday after Thanksgiving with our friend Angela. I’ll admit: I was hesitant. I’ve done a few month-long boot camp style memberships at other gyms and while they were good workouts, I wasn’t a fan of their mentality and sometimes condescending attitudes. In some cases, the instructors cared more about socializing with the members than helping them get a good workout. Too often I’d see people sacrifice form for time and just flail around without the personal attention they should have been getting for $150+ a month – or worse, they’d get injured!

Having an injury-prone body to begin with, I like to focus on form and doing things the right way for the maximum benefit and to keep myself healthy. And it’s important to me that if I’m working with trainers, I make a personal connection with them about my fitness history and don’t feel too intimidated to ask them for help. So I went into this class with a grain of salt. But from the beginning, the owner Keith was super helpful – asking me about where we found him, what our goals were, what we were currently doing to stay active, etc. When I brought up running, he was psyched to hear about my plans for a half in January and asked me smart questions. Before we even started, I was impressed.

The class size was small; about 10 people, which was great – no crowding, plenty of time for personal interaction, and room to move. We kicked things off with a warm up that included 200M sprints, and Keith and his co-trainer were quick to point out that I should find this part easy, calling me out in front of the class – this was fun! After the warm up, they started cranking some old Alice in Chains and Nine Inch Nails music to get us into the groove, and we were off onto interval training, two workouts that we repeated two times each. The moves seemed simple at first, but after one minute on and only 15 seconds to move to the next workout, we were MOVING. My one friend had to tap out because it was so intense, and I don’t blame her – I had to pause a few times to keep my breakfast from coming up to make an appearance!

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After just over 40 minutes, we finished completely spent, sweaty and shaking, and I was hooked. I hadn’t pushed myself like that in months, and it felt great. I’ve been so scared of overdoing it and not being able to run that I’ve been shortchanging myself. No more.

On the spot I decided to commit to a month with Keith and his crew. But because he’s a smart businessman and a good trainer, he was open to discussion. He understood that I couldn’t commit to a full 5x/week schedule simply because the gym is 30+ minutes away and I need to spend more time running for now, and was able to work with me on a plan that fits my schedule and my budget.

Last night I took my first class of the month and I already can’t scratch my nose without that soreness in my arms and shoulders – and I screamed when a sneeze earlier this morning made my abs work unexpectedly. But I’m pumped to see where these workouts take me in my running. Tomorrow I’ve got 7 miles to run, and another class Sunday.

It’ll be a tough schedule to stick to this month to get all of my miles in AND reap the benefits of a month of bootcamp too, but I’m committed. If I’m going to do this 26.2 thing, I’ve got to do things I’ve never done before and work harder than I ever have in any training cycle – but I’m ready!

NYRR Poland Spring Marathon Kickoff 5M Race Recap

On the Sunday before Halloween, I headed into the city for the NYRR Poland Spring Marathon Kickoff 5M – my final 9+1 race to earn entry to the 2017 NYC Marathon!

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I was excited to take on this race for a number of reasons – the main one being the fact that it got me into the marathon! It was really cool seeing all of my hard work this year culminate in this final race, and the fact that it was a 5M sweetened the deal: this was the final distance I had yet to nab a PR in this year, and I wanted to be able to say I PR’d in every distance in 2016!

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The morning of the race was shockingly warm: temps were already in the 60’s by the time the sun came up, and rising quickly. I had layered up with the plan to ditch my sweats and sleeves before the start, but ended up shedding them pretty much as soon as we got to the park.

After hanging out in Mineral Spring for a bit we headed to the corrals where I made a quick port-a-potty stop, stretched out, and popped some Run Gum after the first gun went off and the faster corrals took off.

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This stuff really is the bomb – I’ve been using it before and during most of my races and runs for the past few weeks and notice a huge boost. Maybe it’s mental, maybe it’s just the caffeine,  but either way I’m loving it.

Once I crossed the start, I swear I caught a runner’s high within the first quarter mile. It was so incredible: the sun was shining, the crowds around me were pulsing with energy, my pace was on POINT at 9:50, my legs felt fantastic and fresh, and the city was humming. I tamed my inner speed demon a bit as we neared the first mile and I knew my favorite few was coming up fast.

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I mean, come on. Look at that. How can you see that and not be moved? I ran with my phone out just to snap this pic and a few runfies because I was feeling myself (sorry not sorry) and then put it away to focus on the task at hand: nabbing that PR.

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Miles 2 and 3 went by relatively easily – the usual Central Park hills had me pushing a bit harder than expected, and the heat caused me to stop for water more than I anticipated, so I was averaging about a 10:30/mile pace. I was bummed – I was giving it my all but needed to break 10:19 to PR. By the end of Mile 3 I passed a photographer and thought if I’m not going to PR I may as well have a frickin blast! So have a blast I did:

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But a funny thing happened at the start of the final mile – we went downhill. I always forget about that downhill, even though I’ve run that same 4-5-6 mile route around the park more than a dozen times this year and go the same direction every time! And when we went downhill, my pace picked up. A lot. So much so that by the time I made it to 4.5, I was cranking at about a 9:45/mile pace and my average pace had gone down to 10:19.

The rational side of my brain was screaming to slow down; there was no way I’d be able to push even faster for another half mile. But the balls-out competitor in me told that rational part to shut up and run; I’d hate myself if I missed that PR by a second per mile just because I wimped out in the final kick.

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The crowds were thick, so I had to weave around a lot of people. A girl that had been keeping pace next to me must have had the same idea to drop the hammer, because she took off like a shot and nudged her way through the crowds we were stuck in. I was so grateful – she was much shorter than me so she essentially parted the sea of people and I followed in her wake until we turned the corner before the finish line.

Her pace was a LOT faster than I was ready for – I saw 8:45 at one point! – but when I neared the finish and saw my 10:16 average, I left it all out on the course and crossed at 52:45 (Garmin time) with a new unofficial PR.

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Walking through the finisher’s chute was tough on shredded legs – I was wobbly and I couldn’t catch my breath, but it felt incredible. This is racing, I thought. This is why I do this. To chase my former self and prove to myself that I can do things I never thought possible.

Even though I didn’t PR officially by the gun time, I can honestly say I gave it everything I had and my watch says I did it. So I’m counting it😉 And with that, I’m on my way to the 2017 NYC Marathon!!

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2016: The Year of That. Just. Happened.

The current trend is to say that 2016 is shaping up to end as a big, flaming, dumpster-fire-level disaster.

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Too soon?

And given recent events, I’m inclined to agree with them, wholeheartedly.

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Pictured: me, waking up on 11/9/16.

But I’m not going to get into THAT particular dumpster fire here because this is my happy place. What I will say though, is that in my own personal world – the world where I’ve been working hard and making shit happen for the past 11+ months – things have kicked SO MUCH ass I don’t even really know how to comprehend it.

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Yes, I’m talking about my year-in-review. But instead of focusing solely on running-related stuff, I’m looking back at everything I accomplished. Because when it comes to putting my mind to it and getting shit done, it’s been a banner year.

I’m calling 2016 The Year of That Just HAPPENED.

Let’s review, shall we?

January

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Hanging with my peeps at the Joe K 10K in Central Park in January

February & March

  • Set an unexpected PR at the NYRR Gridiron 4M Race, kicking off a year of setting PRs in nearly every distance I took on.
  • Went on my first solo adventure into Manhattan for a day of running, shopping, and general mental health related me-time.
  • Celebrated three years at my company (yes, I’ve got a 9-5 and don’t just run all day) and took on a new role that’s really kicked my professional ass to the next level – in a good way.

 

April & May

  • Ran my first 11K, in a total downpour.
  • Raced the New Jersey Half Marathon and set an unbelievable 15+ minute PR, ALSO in a total downpour. Apparently we had a wet spring here in NJ.
  • Set yet another PR, this time in the 10K distance, at the NYRR UAE Healthy Kidney 10K.
  • Was invited to take part in a social media photo shoot with the Brooks Running crew – which, let’s face it, was basically the coolest thing to ever happen to me up to that point.

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June & July

  • Celebrated National Running Day with my girl Meredith at a gorgeous new (to me) trail right near where I work.
  • Registered for the Star Wars Rebel Challenge in Disneyland – my first challenge weekend AND my first Disney race, double trouble!
  • Completed the run portion of the NYC Triathlon with two of my coworkers, taking on my first NYC Tri and a triathlon of that scale. This also prompted me to get a new bike for a season of triathlons I didn’t expect to take part in!
  • Ran the Jersey Capital 5K with a team of my coworkers and won my first award in the Female Team division.

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Photo by Brian Zuleta

August & September

  • On August 20th, Mike and I celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary. FIVE YEARS! The fact that he hasn’t smothered me in my sleep after five years is really a testament to his self control. Round of applause for Mr. Mike.
  • After narrowly avoiding a disaster at the Seaside Semper Five 5K race, I ran the Hustle 4 Hannah 5K the next day with my coworkers and smashed my 6+ year old 5K PR.
  • Took part in the Jersey Girl Triathlon for the 2nd consecutive year and beat my previous year’s time – even if just by a few minutes.
  • Got sweet, sweet redemption at the One More Tri triathlon in support of the Special Olympics – and nabbed my first podium win as 3rd Overall Female Finisher in the Super Sprint Division!

October & November

  • Ran my final NYRR 9+1 Race and earned official entry into the 2017 NYC Marathon!
  • In what quickly became the NEW coolest thing to ever happen to me, I was invited to be an Ambassador for the Runner’s World Half & Festival weekend. There, I met some incredibly talented folks, ate dinner with Bart Yasso & the Runner’s World crew, did my first November Project workout, had lunch with Dean Karnazes, ran my first race in my new favorite Altra kicks, and nabbed a new 10K PR.

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Did I mention the part about spending the weekend with these celebrities? Cause yeah, I did that too.

And just when I thought 2016 couldn’t get any better, this happened:

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::record scratch:: Rewind! Adam Driver up there (yes, Mr. Kylo Ren himself for my fellow Star Wars fans) is an ex-Marine, and with his wife he started this organization called Arts in the Armed Forces, to help bring the arts to the military community. Check out his TED Talk for more info. After learning about the great things this group does – and knowing firsthand how beneficial theater is when you’re struggling with your own demons, thanks to my theater experience in high school and college – I decided to support their cause and buy tickets to their annual Broadway show at Studio 54 this year on November 7th.

I expected a fun night out on Broadway with my girl Julia, but what I got was so much more: a thought-provoking, stripped down performance that made me reconsider what a true apology really means; a Q&A with the playwright, actors, and people involved with AITAF; and yes, a moment with Mr. Driver himself, who was gracious enough to chat and pose for a picture. Class act, that Adam Driver fellow. A+. 10/10. If you’re passionate about the arts or supporting our military, give AITAF a minute of your time and I promise it’ll be worth it.

So there you go. My 2016 in one 1,000 word blog post. I nailed PRs in my personal, professional, and running worlds, and really can’t believe how fortunate I’ve been. Sure it took a lot of work – especially that half marathon PR, Jesus Christ did that take a lot of work – but when I look back on my year I can’t help but be amazed at how lucky I am to do what I do and share it with you.

How about you – what are you proud of accomplishing this year? Share in the comments!

Runners World Half & Festival Day 3

When we last left off on Day 2, I’d had a ridiculously fun-filled day with the Runner’s World crew and my fellow ambassadors, and was prepping to run the Five & Dime.

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At about 7AM (thanks, 8AM start time!) Ryan, Amy and I met up with some other folks in the lobby and headed to the start about a mile away. It was brisk out there; 33 to be exact. I had opted to check a bag with clothes to change into, but my dumb ass didn’t actually pack a jacket, so I chattered my way there in one long sleeved layer, easily checked my bag, and we hung out in the corrals for a bit.

I was so excited – I even ran into my Fifth Avenue Mile buddy, Arun!

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He rocked the Grand Slam like a boss (congrats again, you magnificent bastard!)

As the gun went off we shuffled our way through the chute and up the first little hill to start the 5K. Given my foot issues in the past week, I planned on treating the 5K as an easy warm up, and even kept my phone out so I could snap pictures of the scenery I’d heard so much about.

Admittedly, photos of the scenery don’t do it justice – especially the pictures from the run over the bridge. The only negative thing about the race I will admit to is the construction happening on the bridge: the huge crowd of middle-to-back-of-the-packers could only fit so well in the half lane we had to share with the returning faster runners and around the first half mile we came to a full stop. I’ve never had that happen in a race before. But whatever, I wasn’t going for time here!

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super serious runner, extremely angry about having to stop for 3 seconds during a race

The course was quick, kind of hilly, and there was a surprisingly good amount of folks out there cheering us on so early in the freezing cold! By the time I got to 2.5 I snapped a few more pics, made a beeline for the finish, and crossed in 36 & change.

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With a bit of time between races, I ran back to my bag and dropped off my medal and some finish chute goodies (hello Veggie Straws and Godiva Chocolate bars!), circled back to the start area for the 10K, met up with Ryan again, and then we were off!

I put my phone away for this run so I don’t have any scenery shots, but the professional race photos were FREE (!!) so I have lots of those to show off.

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thumbs up for free race pics!

I felt good through the 5K mark and realized that I was pushing a pretty fast pace with absolutely no pain. I walked through some of the more challenging hills at mile 4, got a high five from a dude dressed as Jesus outside a church (and I’m pretty sure that was a real nun sprinkling holy water on us too, so there’s that), and took a gel at around the 5 mile mark. As we went back up over the bridge we ran in the 5K for the same final 1.5-ish miles, I realized it was mostly downhill from that point on, and I could potentially PR.

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So I sucked it up and started passing people left and right in the final mile, run-dancing a bit when 24K Magic came on, and before I knew it I was crossing the finish line at 1:11:19, setting a 2+ minute PR!

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When I looked down at my watch as they handed me my second medal of the day, I felt a happy tear or two well up – coming off of such a disastrous race in Brooklyn the weekend before, this was just the performance I needed.

 

Needless to say, I floated on cloud 9 for the rest of the day. On the way back to the hotel, I grabbed a slice of cheesesteak pizza and a salad for my victory lap, and managed to get in a solid nap before our Pasta Dinner with the Runners World Editors and other runners.

Bart even played host and got us our cake!!

It was a great dinner – there was even a marriage proposal at the table next to us! What a time to be alive. David Willey, Bart Yasso, and Brogan Graham all said a few words – and sang Happy Birthday to Runner’s World!

Apologies in advance for the shaky camera and profanity.

After dinner we headed back to the hotel, but not before taking some awesome pics at the little red carpet setup they had outside the dinner:

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The best part about taking photos with so many people is the abundance of angles and cameras – one person even had the iPhone that takes video pics (how Harry Potter/living photograph!!) so we get gems like this:

With the paparazzi appeased and our bellies full, we got back to the hotel just in time for the hotel bar band to start up. While some more responsible folks opted to turn in for an early bedtime because they were racing the next day, I hung out with the stragglers, listened to the band, talked shop, and had a glass of wine to celebrate my PR and unwind. I was a bit sad to think that my weekend was basically over, save for the cheering on at the half marathon I planned on doing the next day! But the next day was just as great as the rest of the weekend – stay tuned for the final day recap, coming soon!

Shoe Review: Altra Paradigm 2.0

As an Ambassador for the Runner’s World Half & Festival, I was lucky enough to be introduced to Altra Running, the main sponsor for the whole weekend. Golden Harper, the founder of the company, was involved with our ambassadorship from the very beginning, even hosting a Facebook Live chat to help us learn about what Altras would work best for us.

I’m always scared to try new shoes with my history of injuries. But right before the RW Weekend, even my old faithful Brooks had turned on me, so I was open to try anything. Between a nagging plantar fasciitis flare up and shooting pains & numbness just 3-4 miles into my last long run before Rock n Roll Brooklyn (then again, heartbreakingly, on race day), my feet were not happy and I was ready for a change.

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Given my preferences for the cushy Brooks Transcend, Ravennas, and Asics Kayanos, Golden recommended I try the Paradigm 2.0 and hooked me up with a pair, and I won’t make you wait any longer for the big reveal: I freakin LOVE them.

I started out in a 9, my usual size, but quickly realized they were too small and swapped out for the 9.5, which fit great. They do say that you should go at least a half size up in Altras, and Golden even says I should go up to a 10 (!!) but I haven’t tried them yet because I refuse to get out of the 9.5’s.

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Seriously, I’ve worn them almost every single day this week.

I wasn’t planning on wearing them to race because they say you shouldn’t race in shoes you haven’t run in before, so I wore them for the first time Friday for our November Project workout and the rest of our crazy day. It was like a miracle: no pain whatsoever. Just one day earlier I took my last pre-race run in Asics Kayanos and felt the numbness and shooting pains around mile 2, but 24 hours later I spent nearly 8 hours and 6 miles of working out, jogging, and walking in the Altras with zero pain.

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The key is in a few different features unique to Altra: the footshape toe box and the zero drop construction. Basically, the shoes are shaped like your foot (giving your toes room to breathe and move naturally), and the toes and heel are equidistant from the ground, unlike other brands where your heel is higher and the front of your foot takes more unnecessary stress. There’s a lot more science and actual FACTS to back this all up here.

After going back and forth on what to run the Five & Dime in, I decided at the last minute on race morning to wear the Altras – and I was not disappointed. I set out in the 5K simply to enjoy the scenery, take it slow and baby my foot. But when I finished and realized how good I felt, I decided to push a little harder in the 10K and unexpectedly PR’d, even with the hills on the course!

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When I crossed the finish line and realized what I’d done – AND realized my feet still felt brand new with no pains whatsoever – I was so happy I could have cried. Finally I found a shoe that didn’t put any pressure on the sensitive parts of my feet, my knees felt fantastic,  and if I’m being honest, I think they’re really freakin cute, too!

Fun Fact: after I crossed the finish line, I ran into the expo and found Golden, gushing to him about how happy I was in these shoes. He was so thrilled, and recommended that I get the 10’s instead to be even happier. I said OK and agreed to bring the 9.5’s back the next day and he’d have a pair of 10’s sent out to me later in the week. But when I wore my spare Asics to the expo the next day and my foot started going numb just an hour into the day, I swapped back into my Altras in the middle of spectating the half marathon (literally, took my shoes off on the side of the finish line) and told Golden I was sorry but he’d have to knock me out to get these Altras off my feet. I’ll buy a new pair when these quit but in the meantime, I don’t want to go one day without them!

I’m so excited to run now, knowing that I won’t have to worry about that creeping pain or numbness. I ran energized and happy the whole 9+ miles that day, and every run since has been smooth and pain free. I even ran 7 hilly miles this morning in them, completely blowing my expected pace out of the water and falling in love with running all over again.

Fun Fact #2: I’m already eyeing an old pair of the 1.5’s to match my Rebel Challenge costume (how can I not when they come in the perfect shade of BB-8 Orange???)

Once I started talking about them on social, I’m hearing from lots of other folks who love their Altras, so let’s hear it – have you tried them? What did you think? Would you ever give them a shot if you haven’t already? 

Runners World Half & Festival Recap: Day 2

When we last left off I had crashed after a whirlwind of Runner’s World fun at the unofficial RW Half & Festival Opening Ceremonies, and was getting ready for another busy day. After a good solid night’s sleep in a super comfy bed (those Comfort Suites people know what’s up), I woke up at 5am, had a little breakfast and met up with the rest of the Ambassadors and our PR leader Beachy for a jog to the Steel Stacks where we’d meet up with Brogan Graham, one of the founders of the November Project, for a pop-up NP workout followed by breakfast, meet & greet, and book signing.

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I was a little nervous: it would be a “group” jog to the Steel Stacks less than a mile away, but I worried I’d be the slowest at the back of the pack, making everyone resentful at how slow they had to go so I could keep up.

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But as it usually is, all the worry was for nothing, because we took off down the sidewalk outside the hotel in a tight little pack, laughing and chatting while Ty led the way with his Run Lites and I entertained us with some Jay-Z and Drake on my iPhone.

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thanks for taking a MUCH better pic than I could manage, Amy!

When we arrived at the workout, Brogan was already there with his booming voice and gigantic arms giving out hugs and welcoming folks, and I was starstruck. If you haven’t heard of the November Project, go get yourself educated ASAP – and if there’s an NP tribe in your area, check them out!

We started right at 6:29AM with a group shouting and jumping session, went right into a ridiculous warm up where we ran up about thirty thousand steps to the top of the Steel Stacks, across the span of the whole factory then back down, then split up into lines for drills of skipping, sprinting, and more – one round even had us do a somersault and I DID ONE! Crazy what you’ll do when a 6’7″ guy in man capris and a denim vest tells you to do it.

Next we were told to grab the hands of two folks near us to form a team of 3 for the workout: 4 stations where we broke up each exercise and took turns, with one of us taking the stairs each turn. Mike, Jorge and I KILLED it, if I say so myself.

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After that, the “cool down” was one more lap up the stairs, across the span of the Steel Stacks, and back down through a human tunnel which I will admit gave me goosebumps. It was surreal running with a pack of like-minded folks, laughing and sweating as the sun came up, and cheering each other on through some super challenging moments.

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Photo Credit: Brogan Graham

After our group pic, Mr. Yasso himself (who had done the workout with us!) wandered by as I was taking a selfie and wanted one with us. Then Ty saw the shot and wanted in on the action. We runners are a selfie-loving bunch of folks I tell ya.

We were herded into the Arts Quest building where the Expo was about to start, and they had a nice little breakfast spread and coffee, glorious coffee, for us to warm up with while Brogan told us about NP and his new book.

After breakfast, we were treated to a behind the scenes look at Altra from the founder himself, Golden Harper. This guy is passionate about what he does, and what he does is keep people running happy and healthy with his shoes. He created the first pair of Altras in a toaster oven, for crying out loud.

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He had some interesting stuff to say about what makes Altras a smart choice, backed up with a LOT of science and research. That’s all well and good, but what mattered was the fact that I’d been wearing them all morning and had yet to experience any foot pain at all. After my disastrous showing at RnR Brooklyn the previous week and some touch-n-go runs the week after the half before RW weekend, I was scared of the foot pain I had, to put it lightly. And the Altras made it all better. I’ll write a full post about them later for sure!

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::heart eyes::

Once Golden finished with the presentation we were split up into groups for personalized running analysis from Golden himself and more Altralympics fun: a magazine scavenger hunt!

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Let’s just say it’s a good thing Ty was killing it on social media, because neither of us broke any records finding the stuff we were supposed to be searching for in these magazines!

Next we were ushered outside for the final Altralympics game: an egg/spoon race that, with Ty’s expert guidance, I WON. WHILE BLINDFOLDED. Not like I’m bragging or anything. But I am the best. Ever. If you stare directly into my awesome I am not responsible for any cornea damage that may occur.

[no photos exist of the egg race because I was blindfolded and too busy WINNING to take pictures.]

After the race, Dean Karnazes just came wandering up on the grass – it turns out he was going to be our next celebrity encounter at lunch, and he was early. NBD.

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Oh hey, Dean. Did you hear I just won the egg race? It’s so nice to meet a fellow celebrity. Fame is exhausting isn’t it? Where are you going?

We all walked over to lunch with Dean where the folks at Wild Planet had prepared a fantastic little appetizer course (the Tuna, Feta, and Quinoa salad was the BOMB). For a main course they had prepared a spread from Run Fast, Eat Slow, and I won’t lie to you: I went up for thirds of the mango avocado salsa.

PS: my stomach just growled looking at these pics again.

After we ate, Dean Karnazes did a little talk about his book and offered to stick around and sign our copies before he planned on running TO the trail race set to start in about an hour (consummate professional, this guy), and I was slightly starstruck as you can see in the pic we snapped:

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Not pictured: the fact that I may have peed a little in excitement, like a small chihuahua.

At this point, some ambassadors had to break off to head to the Trail Run (which I had opted out of simply because I am the klutziest klutz to ever klutz and I imagine that Runner’s World’s insurance policy only covers so many broken teeth.

After wishing our fellow ambassadors good luck, Ryan of Real Ryan Run and I wandered through the expo for a bit to pick up our bibs, say hey to the awesome sponsors, and get taped up by the Tape Angels at the KT Tape booth.

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Andrew, my KT Tape Angel. He was flattered. I swear.

After the expo, Ryan and I made plans to meet up the next morning to walk to the start of the Five & Dime together and parted ways. By the time I made it back to my hotel room, I was exhausted. I had plans later on that night to meet up with my friend Arun and his gf Erin, so I showered up, caught a quick nap, and headed out for our delicious dinner at Fegley’s (try the beer cheese and Bavarian pretzels).

Much like the day before, once I got back to the hotel at the end of the day, I crashed HARD. The next day was going to be just as crazy – AND I had to run 9 miles! I was scared but happy – if my feet held out, they held out, and if not, I’d walk. I wasn’t gunning for a PR or anything (she said, completely oblivious as to what was about to go down in 12 hours).

Stay tuned for Day 3!

Runners World Half & Festival Recap: Day 1

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you’ve probably noticed I’ve been ALLLLL over the place with the great stuff happening at the Runner’s World Half & Festival this past week – but now that I’ve finally got some time, I’m so excited to recap everything for you! Let’s start from the beginning and take it one day at a time, shall we?

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Back in August I was asked to be an Ambassador for the Runner’s World Half & Festival, and I’m not going to lie: I thought they’d made a mistake by asking me. The other bloggers and ambassadors were SO much more well known! I’d already been following all of them in some form or another, and couldn’t believe I had the good fortune to get selected. So after geeking out for pretty much the entire two months leading up to the weekend, I found myself loading up my car and heading out to Bethlehem, PA on the Thursday before everything went down.

After I got into my hotel room I squealed at myself in the mirror for about an hour and dove into the ridiculous goodie bag the sponsors dropped off. Seriously, it was like the Oscars Gift Bag of Running: Balega, KT Tape, White Claw Hard Seltzer, Krave Jerky, Cal-Ez, Real Time Pain Relief… craziness.

At around 5 we all met down in the lobby for the first time and I nailed my first interaction with a famous blogger: when Jason Saltmarsh of Saltmarsh Running introduced himself to me, the conversation went something like this:

Jason: Hi, are you here for the Runners World thing?

Me: Yes, hi!

Jason: Hi, I’m Jason Saltmarsh, from Saltmarsh Running… ::extends hand in normal person handshake::

Me: ::floundering and stuttering, thrusting clammy claw-like hand at him:: gah yes! Hi! Jason, yes! ::shakes hand and nods during awkward silence before realizing this is where I introduce myself:: Ahh, this is Jess! ::points at self:: Jess runs happy! I’m on instagram mostly…

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basically me

To his credit, he did not laugh at me (thank you, Salty) – in fact, just the opposite happened. Because he is one of the kindest, most encouraging folks I’ve ever met, just like the rest of the gang that soon joined us in the lobby for the party bus ride to Runner’s World HQ in Emmaus:

These folks are seriously amazing. We all had such a blast together. If you haven’t heard of them, you must go follow them all, immediately, on every social channel they’ve got. Go ahead. I’ll wait. I’m just hanging out with my tea at Starbucks… OK.

So after a round of introductions, we all piled into a sweet party bus for the 15 minute drive out to RW, during which I got to chat with Hollie up there. A fellow NJ runner, she and I bonded over our love of Jersey diners, chatted about local races, bonded over our recent injuries, and more. It was so fun to talk with someone I’ve followed on social media for a while and discover that we have so much in common (i.e. our love of sweet things follows roughly the same order: buttercream > whipped cream > caramel, and butterscotch ranks in there somewhere too).

Once we got to Runner’s World HQ, I won’t lie: things started happening FAST and I legit had to pinch myself a few times. Bart [FREAKING] Yasso came out to meet us outside the bus, showed us the garden that the RW folks grew right outside the building, and led us into the building, Willy-Wonka-style, to a dining room where a BBQ buffet had been set up and about 30 Runners World staff members were there to greet us.

They assigned us to tables with our ambassador partners and placed a few editors and staff members at each table too, so while we ate we chatted with folks like Reporter Kit Fox and Editor-in-Chief David Willey. And the Wassner twins were right next to me too! Full disclosure: I was starving, but I did not eat very much. You try looking cool eating a burger the size of your face in front of world class athletes and the editor in chief of Runner’s Freaking World. Go on, I dare you! I guarantee you’re going to be staring, starstruck, as these folks chat nonchalantly about how to balance real life with training for and winning international events, all while your burger goes cold.

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Having said that, I DID eat the whole burger. It was incredibly delicious. I also had a brownie and a lot of White Claw Hard Seltzer to take the edge off. It worked.

For the weekend, we were paired off into teams of two for what they called the Altralympics: a weekend-long competition sponsored by the main event sponsor Altra Running, where we would complete challenges to earn points towards a grand prize pack. I had the great fortune to be paired with social media guru Ty from Seeking Boston Marathon  who had already been killing it online. Ty, if you’re reading this, THANK YOU.

Our first official game in the Altralympics was a Flag Contest: in this tumultuous political scene, the idea of seceding from the union is all too enticing, so we were tasked with creating our own countries, complete with a flag and a motto – in 20 minutes. Ty quickly found a quiet spot to brainstorm while I grabbed tape, construction paper, glue and scissors. Clearly our teamwork skills were already ON FIRE.

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the artist at work. paper, marker and glue, 2016.

Starting with the idea of a running utopia, we began tossing out the things our new country stood for. Unable to move off the idea of running for donuts and wine, I tried out a few versions of a motto and after Ty tweaked a few words, a lightbulb literally went off over our heads; thus, our beautiful nation was born. The idea of the blue & yellow Boston colors and the stripes was mine, while Ty figured out the 4-image quadrant in place of a sea of stars, and down to the last minute we worked furiously gluing and cutting washi tape into donut sprinkles. Once time was called we all got to present our countries to the applause and laughter of the RW staff and our fellow ambassadors:

There were lots of laughs: namely over the sucking up almost every team decided to do by including Bart Yasso somehow in the name or motto of their country. Finally, Ty and I presented our creation: Runtopia, where We Count Miles, Not Calories.

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Not ashamed to admit that flag is hanging proudly in my home office right now.

After our country presentations, Bart Yasso himself took us on a private tour of Runner’s World Headquarters, and he delivered with a personal touch. He’s like the great laid-back uncle you wish you had.

Every corner we turned, he had a funny anecdote to share about this person’s working habits or that department’s history. It was one of those moments in life where you find yourself in the middle of it, telling yourself, “Remember every second of this, it’s truly incredible.”

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Where the magazine is built, page-by-page, each month.

After our tour, the bus took us back to the hotel where I called my mother and squealed for 15 minutes about everything being so cool, called my husband and squealed all the same stuff to him, laid out my flat runner for the following morning’s 5AM wakeup call, and passed out HARD.

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I fell asleep smiling and reliving all of the craziness that had happened in the previous 6 hours, completely oblivious to just how great the next few days were going to be.

Stay tuned for Day 2!

Things are Happening…!

Yesterday, Hopper reminded me that prices on flights to LA were dropping, which means that the Star Wars Rebel Challenge is coming up FAST. As in, under 100 days fast:

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And that was yesterday! We’re at 98 today!

When I saw the countdown up there, I promptly reacted like this:

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My outfit is ready, I’m researching hotels, reading blog recaps by other runners, and saving money to spend on every little piece of Star Wars running-related crap my heart desires. I’m all ready! But wait… I’m running almost 20 miles over two days when I get there.

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Kinda forgot about that part.

Now, this isn’t some impossible task – I’ve run a lot of miles in my day. But doing two races back to back is something I need to train for. And I will! I just have to be careful in how I build up my mileage, because it’s official: I’ve got plantar fasciitis.

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In the grand scheme of things, plantar fasciitis is probably the one injury that I’m OK with having. It’s not SO terrible that I cannot walk normally. I can kind of run with it. Hell, it actually doesn’t hurt much WHILE I’m running. And after rolling and stretching and icing and doing all the good things for the past 24 hours, it feels enormously better than it did Sunday and Monday.

But it’s still there, and I don’t want to make it worse by injuring something else with the undoubtedly altered gait I’ll probably adopt from running a suicide pace with a bum foot for 13 miles.

On one hand: yay! Finally a name for the pain that’s been bugging me for weeks, if not months! On the other: boo. Another f*cking injury to deal with. 5 days before the RnR Brooklyn Half Marathon! And two weeks before the RW Half Festival where I’m set to run the 5K and 10K in one morning!!

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I know. I’ve got to be smart. Listen to my body. I’ve heard all the things. And I’m doing them. Icing. Stretching. Resting. Hell, I’ve downgraded my PR attempt at RnR Brooklyn this week to a “just finish”. I’m not happy about it, but it is what it is. I’m no longer the type of runner to push through the pain, injury be damned, get that PR no matter what. I used to be. I wish I still was.

But I also want to be able to RUN the Rebel Challenge in January. So that means I’ve got to alter my running plans slightly on the fly and be smart about not further injuring myself.

So that’s where I’m at. Saturday I will run the RnR Brooklyn Half with a smile, walk when I need to, finish, and be happy with my time no matter what it is. Because even though I’ve dealt with injuries and setbacks, I worked hard to get here and I’m not going to let an achy foot put a damper on that.

One More Tri 2016 Recap

I’ll admit: I had no intentions of participating in the One More Tri triathlon this year. After a pretty miserable experience last year (almost entirely of my OWN doing, mind you), I wrote off the sport of triathlon as a fun distraction from my usual running and that was that. But when Jeanene Leppert, the Special Events Director of Special Olympics New Jersey, reached out to tell me about the positive changes they’d made to the race and invited me to this year’s event, how could I say no?

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There’s Jeanene: one of the sweetest, most hard working women I know!

To keep things low-key, I registered for the Super Sprint distance; knowing I’d be smack in the middle of half marathon training, I didn’t want to push too hard and this .1 mile swim, 6 mile bike, and 1.5 mile run was just the right effort. It worked out even better because I ran a solid 11+ miles the day before, my longest run since May, and I was tired!

On Sunday morning I packed up the bike and headed down to Asbury with Mike, arriving with plenty of time to check in, get my packet (and a BIG hug from Jeanene!), set up in transition, and go wait in the car while the temps rose from a chilly 49 degrees!!

Once the sun came up it got warmer, and we made our way to the boardwalk for race announcements, the national anthem and the reciting of the Special Olympics motto: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” And that’s when I was reminded why I was SO happy to do this event again: being able to compete alongside Special Olympics athletes is a true honor. No matter how rough the water is, how strong the winds are, and how hard it is to keep running on tired legs, the fact that I get to take on all these challenges with these inspirational folks by my side is one that I will never not be moved by.

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As we marched to the beach for our swim start, we were informed that the swim portion had been shortened for everyone due to the rocky surf. Seeing the crazy waves the day before during my long run I figured as much, and we all clustered on the sand to keep warm after shedding our layers. It wasn’t long before our wave – the last wave, of course! – was next, and I laughed with some of my fellow Super Sprinters as we calmed each other’s nerves and passed the time. One woman had us roaring about how we should just “go to Waffle House – we’ve got the shirts already!”

After just a few more minutes, our gun went off and we ran into the water (which was almost 20 degrees warmer than the air!) and quickly discovered that the “swim” turned out to be a “fight for 35M through the waves and walk to the lifeguard who keeps getting knocked over”.

It was BRUTAL! I’ve never felt the surge pull me back so strongly – once one wave crashed over us, the current pulled my legs from under me and I had to fight to stay upright. After a few minutes of walking through the waves – and laughing and screaming – we made it to about 5 feet from the lifeguard. While the goal was to go around him, it was like running into a brick wall when each new wave pounded us! I laughed the whole time, and finally when a wave pushed me out, I grabbed onto the lifeguard’s shoulder to keep from getting swept out, rounded him and promptly got swept right up onto the shoulders of the guy in front of me, who got pushed into the girl in front of him, and so on! After apologizing and laughing, (“Thanks for the ride!”), the water calmed down enough for us to make a break for the shore again, and I ran. It was TOUGH. My legs burned from running against the strong current & jumping over waves, but I finally made it out.

The run back from the water to T1 was long – I’d estimate about a quarter of a mile or so, mostly on sand – but when the course is lined with volunteers and spectators cheering you on it’s hard NOT to feel awesome. Once I got into transition I rinsed my feet off, tossed my sneakers on & ran out with my bike. The volunteers were super organized, pointing me in the right direction with clear instructions and lots of encouragement, and I jumped on the bike in no time, speeding off for one loop of 6 miles.

There was a headwind for the first 3 miles out, but the course was clearly marked and filled with volunteers pointing us in the right direction (and police blocking traffic for us, thanks guys!). As I turned back at mile 3 and took a gel, I couldn’t help but smile and notice the absence of blue bibs around me. There weren’t that many folks in the Super Sprint wave at the swim, I wonder if I could Age Group place?? That was enough to make me pick up my pace and push for a bike finish of 26:10.

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After Mike snapped me bringing my bike in, I tossed my helmet off and headed onto the boardwalk for the 1.5 mile run, going slowly. My legs were now pretty shredded from the ocean, sand, and bike, but as I made it to the boards I fell into a rhythm and kept pace at a surprisingly fast 10:30. I’m just always faster when I bike!

It was on the boardwalk that I realized just how good my chances were to place – I saw only a few other blue bibs around me, and none were in my age group. The volunteers on the run course were phenomenal – SO many more this year than last year, and their enthusiasm was contagious. Once I got to the turnaround ahead of the full distance folks and headed back for the finish, I picked up the pace and couldn’t stop smiling over what a completely different, positive experience I had this year compared to last year!. When I spotted the folks at the finish line I broke into a sprint and crossed in 15:23 (a 10:15/mile pace!) and a total time of 51:41.

And of course I burst into happy tears when the little 5 or 6 year old Special Olympics rep placed my medal around my neck and gave me a high five, because that’s what I do.

After finding Mike and celebrating with him on a great finish, we wandered to the food tent where they had a CRAZY spread of amazing food – sandwiches, muffins, kale salads, Girl Scout cookies, donuts, recovery shakes, iced tea… you name it, you got it!

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::Liz Lemon voice:: I want to go to there…

After eating and sitting for a bit, we hung around for the awards and cheered on as the winners were announced in all divisions. It was so fun seeing everyone get recognition for their hard work. But the biggest shock of all came when they announced the Top Three Super Sprint Female Winners – and I placed THIRD OVERALL!

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Seriously, you could have knocked me over with a feather. Standing nearby helping organize medals and presenters, Jeanene screamed and grabbed me for a huge hug when she heard my name, and I went up to the podium for my first ever Overall medal!

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I was so stoked – sure, it’s really a numbers game when the field of participants is that small, but I still came in 11th overall in the Super Sprint, and 2nd in my AG too! I’ll take it!

Needless to say, this race is now a Must-Do for me every year. The Super Sprint distance the perfect way to challenge myself while not interfering with my half marathon training, and I can definitely see myself doing this one again next year – maybe I’ll see you too?😉

Running is the Worst (and the Best)

Depending on my latest run, I’ve noticed that I flip flop between calling running the best and THE WORST thing in the world.

It [sometimes] costs a lot.

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I love when people say “running is such a cheap sport”! Sure, all you really need is sneakers and your legs, buuuuuut…. sometimes those sneakers can cost $100+. And then you can’t run without knowing how fast you’re going, right? So add on a GPS watch or smartphone with tracking apps. Then there’s the cute tech fabric gear that makes it so much more comfortable (why oh WHY do the cutest Nike tights have to be $100+??). And when you race, it adds up even more! Registration fees, travel costs, parking, etc… I’d get a part time job to pay for all this running if I weren’t spending all of my free time running. Which reminds me…

It’s time consuming!

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Granted, this is more for distance runners or folks who are training for a half or full, but sometimes running takes up a LOT of time! When I’m in the thick of training, I can spend basically a whole day preparing for, running, and recovering from a long run of 2+ hours. It’s kind of a drag. Also…

It’s physically uncomfortable.

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It may seem obvious, but let’s face it: running is not easy. I mean, we can call something an “easy” pace, and yes, some paces are easier to maintain than others, but putting one foot in front of the other at an accelerated rate, jiggling everywhere, pushing yourself forward, sweating, chafing, grinding away under the hot sun or in freezing wind – none of that is comfortable.

But even though it’s expensive and it hurts and it’s super time consuming, we KEEP DOING IT. Why?

It’s cheaper than therapy.

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I’m not going to lie – if I didn’t get to work my issues out in my head while logging my miles, I’d look like Miss Owl up there. Running is my time to analyze, process, and sort through everything bouncing around in my head on a daily basis, and without it I might go batty. But while running alone is good for the soul, running WITH people is sometimes even better, because…

It connects you with amazing people.

I used to be a strict loner. At the back of the pack I trudged along because I was ashamed of my pace, didn’t want to slow others down, and spent probably more time in my head than was healthy. Then I discovered the joys of running with other people, and haven’t looked back. It’s one thing to be friendly, but runners are a whole other breed, and I love them. I’ve never met a more supportive bunch of people, and am endlessly grateful to running for bringing such amazing folks into my life. Alongside some of these people, I’ve logged miles and crossed finish lines and done things I never thought possible, which leads to my favorite reason why running is the best:

It helps make dreams come true!

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I know, I know… it’s supremely cheesy. But it’s true! If you told me 10 years ago that I’d lose a  bunch of weight, run these amazing races, win awards, work with brands I love, and eventually take on the NYC Marathon in 2017, I would have called you a liar. But running has made all that possible. And I wouldn’t trade it all for the world.

How about you: why do you think running is the worst – or the best?