Race Recap: Philadelphia Children’s Hospital Parkway Run

Back in September, I ran the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital (CHOP) Parkway Run as a representative of CURE Magazine (my 9-5) and had one of the best races in more than a year.

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The day started early – and I mean EARLY – because the race was in Philly, which is a solid hour and change from my place. I’ve also never driven in Philly and frankly, was terrified of the idea of trying to find a parking lot in a major city I was unfamiliar with at 7am. I was very lucky though, because my coworker Kristie (who was going to run the race with me but had to drop out due to injury) is a Philly girl and offered to drive from her house, which was on my way.

Full disclosure: Kristie was super nice and even offered to have me sleep over the night before the race to save me that extra hour, but Adam Driver was hosting SNL that Saturday. And if you know me at all, you know your homegirl here needed to be in her own living room with exactly one (1) pre-race glass of wine to take in the spectacle. And I did. The fact that I stayed up past 1am the night before a 4am wakeup call is an issue we’ll address later.

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So yeah, after driving an hour in the dark and arriving at Kristie’s, she drove us into the city and found us the perfect parking lot, and we found the start of the race relatively easily using my tried and true Comic Con logic: just follow the people in neon and spandex.

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It was shaping up to be an absolutely perfect weather day, and I said a silent thank you prayer to the running gods. After running the NYC Marathon in a cold drizzle for 6+ hours, I will take every crisp, clear morning as the blessing it is.

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This was my first run in Philly, and I must say – it was quite lovely. Granted, I saw approximately 2.5 miles of the entire city on the run, but what I did see what delightful. It’s making me consider other Philly races, tbh.

With a good hour or so before the start, Kristie and I entertained ourselves with dancing to the – admittedly EXCELLENT – DJ (seriously, it was like a wedding DJ with all the awesome dance-along songs) and filming some BTS social footage for the magazine.

Clearly the lack of sleep had not yet taken its toll on me at this point, because I was a dancing fool.

We also took advantage of the sparse crowds and got some awesome pictures with the Rocky statue right outside the Art Museum.

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Once we were done messing around, I handed off my backpack to Kristie at the last minute and jumped into the corrals right at Eakins Oval, and after a quick National Anthem, we were off.

The course had us go down the Ben Franklin Parkway (hence the “Parkway Run“) to Logan Circle and back, past the museum and down the Parkway for another mile and back.

I went into this race with some high hopes – after a mildly disappointing finish at the Seaside Semper Five a few weeks back, I wanted to run the race I knew I could. I also knew that as part of a team (and with a reputation as a runner in my office), leaving it all on the pavement was pretty much my only option. So I raced smart and started slow down to the circle and back, with a nice breeze and a solid crowd of runners the entire time. Once we passed the museum at a little more than a mile, I was grateful for the slight downhill we had for the next mile along the parkway – because the sun was starting to come out and it was hot on my back.

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The view was beautiful – there was a cool waterfall to our right and the rest of the parkway to our left. I didn’t walk once the entire time, and ran smart with a steady pace. The only water station at the turnaround at just past mile 2 was a blessing, and I held onto my cup for a few meters because I knew there weren’t any more stops from there.

After the turnaround, just as I expected, the sun was now directly in our faces and the heat was starting to build – but not like full-on summer running. This just made me want to run slightly faster, so I switched to my Power Running playlist and took on the final mile with determination.

The teeny tiny incline the whole way made my calves burn, and I knew from running down it at the start that there was a SOLID hill just before the finish line, so I wasn’t shocked when we came to it. I did slow my pace just to make it to the top, and then motored through the final 100m to the finish at a respectable 36:25 (12:03 pace).

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Of course my Garmin said I did much better, but I still managed a 1:30 improvement over the Semper Five two weeks prior, and for not racing in more than a year, I’ll take it.

The best part is that the runners and their friends raised more than ONE MILLION DOLLARS for pediatric cancer research, which is AMAZING. I learned later that there were more than 10,000 participants at this run, too – making it probably the biggest 5K I’ve ever done!

The only downside was having to drive home for more than an hour and change by myself on my pitiful 3 hours of sleep while keeping myself awake with blasting music and open windows. But I regret nothing.

All in all this was a great race that I’m looking forward to next year!

Race Recap: 2018 Seaside Semper Five

I’ve done the Seaside Semper Five 5K basically every year since it started – yes, including the year a bomb went off on the course. So I never miss it. Even this back in September of this year, when I had basically done zero running up til that point, save for a handful of miles every week and a solid 20 mile week the week before the race.

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As usual, this race calls for an early wakeup, so when race day rolled around on September 15th, Mike and I headed down to Seaside in the dark and got there just as the crowds were starting to form – and got to admire the local art:

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I enjoy this race for a number of reasons, many of them having to do with logistics. There is plenty of parking available (if you get there early enough) and a super clean bathroom in the bar/restaurant it starts in front of (again, if you get there early enough – the lines soon get out of hand just like any race). So since we were there from the get-go, I was able to sneak in to the bathrooms and get my bib before it got too cray-cray.

(Though I got a little cray-cray over the excitement of my first real “I’m going to race this thing” race in nearly 10 months!)

I met up with a bunch of folks before the start, including my friend from the Rebel Legion (and badass Marine) Sean and his beautiful girlfriend, some IG friends, my cousin Heather, and my friends Jess and Ed (Ed was running) and Liz and John (who were both running). You could say this was more of a social event than a race for me, and I liked it.

By the time the opening ceremonies started, I was hungry, so I took a gel. I have to admit – treating this as a real race had my nerves a little jangly, so I had to kind of rely on muscle memory to remember how to prep. I’ve run a few little fun runs since the NYC Marathon last year, but not for time. So wanting to do this right had me a little rattled.

But all those nerves were for nothing, because it was a beautiful morning by the water, and the race turned out to be great.

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I mean look at this picture Liz took from the roof of the bar we started at! *chef’s kiss*

At the sound of the gun we took off going north on the boardwalk on the newly modified course that was started last year. Previously this run was just a straight 1.5 mile shot south on the road then back 1.5 on the boards, but last year they switched it up to take us like half a mile north then out into the city. It’s a fine switch – still fast and flat – and honestly a little more fun because the winding streets give us a little more to look at and give people in those houses we pass a chance to cheer us on.

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The whole 1.5 out to the turnaround point was great – I had been working on not walking in the weeks prior to the race, and raced for the first time in my Altra Escalantes, which, if you haven’t tried, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND. They are so choice. Full review to come.

Anywho, I was feeling good through the turnaround, and loved the fact that I got to cheer on the folks behind me when I turned around. All the Marines in this race also make for some serious motivation – there are folks that run this race with prosthetic legs, crutches, the whole nine yards. It’s seriously awe inspiring and makes you realize what some people have given up for our ability to do stuff like run races and write blogs about them. Thank you, veterans and active duty military, for all you do for us!

The sun was starting to get hot once we turned back around and got through mile 2 before getting back on the boards, so I finally took my first walk break for the 2nd water stop. And that’s where I kind of fell apart.

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Well, I didn’t FALL APART like full-on meltdown mode, but I basically said “Oh hey I can walk, I forgot about that option!” and kind of jogged it in through most of the final mile. I wanted to find the right power song, then I had to stop to sip some more water, then I wanted to take a picture, and before I knew it I’d blown the lead I’d given myself by not staying strong – and proving to myself that this running thing is nearly 100% mental.

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Either way, when the finish was in sight I kicked it back up into high gear and crossed with a relatively solid time of 37:53, for a 12:22/mile pace…. Aaaaaand a face for the record books, because I was laughing at my friends for waiting past the finish line and getting the most unflattering finish line photo ever:

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After the race we got to enjoy the boardwalk and the beach for a bit, before heading over to Jess & Ed’s family’s place down the road to clean up then grab some bangin’ post-race food.

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and a cupcake, because otherwise what’s the point?

Overall this year’s Seaside Semper Five was another success, and I can’t wait for next year’s race!

Mile 26

Real Talk: The TCS New York City Marathon left me turned off about running. With having to put our cat to sleep the day after the race and dealing with injuries for months post-race, I never felt that post-marathon high.

I deleted almost all of the pictures from that day off my phone. But for some reason, I couldn’t delete this one: the Mile 26 marker.

I still remember how I felt when I snapped this picture. Every inch of my body hurt. It was dark and rainy, spectators had all gone home. When I saw Mile 26 I thought “Who cares. There’s no triumphant final push left in me, why should I take a picture?”

But I did, and every time I clean my camera roll, I still won’t delete it. It took me 7 months, but now I know why: because it was the lowest point I’d been at in months… BUT I KEPT GOING.

I got that medal. I pushed through a mental and physical hell I created for myself over 25+ miles through the five boroughs of NYC and I survived, just like I’ve survived every other “lowest” point in my life. It’s a reminder that there’s always something to look forward to, even if I have to go through just .2 more miles of hell to get to it.

When you get to your Mile 26, just keep going. I know it hurts. But it’ll be worth it.

NYC Marathon Race Recap

You guys.

I have some news:

I RAN A MARATHON!

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I know, I know – I ran it like two stinking weeks ago, I’m a bad blogger! But hey, I’m back, and I’m blogging about it, and I’m a FREAKIN’ MARATHONER!

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So let’s jump right to it, shall we??

On race morning, I woke up after actually managing to get a good night’s sleep, and Mere (who was also running) and Damian came and picked us up at about 4:15am.

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Just look at those crazy eyes I’ve got. Those are the eyes of a terrified woman.

We planned on taking the NYRR-provided NJ Bus, and had the smoothest morning. Seriously: after a 30 minute drive, we rolled up to the Meadowlands, kissed the boys goodbye, walked 50 feet to a waiting bus, and were on our way within seconds! Bravo, NYRR.

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Sure, we got the last 2 seats on the bus and couldn’t sit together, but it was OK, we made it work 😉

After a quick bus ride, we arrived at Fort Wadsworth while it was still dark, and breezed through security and into the Starters Village.

 

After checking out our individual colored corral areas, Mere was sweet enough to come over to my area in Orange and hung out with me while we waited for her wave to start.

 

I even got to meet Alissa while we waited (nice job on your BQ, girl!!)

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After saying goodbye to Mere, I hung out with the NYRR therapy dogs. No, seriously:

 

It was so nice to give some pets to Tugboat the Frenchie, Lass the Labrador, and WLLY the… poof? Man-bun? Whatever he was, he was my favorite and required a selfie.

 

Arun came over to say hey, and after he said goodbye to go back to his area, I met Amanda and Gregg, and we watched the start of the race from our spot at the base of the bridge.

Amanda and Gregg and I became fast friends – Gregg also gave us some sage advice about how you can only run the race with what you’ve got in the tank. To pass the last hour before we started, the three of us ate our breakfasts and chatted about our previous races, our taste in music, and how we prepped for the race. Secret reveal: Gregg and I both have the Moana soundtrack on our marathon playlists. Shhhhh! 😉

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After Greg took off for his start in Wave 3, Amanda and I were left behind to nervously chat while we made quick port-a-potty stops, de-layered, and strapped on our running bags before heading over to the corrals of Wave 4. I was so grateful to have her there with me – if you’re reading this, thank you, Amanda!

We said goodbye just as the corrals were closing, and I was able to take a quick video before they closed the gate:

I will admit: I was super nervous up until I heard New York, New York blaring over the loudspeakers, and then a kind of calm came over me. Once the cannon went off, I was ready:

Within another few seconds, we were walking up the incline to the start, ran over the mat, and the marathon had begun. And, forgive my language, but holy shit, it was amazing.

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I knew the first 1.5 miles was uphill on the bridge, but honestly as we ran it, I didn’t notice the incline. All I felt was incredible energy: from the people running around me, the police on the bridge, the people that worked on the bridge, the AIR… everything was electric and perfect.

The only issue I was faced with was worrying about my phone in the rain. I had made the decision to run with my phone in my hand so that I could easily take photos and videos, but the constant drizzle ended up covering my phone in water before the first mile. But it turned out okay in the end.

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Once we began mile 2 and entered Brooklyn, I quickly discovered what everyone meant when they told me this would truly be a race unlike any other I’d ever run. Even in the rain, people of every race and shape and size and color lined both sides of the street and screamed and clapped and rang bells and shouted our names – for miles and miles and miles. It was like running through a block party that never ended!

I ordered a personalized name bib from Races2Remember and I’m so glad I did. Every 10 seconds or so, there was a new person yelling for me, cheering me on, making songs about my name… my favorite was “No one better mess with Jess!” It was incredible.

For the first 6-7 miles, I honestly felt so good that I didn’t even notice I was running. The music, the spectator high-fives, the sights – it all carried me. I ran from one side of the street to the other to get all the high fives I could!

At mile 3 a swing band on the sidewalk was blasting music and made 2 runners stop and break into a full-on choreographed swing dance in the street. At mile 5 a full gospel choir sang for us on the steps of their church. At mile 7 NYPD officers danced with us in the streets.

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At one point near mile 9, the crowds were so thick I couldn’t tell where the runners ended and the spectators began. Groups of friends spilled out of the bars with drinks in hand, cheering for us and dancing to the music that bumped from inside the bars.

I put my headphones in but rarely used them – I was too busy singing along with the music on the course!

By mile 11, I knew I should be feeling some fatigue, but I still felt great. My miles were around the 12:00 range, and while that was a bit faster than I wanted, I thought maybe I’d have some luck and that energy would keep carrying me.

Well, I was a bit wrong.

Mile 13 was a bit slower – I walked/ran for the next few miles, saving my strength for the Queensboro Bridge I knew was coming up between 15 & 16.

The crowds were a little more sparse here so I cranked up my music, and almost as soon as we got onto the QB, my iPod died. I had expected this after it died during long training runs, so I’d packed a backup iPod (no, really, I NEED my music), and walked a bit on the bridge to swap them out and recover.

Once I got a boost from fresh music, I put my head down and barreled through some crowds of walkers, keeping a steady pace. But after about a full uphill mile of that, I realized the mistake I’d made. My legs burned. I knew that Manhattan was next so I was counting on that energy, but what I wasn’t counting on was the rain really picking up as soon as we got off the bridge and turned onto First Avenue.

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If the first 13-15 miles were easy as pie, 15-22 was where I actually had to put in work.

I asked 26 of my closest friends and running buddies to give me a song each for a Power Playlist, and this is when I turned it on.

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A few of the songs really charged me up, but when one particular song my mom picked came on, I started weeping. It’s the song that my mom and dad walked me down the aisle to on my wedding day. While I tried not to cry too hard, I took some time at this point to be grateful. Even though I was in pain, I knew I was going to finish this thing. All the work, the endless hours, they were going to pay off. It was emotional.

Finally we entered the Bronx – and were greeted by so many more spectators that I got a little boost.

I danced a little with people who were still out in the rain cheering for us, and one woman even stopped herself before she could give me a high five and instead threw her arms around me and said, “Girl, you don’t need a high five you need a hug, you’re going to finish this!!” I think maybe she was an angel.

Once we looped back into Manhattan at mile 21, I got excited – this was the home stretch, so to speak.

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I’d arranged to have Mike and the crew cheering for me at the same spot we’d spectated at last year, and knew I was getting close. So I shuffled along and kept up the pace, looking for them the whole time. But our spot came and went, and they weren’t there. I’d made a deal with myself before I even started: there’d be a chance I would miss them, and I had to accept that. So instead of getting upset, I shuffled up Fifth Avenue because the pain was too great to run constantly now, and I chatted here and there with the runners around me as we put one foot in front of the other. This was great because it took my mind off things, and before I knew it, the sun was just about to disappear and we were entering Central Park!

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I HAD to take a picture of my favorite spot in the city ❤

During training, I envisioned coasting up and down those Central Park hills at this point, riding a wave of adrenaline that would carry me to a strong finish.

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The reality could not have been farther from that vision: my ankles were wobbly and kept giving out, my calves burned, my lower back burned, my right glute was on fire, and every time I tried to move faster than a weak shuffle my entire body screamed. I couldn’t help but grunt and groan every time I tried.

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By the time we exited the park for that quick jaunt across Central Park South, the sun was gone and I knew I’d be walking it in… until I spotted Mike and Mere and Damian!

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When I saw them I broke into a run and stopped for a quick hug and kiss from everyone – but if I stayed any longer than that I knew I wouldn’t be able to move again!

So I took off with them screaming behind me, giving me my final power-up.

After grabbing a hug from Peter Ciaccia himself at the entrance to the park, I ran straight through, stopping only to get one last picture:

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I could hear the screaming and cowbells of the finish line, and turned it on for a final kick. The pain was still there but all I could focus on was getting up that final hill and crossing that line.

When I finally saw the finish line, I couldn’t help but start crying. It was happening. I honestly can’t remember if I heard them say my name, but I know I glanced around behind me to make sure I wouldn’t hit anyone, threw my arms in the air, and closed my eyes as I crossed the finish line and finally became a marathoner.

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It took a few seconds after I crossed for it to truly hit me, but when it did, I immediately started sobbing. And hyperventilating. The horrible wheezing sound I made caused a few volunteers to ask me if I was OK and I nodded, willing myself to calm down; there’d be no good finish line picture if I passed out before I could even get my medal!

So I staggered to a medal volunteer and sobbed again as she put the medal around my neck. She kept saying “bless you, bless you” and I thanked her with everything I had left. I asked her to take my picture and she obliged:

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As I staggered through the chute to get my poncho and exit the park, the pain finally had a chance to sink in, and it was intense. I cannot begin to describe it – it was shooting, throbbing, aching, burning… it was all the pain at once, everywhere. It physically took my breath away to do anything but stagger ahead with the flow of people in the same shape as me.

After I got my poncho and texted with my crew to confirm our meetup area, I was never so relieved to see my husband and our family. And as a bonus, I even got a huge finish line hug from Lizzie, who had volunteered at the race, too! ❤

To celebrate our finishes (congrats on your course PR, Mere!), we toasted with some wine at dinner and that was the most delicious red I’ve ever had.

And while the walk back to the subway was unbelievably painful (and hysterical), I made it down the subway steps in time to catch our train and we were home before 11pm.

I could easily write another 2,000 words about it, but I’ll cap myself now by leaving you with this: the NYC Marathon was incredible. It was awe-inspiring. It took my breath away, more times than I could count. I saw things that I never thought I’d see on a race course. If you ever have the chance to run it, DO IT. You will never regret it.

They say NYC is a race unlike any other, but you truly have no idea what that means until you experience it.

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Newport Half Marathon Race Recap

After a great experience as a Blog Partner with the Newport 10K in May, I was invited to run the the Newport Half Marathon in September and jumped at the opportunity. Sunday started out muggy and warmer than expected; Mere was running this race with me (well, she finished like 90 minutes before me but you know what I mean) and as we headed into Jersey City we prayed the sun would stay behind the clouds for our race to keep the temps low.

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Spoiler alert: it did!

A note about parking: a big factor in my race decisions is how easy it is to get to. My nerves are already shot enough on race morning, I’m not about to drive myself insane circling a city for a parking spot or navigating a bunch of detours. Anyone who’s driven in northern NJ will tell you that it’s a bitch and a half, so I was skeptical about a race IN Jersey City. But these folks are total pros, and even though we rolled up to the race area a bit later than I wanted, we still managed to get a parking spot in the huge deck very easily thanks to the clearly labeled streets and tons of race volunteers. A++ for that, Newport Half Race Team!

After parking, we stopped at the porta-potties (again, plenty of clean options available, another A+ for the event crew), hung out for a bit, and waited for the start.

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Full disclosure: while waiting, I had a bit of a panic attack. The craziness of the pre-race crowds two days in a row, combined with the lack of sleep and extra physical pressure I had been putting on myself all came to a head and I just wanted out. I didn’t want to be there. I felt itchy all over. My skin burned and my insides churned. I couldn’t catch my breath and I felt like crying. So I sat on the curb while everyone around me chatted and took a few deep breaths to work through it.

I didn’t plan to wait until World Mental Health Day to publish this post, but it’s fitting that I share it now. Anxiety doesn’t always look like hysterical tears or someone hugging themselves and rocking; sometimes it’s a quiet, forced smile or a stoneface when everyone else is laughing. I’m not going to gloss over my mental health issues to paint an unrealistic picture. We need to break the stigma of talking about these things, and I want to help do that, one blog post at a time. So yes, I had a small panic attack before the start. After a few minutes I was able to pull it together and we went on with our morning, but if you ever feel overwhelmed and scared, just know that you’re not alone!

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Once we realized the crowd was moving to the start corrals we headed over with them and seeded ourselves. It was a smaller race so the corrals were about 50 feet apart, which was nice. Mere said farewell and headed to her corral and Mike stayed with me to send me off at the start, and away we went.

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Right away, the humidity was an issue. It was hard to breathe and my muscles were super tight from racing Seaside the day before. I took it slow because I still had the goal of adding miles at the end of the race. But by mile 3, my right calf and ankle felt like they were wrapped in super glue: tight, hot, and angry. So I pulled over to a curb and stretched for a good minute or two – clearly this was not going to be one of those “omg I am so strong!” races. I was OK with this.

After mile 3, I was feeling better, my ankle and calf had loosened up, and even though I was drenched in sweat already, I fell into a groove behind these two girls at my exact pace, who had to be twins – they had nearly identical builds and ponytails, even their gaits were similar.

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I took my first gel at the water stop near 4.5 and finally stopped for a bathroom break at about mile 6 in the park. Then we turned onto the waterfront path at 6.5 and came face to face with Lady Liberty and the NYC Skyline – and I kid you not – Taylor Swift’s Welcome to New York randomly came on my iPod and the run immediately took a turn for the better.

I sang, I danced, I pointed at the skyline – hell, I cried some happy tears – all while running straight for that beautiful city in front of me.

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I’m sure the folks around me thought I was insane, but I didn’t care. Seeing the city was just the refresher I needed to get me through the rest of the race. We curled through the park for another few miles, and about halfway through mile 9 we cruised through a water stop manned by a crew of teens who cheered us on with big smiles. I had to laugh though – as I took my second gel and walked through, one of the teens sitting on the curb nearby shouted to her friend across the course, “Oh my god, my legs are SO TIRED!” to which I replied without thinking, “YOUR legs are tired???” She immediately blushed and covered her face and laughed with everyone around her – “I’m sorry!! I mean I ran yesterday so I’m sore! But you’re running so much more than me, you’ve got this!!” It’s always fun to interact with the volunteers 🙂

Around mile 10.5 as we neared the city again, I started to feel some twinge-y pains in my left ankle, possibly from overcompensating for the sore right ankle earlier in the run? Either way, I slowed down a lot here, and even stopped to fish a rock out of my shoe at one point. Then just before mile 11, we turned the corner where a small group of spectators stood. A woman was there with an older woman and a younger guy, and she was holding a sign that said “Almost there!” Of course, I laughed and said with a smile, “You’re not allowed to say that until Mile 13!”

Well, apparently this woman had enough of being heckled by runners the whole race, because she immediately snapped back at me in a super-nasty tone: “IT’S AN INSIDE JOKE.”

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I laughed in her face and waved her off. Um, an inside joke with who? One of the thousands of runners out here on the course with me? How about if you don’t like the comments you’re getting, you put that sign down until this inside joker of yours passes by, and you keep that sourpuss to yourself, mmkay?

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ANYWAY, it was right about then that Formation came on my ipod and I kicked it into gear for the final 5K. I texted Mike to let him know I was about a half hour away and took off at my now slower pace to keep that tender ankle from rolling. At mile 12 we hit the waterfront and cruised along there for the final mile and a half, and I crossed the finish line at 13.5 miles in a semi-decent time for a training run on tired legs.

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Overall it was a perfect course and a well-organized race, just like the 10K. If you’re looking for a nice flat half marathon with pretty views (and a medal, too!), definitely check this one out.

NYRR/Front Runners Pride Run & NYC Pride March

For Throwback Tuesday (which is a thing now that I’ve just made it up), let’s take a little trip back to June, when I ran the NYRR/Front Runners Pride Run 5 Miler in Central Park with my friend Kevin – and then returned to Manhattan for the Pride March the following day!

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Kevin has been by my side for a lot of training this year, so I was stoked when he wanted to do this race with me. After having such a great experience last year, I really wanted to share it with someone, and while it wasn’t as… DRY as last year, it was even more fun because I ran with a friend.

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As we waited for our 5:32AM train, the rain started coming down hard. No worries, we thought – we’ve got like 3 more hours! It’ll pass by then. Hm. Well, two hours later when we emerged from the subway, it was still pouring. We ran across the street and into bib pickup, then hid under a tree with the thousands of other people who also weren’t prepared to hang around in pouring rain for an hour waiting for the race to start.

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The only pre-race photo I was able to take through the plastic bag I stashed my phone in!

It was kind of miserable – and because we were drenched to the bone, our cameras had to stay hidden too, so we don’t have many photos – but once it was time for us to line up in our corrals, the rain slowed to a drizzle and we were grateful for the cooling effect of running while wet.

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We went out to have fun with this one. It was Kevin’s first NYRR experience, and first time running in Central Park, so we played a fun game where he’d ask me what hill was coming up next and how long it was going to be, then he’d curse at me for not lying to him. Harlem Hill was especially fun. Sorry, Kevin!

But we hit a good rhythm of running and stopping for walk breaks when we needed them. This race is always a good time – everyone is so chatty and friendly on the course, and we made lots of “hi-bye” friends who shared in our uphill struggles and water-break euphoria. By the time we got to Mile 4, we realized the end was near and picked up the pace for a strong finish with blue skies.

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After we picked up our new race shirts, we snooped around for something to eat, realized we (okay, me) were chafing, and headed home. We needed our rest after all – we had been invited by our friend Stephen to ride on a float in the NYC Pride March the next day!

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Stephen – aka Lady Champagne Bubbles – is not just a fabulous performer. He’s also worked hard to earn a bunch of letters after his name (MSN, MBA, RN) and works at the NYU Langone Medical Center as Care Manager and co-chair of the LGBTQ+ Advisory Council. When he invited us to ride on the NYU float that he’d also be performing on, I strapped on my rainbow fanny pack and jumped aboard – and it was SO MUCH MORE EPIC than I ever could have imagined.

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My heart is still so full when I think back on it. The music was loud, the hugs were strong, the people were beautiful and the love was real. When this world gets dark, I will remember that day and know that love is love is love – and no narrow mind can change that.

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We partied through the streets for hours, waving our flags and singing along with the crowds that lined the sidewalks the whole way.

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By the time we entered the Village, the crowds were so thick and loud that I had nearly lost my voice screaming and cheering with them. When we passed the Stonewall Inn, I couldn’t help but get choked up.

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The LGBTQ Rights Movement has always been close to my heart, but participating in the March and sharing the love with everyone in NYC really took it to the next level. Seriously, I lost count of how many times I looked at Kevin or Stephen and just said “Thank you!” It was an incredible experience that I won’t ever forget.

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tired post-Pride subway riders ❤

Running in Costume (Part 2)

After going into detail about the snazzy costumes I ran the Star Wars Light Side Challenge in, I got a lot of positive feedback from folks who had considered Disney races or running in costumes. So now that the Dark Side Challenge is complete, let’s take a look at the costumes I ran in this time (and how I had to modify my plans to account for the heat)!

Originally I wanted to run as Phasma for the half and possibly do Greedo or Han Solo for the 10K. I even went as far as spending an entire evening looking at hip holsters on Amazon (an activity I don’t recommend unless you want your Amazon suggestions to be VERY WEIRD for the next few weeks).

But because this was a Dark Side themed weekend, I decided on Phasma and Vader pretty early on. And here’s how I made them happen!

Captain Phasma

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My search for a Phasma outfit started off rocky: I couldn’t find the right shiny silver top and skirt in matching tones AND performance fabric in my budget. But, as fate would have it, at the same time, my friend Tiffanie (aka Star_Wars_Runnah), announced that she’d be running the NYC Marathon in support of the March of Dimes and would thank donors by making them skirts or full outfits depending on their level of support. The chance to support a good friend, a great cause, AND check my costume off the list while getting something one of a kind?? Thank you, universe!

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To top it all off I added some personal finishing touches, including a DIY cape I made the weekend before and the outfit was complete!

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This one was easy and functional, especially in the Florida heat:

And as a bonus: I can wear almost all of this costume again, even when I’m not running! Except for the silver gloves. Those things were so soaked through with sweat you could see through them and went right in the trash after the race, lol.

Darth Vader

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For Vader, my costume was even more simple, and thank goodness: that heat was BRUTAL, and even though I was only in one layer, the sweat had pooled at the bottom of this dress and needed to be wrung out from miles 8-13 (bleh)!

The end product was something super-easy to run in that still got the Star Wars love out there. Plus – as an added bonus – it looked super cute, if I do say so myself!

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Have you ever run a race in costume? What’s the craziest costume you’ve ever seen at a race? Share in the comments!

 

Race Recap: Newport 10K and a New PR!

A while back, the folks at the Riker Danzig Newport 10K in Jersey City asked me to sign on as an Official Blog Partner of the race and invited me to run for free. Initially I was stoked because this was billed as the “fastest and flattest 10K course in the tri-state area” and who doesn’t love a fast, flat course? But I also knew that I might still be recovering from the 19.3 mile challenge of Disney just a few weeks prior, and I didn’t want let my mouth go writing checks that my ass couldn’t cash.

Spoiler Alert: I woke up race day feeling ready to run and left it all on the course for a big PR!

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Race morning arrived humid and cool with loads of clouds and fog. Already I was optimistic about my performance: with cloud cover and low temps, running would be SO much easier than it had been in Florida a few weeks prior.

The race organizers really knocked it out of the park with an easy-to-find start area, ample (FREE) parking, tons of clean port-a-potties, and loads of volunteers. It really was one of the most well-organized races I’ve ever run.

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After we parked and made the short walk to the start & finish areas (conveniently located near each other), I picked up my bib and tech shirt and we futzed around for a bit while the rest of the crew arrived.

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I managed to connect with Meesh from The Slow Sheep (hey girl!) and it was so fun to meet a blog/IG friend IRL! We chatted about how glad we were that it wasn’t all elites running the race, compared our race goals and wished each other luck as we headed into the start area. PS – she PR’d that day as well! Congrats, mama!!

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pics or it didn’t happen, right? 😉

The “corrals” were just signs on the sidewalks that indicated pace per mile, and since I was feeling optimistic I seeded myself between the 10:00 and 11:00/mile markers. The race kicked off promptly at 8:30am and immediately I could tell the conditions were right for a PR. I just felt good. So I pushed for Mile 1 (10:27).

The only negative of this course is that much of those first few miles were on badly paved roads filled with cracks and potholes, so I spent the whole time looking down to make sure I didn’t twist my ankles. But once we got through Mile 2 (10:20), we entered the more residential areas and the roads smoothed out.

From here the course had lots of twists and turns – because I couldn’t run perfect tangents, the final course was almost 6.4 miles by my watch. But it was nice to see all the folks cheering us on from their porches and sidewalks. Plus the aid stations were well staffed and plentiful – I never found myself wondering when the next water break would be.

After I finished Mile 3 (10:27), the wind picked up and we turned a corner into a wall of wind. I pushed through, kept an eye on my watch and made sure not to slow down, and thankfully we turned the corner about a quarter mile later and the wind died down. That became the theme of the last half of the race: running INTO wind then away from it as we wound our way through the city. I was pleased to see that I stayed consistent through Mile 4 (10:32), and when we passed an “Executive Dog Spa and VIP Dog Lounge” I lol’d: is the DOG the Executive, or the owner?

With a few miles left I grabbed some water and took a gel then picked up the pace to finish Mile 5 (10:25), and then we headed out and around the piers that overlooked the NYC Skyline. It was a nice view, even though the wind smacked us in the face every time we turned a corner.

The sun came out with a half mile to go and by the time we hit mile 6, I was shocked to see how consistent my splits were – and that I finished Mile 6 in 9:52!! With a quarter mile to go, my iPod died and my legs were finally feeling the fatigue of running sub-10:30’s for almost 6 miles, but I knew I was going to PR by a lot so I pushed the pace for the final stretch and passed quite a few people.

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Finally I turned the corner and spotted the finish line so I dropped the hammer and sprinted past Mike, finishing with a nearly 6-minute PR at chip time 1:05:54 (10:36/mile).

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I left it all out on the course and damn, did I feel great. It was one of those confidence-boosting races where everything just clicks into place. The only other time I’ve had such an incredible experience was when I set a 15-minute PR at the NJ Half Marathon last year.

Now I’m wondering just how much faster I could run a 5K if I gave it a go. After all, my current 5K PR was set in roughly 90 degrees and full sun back in September, so who knows what I could do on a cool, overcast day?

Overall I give the Newport 10K an A+ – if you’re looking for a course to PR on, this is your chance!

 

Star Wars Kessel Run Challenge Recap

After completing the Dark Side Challenge in Disney World by finishing the half marathon and 10K in two days, I wrapped up my weekend with my mama with some time in Hollywood Studios. The Great Movie Ride, The Voyage of the Little Mermaid… we had a blast:

We even stumbled upon the Star Wars show happening right in front of the Chinese Theater almost as soon as we got there:

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I don’t think I need to tell you that’s me going “OOOOOOOHHHHH” and “YEEEAH!” in the background of both videos.

If you thought I was having a crisis of joy during the races just from all the Intergalactic Love, you should have seen me when this happened:

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Hint: I cried. Like a big dumb baby. And my mother loved every second of it.

As if my day couldn’t get any better, we headed over to Star Wars Launch Bay to meet some characters, and they did not disappoint. Once again, I was a total idiot around Kylo Ren (I swear I should make flipbooks of these photos just so you can watch me get dumber around him):

But me and Chewy had a MOMENT with a capital M when I showed him my Millennium Falcon medal:

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And I went 2 for 2 on getting lost in Wookiee hugs:

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Mmm. Smells like Kashyyyk. And a little bit like sweaty Disney cast member.

After noodling around for a bit and having a drink at the Prime Time Cafe while we waited for our dinner reservations, we had the time of our lives at the buffet – where we shared our meal with Mickey, Minnie, and the rest of the gang! Commence happy tears breakdown #272 of the weekend.

Seriously, when Mickey hugged my mom, I burst into tears. I’m an emotional person, OK?!

After dinner we headed over to the theater where the Star Wars fireworks show was scheduled for 9PM, and man oh man. I wish I could describe what it’s like, but videos and photos and words don’t do it justice. It was incredible.

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After the show, we called it a day in the parks and got ready to head back home the next day, exhausted and happy and already planning our next trip back.

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All in all, running both Disney Star Wars races was a dream come true, when I didn’t even know I had this dream in the first place. When I “joined” the Star Wars fandom and discovered these races, they were a “wouldn’t it be nice” thing to add to my bucket list. But after talking it through with my husband and working out the financials – and a lot of hard work and sacrifice to get there! – my brand new dream was a reality. And it only took about 8,000 miles flown to run 19.3 twice in 2 different states and earn 8 beautiful medals that each represent their own accomplishment.

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There were plenty of pros and cons on each coast, and while I go into them in detail in their own recaps, I can say this:

  1. Disneyland was smaller but had a lot more on-course support from local cosplayers so the run felt much easier, plus the milder weather made it a breeze.
  2. The races in Walt Disney World were less in the park and more on the street (and HOT AS HELL) but they offered characters before and after the races to help you make the most of your experience.
  3. Both race weekends were excellently executed in terms of logistics. RunDisney races are NOT cheap by any means, but Disney quality and organization is second to none. There’s a reason they’re one of the most well-known brands in the world.

All in all, if you’re a Star Wars fan and have the chance to do even one of these races, I can’t recommend them highly enough. They take a lot of work and time (and yes, money), but it all comes down to creating experiences that matter, and Disney races allow you to do exactly that.

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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!