Star Wars Dark Side Challenge Recap: Half Marathon

With the 10K complete (and another day of Florida fun under our belts), mama and I got back to the hotel on Saturday night and found this fun voicemail on our room phone:

Gotta love that Disney touch 🙂

The next morning we woke up nice and early – 2:30am again! – and after putting on Flat Vader, I headed out for the Dark Side Half Marathon and the completion of the Kessel Run Challenge and Disney’s Coast to Coast Challenge!

The same bus ride as the day before took us to the same Start location, but instead of doing any character photos, I hung out near the stage area and watched the pre-race show (and almost got picked for the trivia contest but chickened out)! The best part was getting to see The Last Jedi trailer on the big screen with everyone, and admiring the insane costumes some people were running in.

That’s a Millennium Falcon in Mickey ears, a SUPER REALISTIC Krennic (hubba hubba), a Dark Helmet, and yes… a George Lucas (I stole the pic from Disney’s website, it’s too perfect). 

My friend Lizzie was running the half with her uncle, so we met up and headed over to the Corrals, where we chatted and waited for a final bathroom break, then went our separate ways. While waiting to start in Corral E, I managed to get some video of the fun psych up speech the Stormtroopers gave every morning about these races being a test for Captain Phasma to find the best soldiers and it gave me a little giggle.

Another fun thing I caught was the HUGE fireworks display they set off at the very start – Disney really pulls out all the stops for these things!

After corrals A-D and E1 went off, one of the coolest things happened: the corral was cut in half RIGHT in front of me and I was one of the folks that got to hold the start ribbon!!

Me and the folks around me were losing our minds – how cool was it to START our corral? It was an awesome experience to be the very first people to start, and gave me a taste of what the elites must feel (although they probably don’t selfie NEARLY as much when it happens to them):

When the gun went off and the fireworks shot off over our heads, I ran through some ash from the firework and laughed the whole first 100 yards – we felt like we were in the Olympics all by ourselves up there! I had to calm myself though: no sense in going out at an 8 minute mile when I still had 12.1 more to go.

The first 3-4 miles in the dark were on the highway and in back roads between parks, and almost immediately I noticed a difference from the 10K. They had more music on the course, screens playing the movies, and one section where they laid out a crazy laser light show along a stretch of about 100 yards between forest on either side, complete with big speakers playing music and background noises and Ewok battle cries to simulate the battle on Endor! I loved it, even if I did get blinded by a few rogue lasers.

By about Mile 5, the sun started coming up, but thankfully, it stayed behind the clouds. It was a true blessing:  with the sun hidden, it stayed relatively cool, even though the humidity was still around 90%, even at 7am.

In addition to a few character stops that I didn’t bother making, I got to see another fun piece of Disney magic around mile 6: a real live elephant! I didn’t get a picture, but apparently the Animal Kingdom park has an elephant care and rehab facility where they treat the animals, and one was hanging out watching us run! I know there’s some controversy around the fact that these guys are even there at all, but I had to laugh at how random it was to find an elephant on my half marathon course. Only in Disney.

After the Animal Kingdom we headed back out on the highway for mile 7 on, and my stomach was starting to get a little wonky. So I stopped at a medical tent for some Immodium (just keeping it real, folks), and headed back out for the final 5-6 miles feeling much better.

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The view of the rest of the crowd behind me from an overpass we ran under then over.

One of the last character stops I made was partially for the character and partially just so I could get a break from running in the humidity! Darth Maul was never really a *must have* for me, but I turned out to really enjoy this guy. The cast members managing his line led him off for a break right before I got to meet him, so I was “first” in line again. The one cast member thought the line deserved a photo, so she snapped one. And when she showed me, I HAD to have it. But as I was giving her my cell # to text it to me, Darth Maul came back and had to wait for me to finish chatting. He was not pleased. Either that or that’s just his face. Either way, it made for some funny photos:

After Darth Maul, we ran through Hollywood Studios and I managed to get a fun picture with my squad, along with some nice runfies and shots of the scenery:

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While I had gone easy for most of the first 10 miles, I ran the last 1-2 miles feeling strong.

It was the same route we ran the day before so we got to pass the Dolphin and Swan resorts before entering Epcot for the final stretch (and I got to see Hux again! What’s up, General Bitchface Weasley?!)

Bonus: as we went through the Boardwalk, I found Denny of the Diz Runs podcast spectating at mile 11 (he’s at the far right in a red shirt below)!! Seeing a friendly face and giving him a big ol’ sweaty hug was just the boost I needed to get me to the finish.

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As if Mother Nature knew we were almost done, the sun came out FULL force as we rounded the corner into Epcot.

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Having to run the final mile in full sun was brutal, but the view was nice and knowing we only had a mile left made me run stronger than ever.

After learning that the finish line was just on the other side of Spaceship Earth during the 10K, that big metal ball was a sight for sore eyes.

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Sore, sweaty, exhausted eyes.

I gunned it and made it through the finish with a big ol’ smile – I had completed the challenge!

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After getting a cold towel and my medal (and a bottle of water that I was instructed to have OPEN as I passed through the finisher’s chute, thanks to a bunch of attentive medical volunteers), I was directed to the challenge tents where I picked up the bling that made me want to do this whole thing: my Dark Side Challenge medal, Kessel Run Challenge medal and Coast to Coast Challenge medal.

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I won’t lie: I cried when the volunteer put the last medal around my neck. She hugged me and said “Oh, bless you! Congratulations!” and I couldn’t pull it together. These medals were more than just pieces of metal; they were the culmination of a LOT of hard work, travel, and time, and they were finally mine. A fun side effect of all that bling: the music they made when we walked around the finish area:

After a quick stop at the medical tent to ice my sore calf (no big deal, just tenderness), I hung out and waited for one last picture with Kylo Ren (again with my awkwardness), and called it a day.

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Stay tuned for the final recap where I head into the parks and round up both Disney experiences in one last post!

Star Wars Dark Side Challenge Recap: Expo & Pre-Race Fun

Oye I promise I haven’t fallen off a cliff – I’ve just been super busy with a new exciting role at work and other life-related fun. But now that I have some time, I’m going to start my recaps for the Star Wars Dark Side Challenge! Let’s kick it off with the expo and pre-race fun!

For this race-cation, my husband opted to stay home and let the girls off the leash for a weekend – that’s right, Mama and I took on Florida in a big way. The flight was excellent (any day that starts with a mimosa that’s 95% champers is a good day) and we landed, picked up our rental car, and arrived at the All Star Movies Resort ready to take on the world.

Our first order of business was to get to the Expo to pick up my bib and ALL THE MERCH. After dumping our luggage and grabbing a snack, we hopped on a bus to the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex where everything was located, and found it to be super easy to navigate. We even made friends with a gentleman and his tween son on the bus – dad Paul was completing the Kessel Run Challenge like me and his son Avery was taking on his first Disney race. We had a good time talking Star Wars and racing while my mom shook her head, saying “you people are all insane but it’s great!”

Speaking of insane, the Expo was B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

After picking up my bib, getting my photo snapped for the Dark Side Challenge, and earning some bracelets that noted my Coast to Coast and Kessel Run medal status for the end of the half, we stopped at the merch tents at the bib pickup building and the expo building (they were about 100 feet apart). After snagging a few things at the expo, I stopped by the Altra booth to say hey to my people there, and hightailed it out of the building. I was going on 14+ hours of nonstop action and needed a break.

Seriously, I posed with EVERY SIGN THEY HAD. I couldn’t help it. I was on Star Wars overload!

When we got back to the hotel at about 7pm, we were wiped out, but we still had to explore the hotel – and lo and behold, we discovered that they were playing a movie in the outdoor Movie Room by the pool!

The crisis of joy continued as I got to watch The Force Awakens while tooling around on social media and planning my race strategy for the 10k/half marathon to come in just a little more than 24 hours!

After the movie, we wandered to the pool for a bit, grabbed some dinner, split a Celebration Cupcake (because: CUPCAKE), and called it a night.

The next day was blissfully free of any plans, so we literally did nothing.

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No, for real, we really didn’t do anything but wake up when the hell we felt like it, ate breakfast, sat by the pool from about 7 hours, wandered around our hotel and made friends, and then went to bed again. It was GLORIOUS.

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The best part of our day was after dinner: in the hotel lobby, we stumbled upon a couple of women who were laughing their asses off at these screens hanging in the hall. See, we’d seen my name on one before, and wondered if it was just a coincidence. But these sassy ladies cracked the code: there were apparently sensors that read our Magic Bands (bracelets coded with our info that let us buy things all over Disney and get into our rooms), which then displayed our names on the screens. Krin and Julia realized that if they walked slowly past certain areas, it triggered their names to appear on the screens, which they demonstrated for us about a half dozen times, much to our mutual delight.

Seriously, we were laughing so hard I had to use the bathroom. It must have been the Disney Magic they pump through the air vents 😉 IMG_6994.JPG

After we got our cardio in by laughing with our new friends, we took a slow walk around the resort property and snapped some pictures – it really was a nice place, even if it was a more “budget-friendly” option it was still Disney, so the quality is everywhere!

After a glass of wine by the pool after dark, we headed back to the room for Flat Phasma and an early bedtime! That 2:35AM wake up wasn’t going to get any easier.

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Stay tuned for Part II: the 10K!

Spring Racing Season

While my summer and fall racing schedule is pretty barren (for good reason), I also left my spring wide open to accommodate the Dark Side Challenge in April. After running the Rebel Challenge in Anaheim in January, I learned how much training and recovery time I need around a 19.3 mile race weekend and didn’t want to overload myself too much with NYC on the horizon.

But now that the spring is nearly here – and I’m feeling stronger than ever before – I’ve added a few races to my calendar that I’m excited to talk about now.

The NYRR UAE Healthy Kidney 10K – April 9

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Having run this one last year, I was looking forward to it but didn’t know when the timing would shake out. Last year it was in late May, but a schedule change this year means it falls in early April – conveniently on a day when I need to run 12 miles! So I’ll head in to run 6.2 on the race course then add another 6 miles with my medal to complete my long run. I’m looking forward to returning to racing in Central Park as I haven’t been since the Marathon Kickoff in October – bring on that hill training!

The Dark Side Challenge 10K and Half Marathon – April 22 & 23

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I’ll be posting more about the prep I’ve been doing for this weekend soon, but a Spring Racing Calendar list would be incomplete without it.

The Newport 10K – May 6

This one I’m super excited about: I’ve heard of this race before but it’s almost always around the same time as the Asbury Park and NJ Half Marathons, so I was never able to make it. But thanks to my newly cleared calendar, this year when race organizers reached out to see if I’d be interested in becoming an Official Blog Partner, I jumped at the opportunity. So now I’m stoked to be taking on the “fastest course in the Tri-State area” on Saturday, May 6th, along the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway!

Now, I don’t know how quickly I’ll recover from racing 19.3 miles 2 weeks earlier (in January it took me a good two weeks), but I may even gun for a new 10K PR here. Based on what they say about the course being fast and flat, it sounds like I’ve got a good shot at it, so fingers crossed!

Front Runners New York LGBT Pride Run 5M

After running this one last year not too long after the attack in Orlando, I vowed to add it to my “never miss” list. It was one of the most supportive, meaningful experiences I’ve had at a race, and I’ll never turn down the opportunity to show my Pride.

So far that about wraps it up for my upcoming races – how about you, what does your Spring Calendar look like? Have you ever run any of these races before? Sound off in the comments!

Running Like a Well-Oiled Machine

Forgive the pun-ny title, but I just couldn’t bring myself to come up with anything more creative to give you an update on how things have been going this past month.

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With the Dark Side Challenge about a month away, I’ve been keeping up with my training relatively well – only got sidelined with minor life-related issues twice so far, which isn’t too bad considering I never really stopped training after the Rebel Challenge in January. My weekly runs are hovering around the 11:00/mile pace and under, and even my long runs are strongly around 11:30ish.

Aside from running all the miles, I’ve also branched out this training cycle, and have tried things I never did before. Namely, taking a Barre class with my sis-in-law Meredith.

I’d heard of Barre before, and know that lots of celebrities swear by it – it was the kind of thing I read about and go “Hmm. That’s nice,” and move on. But when Mere suggested we try out a class at a shop not too far from where we both work, we went for it. And let me tell you – I now know why all those celebrities are in such good shape. Holy hell.

For those of you who haven’t tried this specific form of torture, it goes like this: you enter a small room lined with mirrors and a ballet barre with about 20 other women. A small, energetic woman then comes in, blasts music and starts barking orders that all the other women seem to already know, and you struggle – for the next 50 minutes – to keep up with these teeny tiny movements they’re doing with a tiny medicine ball, resistance bands, and a red yoga mat. You stand, you sit, you hover, you balance, you squat, you lunge, but here’s the kicker: all of these movements are done in TINY, TEENY INCREMENTS. At one point the instructor told us to “trace the outline of a quarter with your toes”.

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It doesn’t sound difficult, but I – and my fluttering, screaming thighs – assure you that it is extremely difficult. I specifically remember glancing over at Mere in the mirror at around the 15 minute mark, and we both looked like this guy at each other:

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It was intense.

BUT – having said that – we WILL be doing this again. It was an insanely good workout, and we both felt it help open up our hips and strengthen parts of our legs we never knew existed before. I’m all for trying new things, and this was no different!

Speaking of trying new things, I recently picked up a bunch of ice cream and snacks courtesy of the folks at Eat Enlightened – have you ever tried this stuff??

Their shtick is ice cream that’s low in sugar and higher in protein – think Halo Top – but it’s SO creamy and unbelievably delicious. I’ve already devoured the Peanut Butter Cup pint and gotten halfway through the Red Velvet, no shame in that game. They also sent me some of their Bean Crisps, which are a real game changer. I struggle with savory cravings and hate that my only options are chips or other semi-junk-y food that only take care of my taste buds but not my actual hunger. The crisps have 7g of protein per 100 calorie pack (!) and the flavors are awesome. In addition to the sea salt pack I already put away last night, they have sweet and savory flavors like wasabi, sweet cinnamon, sriracha, garlic & onion, and cocoa-dusted. Full disclosure, they sent me this stuff for free to review, but I’m not making it up when I say:  So much yum. 

How about you: How was your February? Have you tried Barre? Or Eat Enlightened snacks? Tell me all about it in the comments!

My 2017 Racing Schedule

2017 is shaping up to be pretty awesome, I’ll have you know! I know it was semi-official because I had run the 9 races and volunteered at 1 to earn my guaranteed entry through the NYRR’s 9+1 Program, but now that the applications have opened and I’ve paid the entry fees and received my confirmation email, I can officially say it:

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I’m running the 2017 NYC Marathon!

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I’m quite excited. Also terrified. But more excited than terrified. At least right now I am. Ask me again when I’ve got to run 16-18-20 milers in the dead of summer.

Things are going well post-Rebel Challenge. During my first workout back, the Wednesday after the half, a one mile run was easy-peasy. But when I jumped back on the treadmill after a bathroom break my knee was NOT having it. I took to the bike for another 7 miles instead, tried another mile after that, and still had pain. So I rested it for another 3 days and tried again Sunday. I already made peace with taking all the recovery time I need, and it paid off because Sunday’s run was de-licious.

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I felt a slight bit of pain in the first mile, but not as strong as I had Wednesday. I pushed through, focused on my form, and by mile 2.5 I was feeling unstoppable. I was able to negative split and even finished the final .5 at a 9:50/mile pace (!!!) without the knee pain when I was done. After a generous stretching and rolling session and more rest for the remainder of the day, I’m still pain free today. Safe to say my speed is back, my confidence is back, and I’m ready to take on what the rest of the year has in store for me!

Speaking of which…

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I also upgraded my Dark Side Half Marathon registration in Florida to the entire Dark Side Challenge! So once again, I’ll be taking on 19.3 miles, this time through Disney World! Also, Mike is tapping out and my mom will be accompanying me on this adventure instead, so we’ll even get a little girls’ weekend action in there as well. I can’t wait!

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Pictured: my mom and I and two new friends we’ll make in Disney, I guess.

With that news, though, comes a bit of a bummer as well: I’ve officially deferred my New Jersey Half Marathon entry from 2017 to 2018. The NJ Half is the Sunday after the Dark Side Challenge, and knowing now how my body recovers from 19.3 miles of racing + all the extra time walking in the parks, I’m not about to race back to back weekends and wreck my knees right before jumping into training for NYC. Some folks might be able to bounce back faster and are better conditioned to take on the challenge of racing back to back weekends, but I know my limits. So see ya in 2018, NJ Half – and hello, two runDisney Challenges in one year!

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Fun Fact: Doing both Star Wars Half Marathons in both parks in one year earns me this gorgeous bling: the Kessel Run Challenge Medal! How stinking fun is that?! I already know what my half costume is going to be, but I get to be a little more fun with the 10K… what to do, what to do…? ::insert evil laugh here::

How is your spring shaping up? Have you ever had to defer a race? 

I Promise I’m Still Here…

… although my lack of recent posts may lead you to believe otherwise!

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With the Rebel Challenge coming up in about 3 weeks (EEK!) I’ve been training relatively hard. In addition to the usual mileage, I’ve incorporated 2 or 3 boot camp classes each week at Bulldog Strength & Conditioning, and I’m noticing a difference already.

My long runs this training cycle have all been SUPER consistent, which is huge for me. In previous cycles my paces would vary wildly, but I’ve managed to stay solidly between 11:35-11:41/mile, and I’m thrilled with that. That will pay off in a big way when I hit the streets of Disney next month: knowing that I’ve got these paces in me when I’ll be stopping every mile or two for photo ops (and slowing my overall time down by doing so) boosts my confidence that I’ll be able to make up for lost time when I’m actually running.

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I also did something different this cycle: before each long run, I write out a list of people to dedicate each mile to. People I’ve lost, people who inspire me, people who mean something to me – every mile I focus on a new person to keep my mind sharp and to keep mental fatigue at bay. And it works! I’ve seen other folks do this and am glad I tried it. While it’s not a guarantee (in the last 2 miles of my 10 last weekend I still fell apart mentally), it definitely helps.

Also, the boot camp classes have been helping not just with my overall strength – i.e. it’s easier to carry groceries up the stairs – but with my endurance and my confidence too. Feeling strong is an empowering thing. And even though I’m not lifting as heavy or moving as fast as some of my classmates, they’re all super supportive. Plus, the instructors are the most helpful people I’ve ever worked with.

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Also, we sometimes have mimosas while power lifting. #mygymisthecoolest

In other news, we TRIED to do the Philly Ugly Sweater Run last weekend but Mother Nature decided to throw some ice, sleet, and snow at us (and didn’t wake up the plowing or salting guys) so after almost 2 hours of slipping and sliding on the roads to get there we decided it wasn’t worth crashing for and went out for breakfast instead. But only after posing for one super fun picture in the middle of the snow!

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We’ll have our OWN run instead this weekend, on Christmas Eve. And yes the outfits will be worn again. I can’t wait!

And of course because I can’t let one hour go by without talking about Star Wars, last Thursday, our company had its holiday party and I got to wear my Santa Yoda sweater, and then we went to an early showing of Rogue One later that night – it was fantastic! I won’t spoil anything here but if you’ve seen it and want to chat about it, PLEASE let me know. I think my husband is a little tired of me rolling over as we’re about to fall asleep with a new idea or theory or revelation after watching the film.

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And that about wraps it up for me! How is your holiday season going? Are you excited for the new year? Tell me all about it, let’s end 2016 on a high note!

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.

How to Prepare for a Half Marathon (or any race, really)

When I first started running I had NO idea what I was doing. I showed up way too early to my first 5K in a cotton tank top and shoes I bought because I liked the colors, I didn’t eat enough before the race, and I had a miserable time. Ask my husband: after that race, I said “I don’t think racing is for me.”

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Clearly, I AM A LYING LIAR WHO LIES.

Fast forward 6 years and here I am nearly 9 half marathons and countless 5Ks, 10Ks, and other distances later, and a lot smarter about how to prepare for race day. Whether you’ve run one race or 1,000, here are a few lessons I’ve learned that will hopefully help you get to the finish line with a smile:

1. Make a list

I am super Type A. I love order and planning and preparedness and lists. I will legit write something I’ve already done on my to-do list just to cross it off and get that feeling of accomplishment. Should I probably see someone about that? Perhaps. BUT, this character trait (flaw?) has served me well in my 6 years of racing, and it’ll help you too.

Make a list of everything you will possibly need for race day – and I mean EVERYTHING – like a week in advance, and start gathering it in one space like the dining room table or a box in the corner of the bedroom. Check the list often. And while you’ve probably got a handful of your own things that you know you’ll need on race day, here’s a list to get you started:

  • sneakers
  • socks (no cotton – spend the money on good running socks and your feet will thank you!)
  • top (tank, tee, longsleeve, layers, in tech fabrics – no cotton!)
  • sports bra
  • bottoms (capris, shorts, tights – same tech fabrics)
  • underwear (if you don’t run commando)
  • headband/hat/ponytail holder/bobby pins/any hair/head gear you usually need
  • headphones & music player (if your race allows them)
  • GPS watch or phone
  • anti-chafing gel or vaseline
  • lip balm
  • deodorant
  • sunblock
  • sunglasses
  • race belt
  • extra safety pins
  • fuel (Gu, energy gels, etc – 2x what you normally need just in case)
  • race number (if you already picked it up)
  • toss away water bottle
  • toss away top layer (if it’s going to be cold at the start)
  • garbage bag (if it’s rainy)
  • phone holder
  • any good luck charms or jewelry (I’ve always got to have my MARSOC Foundation bracelet and an inspirational wrap)
  • dry top & bottoms (and underthings) for post-race
  • flip flops or a second pair of sneakers & socks for post-race (because trust me, you will NOT want to put the ones you ran in back on after you take them off)

I love to lay out a Flat Runner the night before to keep track of all my gear and double check that I’m ready – and it helps to post on social media so that folks at the race know who to look for and can cheer you on in the comments, too!

2. Figure out your race day fuel plan early

Depending on your speed, fitness level, what your stomach can handle & what you prefer, race day fueling strategies vary from runner to runner. My best advice is to treat your long runs like race day and figure out what works for you by testing out your options every run.

It took me a while to perfect my plan, but on race morning I have a slice of whole wheat bread with chunky peanut butter and a banana, and half a cup of coffee. Then I’ll take a chocolate Honey Stinger gel about 10 minutes before the race start with a few sips of water. During the race I’ll drink water as I feel I need it (every 1-2 miles depending on the weather), and take a gel every 5 miles or 50-55 minutes with a cup of water. For some people that’s overkill, and for others it’s not enough.

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Not a wise choice: fueling entirely on Reeses. Although I’ve  never tried it…. brb, eating 5 lbs of Reeses and running a half marathon, will let you know how it goes.

It’s worth noting that I can’t take other gel brands – even other flavors of Honey Stinger! – without getting stomach cramps, so don’t give up on something if it doesn’t work the first time. I used to think that ALL gels gave me cramps, but after experimenting with different flavors and brands, I figured out what works for me and you will too.

3. Fuel your body right ahead of time

I’m the first to admit I’m not the best role model when it comes to food. I don’t deny myself wine and cake if I’m craving them, but I also do it all in moderation too. So what works for me might not work for you.

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And I love pizza. Did I mention pizza?

But the week before a race, I cut back on cheese and greasy foods and load up on water and carbs – not pasta twice a day every day, but just a little more than usual. And the night before a race my go-to meal is a serving or two of regular pasta with plain tomato sauce and simple grilled chicken.

Just like you should use your long runs to find day of fuel, treat the day before your longer runs like the day before a race: drink lots of water throughout the day, find a pre-race meal that keeps you satisfied and doesn’t weigh you down – and get PLENTY of sleep!

4. Pace yourself

This may seem like common sense, but for me – and many others that I’ve talked to about it – it bears repeating: throughout your training, be honest with yourself about your pace and know what to expect on race day. You can’t run at a solid 12:00/mile for most of your training and expect to run a sub-2 hour half.

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Not unless your name is Meb and you were phoning it in your ENTIRE training cycle. But I doubt you’d be reading this if you were.

It’s also easy to get caught up in the excitement of race morning and take off at an 7:30/mile pace with the folks around you at the sound of the gun, only to burn out like a tenth of a mile in because your usual pace is almost double that.

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This is important especially if you’re just starting out. In addition to your GPS watch or tracking app, whatever you prefer to run with to track your pace, they make these neat little wristbands or tattoos that you can wear on race day. They’re a great way to stay on target and save yourself a bunch of mental math out on the course. I’ve used them at a few of my races and really like them!

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5. Get there early, have fun and smile!

 

On race day, things get hectic very quickly. Plan to get to the start at least 45 minutes before you need to be there (or before your corral closes). It may seem like overkill, but the last thing you want to do is stress yourself out by running late. And once you’re there, remember that the hard part is over! You’ve already done all the work. Now you get to celebrate your hard work on the course with thousands of your fellow runners – and you’ll probably get a medal at the end of it!

Have fun, make small talk with the folks around you (if they want to), soak in the atmosphere, high five spectators on the course for extra energy (I pretend every high five is like a Super Mario Super Star), and enjoy the ride. Keep an eye out for photographers and throw up the devil horns or peace signs or wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care, and cross that finish line with a smile – you did it!

 

There’s plenty of stuff I’ve probably missed and could write more posts about, but do you have any other advice to add here? Let me hear it in the comments!

Jersey Girl Triathlon 2016 Recap

Since it’s been almost two damn months I figured I might as well get you a recap of the Jersey Girl Triathlon! When I did this event last year as my first ever triathlon, it was a great experience. The training and group meetings ahead of time were extremely helpful, the folks who manage the whole thing were great, and it was a perfect first time event. This time around, things were slightly different but in a variety of ways. Let’s jump right in.

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I signed up for this race with my running buddy and coworker Alex, who had just started dipping her toes into the triathlon world earlier in the summer and loved it. So we woke up bright and early and met as the sun was coming up over the Atlantic on a sticky, humid morning.

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When we got to transition we had a good laugh: I warned her as I set up my area that I’d brought my good luck towel, a Star Wars printed number featuring my Space Boyfriend, Kylo Ren. “I swear, I’m not a 9 year old boy,” I said as I laid it out. She simply smiled as she unfurled her towel and said, “That’s nothing.”

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So apparently we are BOTH children at heart, and that’s why we get along so well.

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Also I had a small BB8 towel to wash my feet off after the swim. #sorrynotsorry

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After milling around and getting marked up, we headed down to the beach with Mike and got into our wave start area. I learned from last year not to assign myself in the LAST wave, as that would set me up for a lot of disappointment later on in the race. Being last in meant being last out and as a solid back of the packer when it comes to triathlons, I need all the help I can get. So we signed up for Buddy Heat 1 and both got into 11 (out of 14 or 15 I think).

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We watched as the earlier age group waves started and got out of the water and noticed that the water was QUITE choppy. I hadn’t done an open water swim since last summer (bad triathlete) and while I wasn’t nervous per se, those waves definitely gave me pause. After about a half hour we got ready to hit the water, and the same woman from last year was at the start, giving us all a pep talk and boosting our confidence. “You guys are going to rock this so hard! You’ve already done all the hard work, this is just the icing on the cake, and then you earn your ice cream or your beer or your pizza, or ALL THREE!” She was the best – I remember her calming my nerves last year!

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Finally the gun went off and into the water we went – and it was much warmer than I thought it’d be! But it was also MUCH CHOPPIER than I expected too, which made for very tough swimming right from the start. It also made my motion sickness act up pretty much 2 minutes into the swim, which lingered with me for the rest of the swim and most of the bike. Every time I ducked down to swim and glanced ahead underwater, the rocking of the water combined with the totally blank view ahead of me didn’t mesh and my stomach would lurch. At about the halfway point in the swim I gave myself a short break and floated for a bit, then accidentally swallowed some water too. A big gulp of saltwater + an upset tummy = no bueno, let me tell you. Finally I turned the last corner and headed back to shore, where Mike snapped me getting out of the water before I ran up the beach to T1.

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As I made my way to my bike I decided I wasn’t going for time, I just wanted to not throw up or fall off the bike from being so dizzy. I drank some Cocogo and a full bottle of water to rinse out the salty grossness in my mouth while I washed my feet off and got into my sneakers, then hopped onto the bike and out I went.

Miles 1-3 clicked by super easy – it was my first time racing on my new bike and I couldn’t believe how much faster I was going! Every mile that beeped by on my watch made me laugh out loud with joy. After a gel at mile 4, my stomach started to settle so I cranked up my pace a bit and pushed through the turnaround, so excited to finally be saying “On your left!” and passing folks! Compared to last year’s bike portion where I had to literally STOP on the course to ask a volunteer if I had to turn, I was surrounded by other bikers and knew where to go the whole time.

Before I knew it we were at the bike finish and I was running my trusty steed back into transition, dropping off my helmet and tossing on a headband/sweatband (that I later discovered made me look like Axl Rose, which was fantastic), spinning my race belt around for my number to face forward, and taking off on the run.

Or should I say, the walk. It was HOT. Too hot. 90+ and full sun hot. Within a few feet my legs felt heavy and my hips just didn’t want to move; I must have pushed a little harder than I thought on the bike. Combined with the weather, I knew I was going to be in for a long 3 miles. So I just shlepped along and told myself to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Quite literally, that’s how I managed to finish: by moving forward and not stopping. I walked a lot, drank even more, and finally took off in the last mile, but I did it.

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Note the Axl Rose headband. Welcome to the jungle, baby.

I was even more psyched to realize as I neared the finish: they changed the race course this year so we didn’t have to pass the finish and loop back around! It’s the ultimate cruelty when you’re dying of heat stroke and have to run another 1/2 mile past the finish, turn, then go back. They must have gotten the memo, because once my watch said 2.8 and I could see the finish I knew I didn’t have much farther to go and I gunned it through the finish line for a sweet finish.

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Oh that stupid headband.

I met up with Mike and Alex, who had finished ahead of me, and we walked over to the nearby snack shop and had the most delicious smoothies I think I’ve ever had (or maybe that was the exhaustion and starvation talking), then we headed back to check our times – where we discovered that all chips above 700 DID NOT REGISTER. Meaning MY CHIP. I didn’t have a time. Any times.

I was livid, but I lucked out and ran into the race director, who told me about the old chips that he had used were apparently deactivated or somesuch. He reassured me that they’d come up with a way to track our times and that they had backups that would take a few days, but still. It turns out that their “backup” was us looking at the timestamps on our race pics and entering them for the race officials in a Google Doc the following week for them to calculate how long we spent in each portion (transitions not included) then come up with our official time. It wasn’t a perfect solution – my leg times also include my transition times so I don’t accurately know how much better I did in each portion of the race compared to last year – but at least I had an official FINAL time of 1:47:39 (and that time was better than last year by more than a full minute).

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Overall it was another great race and a fun way to challenge myself and keep my training interesting over the summer. I’d definitely recommend this event to anyone who’s looking for a first time triathlon with no pressure – heck, you might even see me out on the course next year again!

Taking Time to Be Grateful

After doing this blogging thing for a few years now, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to me and how it’s changed my life. Which has caused me to get pretty introspective lately – in a good way.

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Back in 2003 I was miserable, but I hid it by being overly confident and brash. Think Samantha Jones from Sex & the City but without all the ridiculous sex stuff.

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but WITH the martini habit

I was in college, but instead of figuring out the balance of how to have a social life while excelling in school, I avoided going out almost entirely and threw myself into professional development instead.

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Taking extra classes, loading up on extra-curriculars, networking, building up my resume and getting an awesome internship with the NJ Devils. I took no prisoners and managed to do some amazing things. But my confidence was SO delicate.


At the end of every day, I was truly miserable. I would either hang out with my friends in their dorm rooms and watch TV and eat and drink to oblivion, or go back to my dorm room and do the same, but alone.

When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, I knew something had to change. I HAD TO CHANGE. To beat the odds now stacked against me, I started to pay attention to what I ate at the dining hall. I watched an hour of Everybody Loves Raymond on the stationary bike in our dorm gym instead of on my bed. And wouldn’t you know it, I started to lose weight – and my confidence started to grow too.

Fast forward a few more years: I graduated, got a big girl job in the real world, and jumped into the dating scene. I reconnected with an old friend from my high school days and we started something serious – and I even convinced him to marry me! My friends started having babies and getting married. Throughout it all, I continued to lose weight and shape my new life along with my new body.

 

Fast forward even further, to when I discovered running. I ran my first race in 2010, started falling into a rhythm, and discovered the world of running bloggers. I would see them talk about all the progress they were making and all the opportunities they had and get all moon-eyed over just how awesome that would be, never expecting to do anything like that. But after realizing that in addition to these blogs there was a whole fitness and running community on places like Instagram and Twitter and Facebook, I decided to jump in too.

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My first race ever: a Pink Ribbon 5K with my papa and cancer-free mama ❤

Instagram was my first foray into the online fitness community. Then I started blogging, and soon Twitter and Facebook followed. When I started this ride I NEVER expected it to be as much of a blessing it has been, and that’s the truth. But I put myself out there in a few different – and scary – ways: offering to share my story, baring it all about my history with depression and anxiety, talking about the impact weight loss and running has had on my personal relationships, etc.

And then one day, those things I used to see the running bloggers talking about – they started happening to me.

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Shape Magazine interviewed me. I was asked to take over the Brooks Running IG feed. I was invited to run the NYRR 5th Avenue Mile. I’ve been selected as an Ambassador for the 2016 RWHalf and Festival next month. And as I get ready for what is shaping up to be an unbelievable few months, I have to take this moment to thank you all for coming along on this adventure with me.

I am TRULY grateful for all of the amazing opportunities that I’ve been given; I’m one of the luckiest people I know. But none of it would be possible without you reading, commenting, liking, following, and being with me on this ride. Whether I know you in real life or have only ever “met” you online – or even if you never say anything! – please know that I appreciate you taking time out of your day and reading and looking at the stuff I put out into the ether.

Thank you for being here – and I look forward to seeing where this road takes us in the future!