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!

Product Review & Giveaway: The Stinger

Back in January, I started seeing ads for this thing called The Stinger on Facebook, and it intrigued me: it’s a ball that you freeze and massage yourself with to alleviate post-run soreness, plantar fasciitis pain, shin splints and other issues. Fast forward to a few weeks later when the folks at Recoup Fitness reached out to me to see if I wanted to try this toy out – having experienced like 3 of those 4 things, I was down.

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A few days later, my Stinger arrived Saturday morning just as I was about to head out for a long-ish trail run, so I was stoked to give this thing a shot after a true test. Here in NJ that weekend we were experiencing a weird heatwave, breaking nearly 70 degrees on both Saturday and Sunday, so I was ready to get out there and run A LOT.

After lacing up and hitting the newly thawed trails for over an hour and 6+ miles on Saturday in new kicks, I was sore. My feet especially were angry with me at all of the twisting and balancing I had to do to keep from slipping out on muddy trails. I even discovered a few aches and pains I’d never felt before, and worried I’d need to take it easy the next day. So I broke out my Stinger and rolled for a half hour or so while we watched a movie later that night.

Fun Fact: Cats love the Stinger. Or at least my cat does. 

I’ll admit I didn’t think it was doing much at the time – sure, it felt fantastic, but it wasn’t much different from my frozen water bottle, was it? Either way, I rocked and rolled and even used it on my sore quads too, digging into the tightness I’d developed taking on new terrain that morning, and went to bed.

The next morning, I was shocked to find that my feet did not hurt at all. Those aches and pains that worried me yesterday were completely gone. Perhaps the Stinger actually did more than I thought! Because I was feeling so good, I decided to hit the trails again, this time with my husband, and in a more technical trail.

And once again, I rolled with the Stinger that night, this time all over my legs and feet which were now shot from 2 solid days of activity. Again, I woke up Monday morning feeling NOT like I’d just put 10+ miles of trails on my legs in two days.

As it turns out, the Stinger really does do what it says it’s going to – and not just for running, either! Last week I went down to Atlantic City with an old friend for a straight-up girls’ night of dancing and debauchery (in high heels) and I made sure to pop my Stinger in the hotel fridge.

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After 5 hours of dancing in high heeled booties, I was so relieved to wake up the next day and use the Stinger on pretty much every part of me. Even the new knots in my back I’d developed in the hotel bed enjoyed the ice cold massage.

The best part is, it’s always ready to roll: I just keep the ball in the freezer at all times and pop it into its handle whenever I need a quick roll out. It travels well (it’s very small) and gets the job done pretty much instantly. In short, if you’re looking for an easy, portable way to relieve your aches and pains – running-related or not! – the Stinger is a great option.

Want to try it out for yourself? I’m giving one away! Enter here and spread the word – contest runs now through Friday, when I’ll announce the winner at noon EST. Giveaway is open to US residents only, sorry!

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But if you HAVE to have one right now, the folks at Recoup are giving you 10% off AND free shipping when you order your own Stinger – just use code jessrunshappy!

Good luck!

Not My First Rodeo (er, Full Marathon)

Fact: I will be running my first marathon at the 2017 TCS NYC Marathon this November.

Fact: I will start training officially for this marathon sometime in May or June of this year.

Also fact: This is NOT the first time I’ve started training for a full marathon.

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I know. Shocker.

But it’s true: I signed up for the Atlantic City Marathon back in 2014 and had to drop down to the half after injuring myself during training and basically losing my mental toughness as a result of said injury.

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I’m not proud of this; in fact I don’t talk about it a lot because I’m still kind of upset by it. I’d be lying if I say that redemption isn’t like 80% of why I’m ready to attack NYC later this year.

But I’m writing about it today because it’s real. If we’re all honest with ourselves, I bet you’ve experienced something similar in your life. I want to share my story so you realize you’re not the only person to set a big scary goal and not achieve it. And just because you don’t achieve it on the first try doesn’t mean it will never happen.

[just imagine a fun “never say never” gif that DOESN’T involve Justin Bieber, because I didn’t realize that’s like his phrase now]

While scrolling through my archives, I found this post about training for my first full marathon, and at first I was upset – seeing my old posts about marathon training bum me out. They remind me that I set up a huge scary goal for myself and I failed at the goal. Runners knee in both knees, calf strains, failed long runs and a few illnesses along the way all caused me to postpone my goal and that hurt. I can still remember crying on the phone with my friend as I told her I couldn’t do it. But I ALSO remember the relief I felt in finally saying it out loud: I wasn’t going to run the marathon.

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And while I didn’t run 26.2 miles, I gained a LOT of knowledge about myself (which I went into in greater detail in this post). Long story short, I discovered that I should want to run the marathon for myself, not for other people. And in getting there, I learned how to listen to my body, how my anxiety affects my training, how to manage that anxiety, and so much more.

I wasn’t ready to cross that finish line in 2014 for a number of reasons, both physical and mental. But the training I DID accomplish, and the lessons I learned as a result, taught me how to prepare on all fronts.

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And now I’m ready: ready to train, ready to fight, ready to push myself, ready to be scared. But above all, I’m really ready to cross that finish line and accomplish a goal it’s taken me nearly 4 years to accomplish.

How about you: what have you learned in setting big scary goals for yourself? Have you ever had to defer your dream? Let’s talk!

Running in Costume

Before I signed up for the Rebel Challenge, I never considered running in a costume. And if we go even further back on that logic train, before Disney owned Star Wars, I never thought I’d do a Disney race, but that’s another post.

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But when I started researching Disney races – especially the Star Wars themed races – I realized a costume would be pretty much mandatory. Also, if I was being completely honest, I wanted to dress up in Star Wars costumes! How fun would it be to run a race surrounded by other people dressed up in the characters I loved? But how was I going to pull it off? I’ve never run in costume before, let alone TWO races in two days!

Here’s how I pulled it all together for 19.3 miles of costumed fun:

Rey

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I knew I wanted to run as Rey because this was a Light Side themed race and frankly, I love the character. Plus, I can really pull off a 3-bun hairstyle:

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Halloween at the office. I promise there were other folks dressed up.

For the actual costume, I flip flopped between searching for actual performance gear creating my own costume, but after doing that once for my real Rey cosplay outfit, I learned that I’m way too picky and could easily waste loads of time and money and still have it be turn out “meh”.

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So I opted for the actual Rey Halloween costume. I read recaps of other girls running in it and they reported that it worked just fine, and figured for a 10K I could tough it out.

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The funniest part of this whole thing was having to “test-run” in the costume the day before we left for CA. I wasn’t crazy enough to wing it and run in the costume for the first time on race morning, so I brought it into work and waited for everyone to leave before changing in the locker room and sneaking into the office gym for a quick mile. No one saw me (expect for the 15K+ people I shared it with on IG), and it’s a good thing I tested it: the top was WAY too short and I needed to add a tank underneath it, which worked perfectly!

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I had to add a little of my own sass, though.

The store-bought costume came with almost everything I needed except for the goggles (that I turned into a headband) which I bought separately from a Halloween store on clearance for like $4. To top it all off, I safety-pinned a little stuffed BB-8 to my race belt – he turned out to be the crowning achievement, as it was the first thing people commented on when they saw me bounce past with him on my hip!

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The result was great: I ran comfortably for the 1+ hours I was on the course, and the character photos I got worked perfectly with the costume too! Bonus: the arm warmers *actually worked* in the chilly corral before we started – who knew a Halloween costume could be functional running gear too?

BB-8

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My BB-8-inspired costume was less “costume” and more running gear with a theme. With 13.1 miles to run, I wasn’t about to stray too far from what I  normally run long in: wicking tank, Nike pro shorts and compression socks.

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That said, it was easy enough to create this outfit thanks to Etsy and some creative thinking (and sales on bright orange running shoes, thanks Altra!):

The final outcome was the perfect mix of running and costume: comfortable, functional, and super cute.

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I didn’t chafe, I got tons of compliments, I felt good, and I’ll admit: I liked the way the swishy little sparkly skirt made me feel! I’m definitely looking at ways to add a skirt to my Dark Side Challenge races, that’s for sure.

Ready to Run?

All in all, running in these costumes was SO fun. If you’re on the fence about doing a costume run, I highly recommend it. The key is to find a theme that you’re into and roll with it. In my case, it was all worth it to hear people – especially kids! – on the sidelines yelling out as I passed, “Go, Rey!!” or “Keep rolling, BB-8!!” Even though it was just a costume, it gave me that extra boost I needed to pick up my shoulders, run stronger and smile.

And when it comes down to it, isn’t that what this running thing is all about? 🙂

What do you think: have you ever run in a costume? Do you have any tips I didn’t mention here? Share in the comments!

I’m an Altra Ambassador!

If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter or Facebook, this technically isn’t *news*, but I had to share here because it’s that exciting: I’ve been named a 2017 Altra Ambassador!

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I’ve been a fan of Altra since I discovered them last year before the Runner’s World Half & Festival. In the weeks leading up to race weekend, I experienced a nasty plantar fasciitis flare up combined with a Morton’s neuroma that made the last 7 miles of the Rock n Roll Brooklyn Half marathon 7 miles of excruciating pain. But within 10 minutes of switching to Altra’s, the numbness and pain was relieved – and I haven’t looked back since.

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I wrote a love story (er, product review) about the Paradigms if you want more technical info on these shoes, but suffice it to say I’m a total convert. Case in point: I lived in them during my Star Wars Rebel Challenge weekend. I raced in a different pair of Paradigms both days, then switched into the super-cute Tokalas for walking around the park and non-running fun:

It’s a huge honor to be in this group – these folks are super dedicated, thrill-seeking, ultra running athletes to their very cores, and just seeing what they’ve done with Altra inspires me to be the best I can be every day.

If you have any questions about what makes Altra so special, feel free to ask – I’m always happy to share the love!

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? 

Star Wars Rebel Challenge Recap – Day 3

Don’t forget to read about the runDisney expo experience and my recap of the Star Wars 10K

After running the 10K – and all-out racing about half of it to beat the time cutoff after nearly 45 minutes of character photo stops – I woke up at about 3AM Sunday with sore legs. But I geared up in my deconstructed BB-8 costume and we headed back out to the starting line for the half marathon, taking our time now that we knew what to expect.

After milling around and watching the pre-show (most of the same patter as the day before, but with a Vader appearance instead of a Jedi show), I kissed Mike goodbye and headed into the Corral G where I met up with a Twitter/IG friend Alex (who I’d met in person for the first time the day before at the We Run Social meetup)! Spoiler Alert: he PR’d in the half that day – congrats, Alex!

Just like the 10K the day before, the half started on almost the same course through California Adventure then Disneyland for the first 4.5-ish miles, and had character stops along the way. I had decided to not stop for any long lines, so I ran past the long line for BB-8 and skipped Chewy because I knew he’d be in the park. There were a few other stops for Rebels and I think an R2D2 stop again, but I DID stop for a few fun little things that took only about 2-5 minutes each, with almost no lines:

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Had to stop for just one of the Mile signs

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Stormtroopers found me!!

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I found a speeder! Wish I could have stolen it to finish the race.

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Alliance Starbird sighting on the roller coaster!

I also had to stop at around Mile 2 when I noticed the words scrolling along the marquee of a theater in California Adventure:

Yes, it says “May the force be with you, Princess Leia Organa”, and yes, I openly sobbed and had to catch my breath before I started running again. I was wondering if there would be a tribute to Carrie Fisher, and this was a very sweet, subtle way that still took my breath away. Well done, Disney.

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After we left the park at around Mile 4.5, the rest of the miles were out on the streets of Anaheim. I was prepared for this with my headphones, and also knew from previous runner’s race recaps that there would be a lot of on-course entertainment. BOY they weren’t kidding! Local marching bands, color guards, spectators, cosplayers – TONS of cosplayers! – at basically every step of the way there was something to dance to, smile at, take a selfie with, and generally enjoy.

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Like a random “halfway-ish point” sign that someone made and took our pictures with!

When we got to the cosplayers around Mile 7, I had a blast.

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Kylo Ren was the first person I ran into, and after taking a selfie and telling him to smile, he punched himself in the stomach to summon that anger in response. The Leia a few feet away from him was laughing as I got to her next. I asked her, “He’s your son, can’t you get him in line??” to which she replied, “I just can’t do a damn thing with him.” We had a good giggle at that:

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Beyond that, I stopped at SO many points for a few seconds to selfie with these folks – they were TRULY happy to be out there giving out high fives and taking photos. Some people even tricked out their cars!!

The energy on the course was like nothing I’d ever felt. Everyone was laughing and cheering and calling out character names, having a blast, and I swear when I passed the first section of cosplayers, my cheeks hurt from smiling so hard.

And just when I thought it was over, another wave of folks had lined up around mile 8! Han, Lando, a pack of hysterical Rebel pilots, Jyn Erso – even Finn came out to cheer us on!

These people gave me just the boost I needed to get through the double digit mark. Around Mile 10 I ducked off course for my third port-a-potty stop of the race and finally decided to stop at the medical tent nearby for some Imodium. My nerves were wreaking havoc on my belly (as they tend to do during big races) and while I ate light that morning, the cramps I was experiencing when I started to run again after every walk stop were getting to be very painful. Hey – running isn’t all glamorous selfies and happy fun time! But luckily the pill worked and within minutes I felt much better in time for the final 2 miles.

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I was feeling tired by this point, and I’ll admit I walked a little bit every half mile. The pain of re-starting my run though was a bit much so I decided to shuffle along without stopping once I hit the final mile. All the bathroom and photo stops had brought my average pace to around 13:40/mile so while I knew I wasn’t in danger of being swept, I also wanted to give it my all.

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Once we hit the Mile 13 marker, I took off. The crowds lining the finish chute were SO excited, and the energy was contagious. A few kids even yelled out “BB-8!!” when I passed and made me laugh.

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With the finish line in sight, I started to well up again (god I’m a huge softy), and crossed with a huge smile.

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And just seconds after I crossed, the confetti canons went off!

I was handed my half marathon medal and started crying for real now – I had done it! 19.3 miles in two days, plus extra from walking around the park too. It was a huge scary goal that I’d set for myself months ago with a slight bit of fear that I wouldn’t be able to accomplish it. But I had done it, and I was still standing and smiling!

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The runDisney staff made it super easy for me to get my Rebel Challenge medal, calling out that challenge runners were to take a right to have our photos checked (they photographed us at bib pickup) and to receive our medals. I didn’t have to wait at all, just walked over and was handed my medal and wished congratulations. Then we had the option to take Rebel Challenge photos (yes please!) and walked out of the finisher’s area with my second runDisney snack box of the weekend to meet up with Mike.

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It was a beautiful morning, and after shuffling back through Downtown Disney to get to the bus, we made it back to the hotel for a quick shower and got back out to Disneyland for our first day in the actual park – and to show off my new bling!

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Overall, it was an incredible experience, from start to finish. I was so impressed with the way the race was managed, and won’t lie – I had such a great time that I upgraded from the Dark Side Half Marathon to the challenge so I’ll be taking on another 19.3 for the Dark Side Challenge in April!

Stay tuned for my final post about my Disney trip, in which I eat all the Star Wars themed things and get the best hug of my life from a real Wookiee!

Star Wars Rebel Challenge Recap – Day 2

After Day 1 of the Star Wars Half Marathon weekend, it was time to finally get to the RUNNING part of the show! On Saturday morning our alarm went off at 2:45 and we were dressed and out the door by 3:30.

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By staying at a hotel so close to Disneyland, we had access to the free shuttle that came right to our hotel door every 20 minutes and dropped us off at the entrance to the park. So convenient! Also, the start was at the far end of Downtown Disney, where all the bakeries and coffee shops had opened early especially for the races. Which meant we got to take our time and sip some tea (and I got my pre-race fuel on!) at a nice warm Starbucks at 4am.

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The pre-race staging area was… I’m just going to say it… awesome. It was relatively empty by the time we got there at 4:15, and with the start more than an hour away we had time to wait in short lines for fun photo ops like the Wampa Cave on Hoth, and the Trash Compactor scene!

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Listen to them, R2 – they’re dying down there!

In addition to some warmup dancing, the race announcers did their little patter and I was all in.

They played trailers for the movies and had cast members as Jedi do a little lightsaber show that I know is meant for children but I still cheered for and shed a tear or two because I am a huge baby. Come on, they’re JEDI!

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Soon it was 5am and we had to herd ourselves into the corrals. I said goodbye to Mike and easily found my way (after a little bit of people traffic) to Corral D. Huge balloons with our letters on them were stationed all along the road and cast members directed us by reading our assignments on our bibs and pointing us in the right direction. Easy-peasy.

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Easy-peasy, times a MILLION

I made a new friend in the corral (what’s up, Ali!?) and we chatted to pass the time before the prompt 5:30am start time. By 5:45 we toed the start, and finally the horn went off!

We started on a slight uphill, and immediately I noticed: it was COLD! I had expected California to be warm, dammit, but it was in the 40’s at the start. But we charged through the first half mile in the dark, along a service road and into California Adventure where we were treated to cute Star Wars mentions (logos projected on the sides of buildings, the theme music playing throughout the whole park, etc).

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At one point right before Mile 1, they played the audio of the scene where Rey and Finn steal the Millenium Falcon, and I had a good laugh when me and another Rey on the course both decided to yell out, “The garbage will do!” together.

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At Mile 1 I stopped for a quick photo op with my namesake and was pleased to discover runDisney perk #4,281: photographers that use YOUR camera! At every stop the Disney folks were true pros, taking TONS of photos for free and handing your camera back so you can take off running. I was so excited to learn this – but also sad to see the next photo stop was R2-D2 and C3PO, and the line was LONG.

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It was ok, I reasoned with myself, I only planned on stopping for the one character I knew would be there: BB8. Knowing it’s the Light Side, I expected R2 and 3PO but I’m not SUPER crazy about them. I also figured Chewy and probably Vader would be on the course, but knew I could get pics with them in the park, so didn’t want to waste time there either. BB was the only must-do I knew of. Until a certain Master of the Knights of Ren showed up and threw a monkeywrench into my plans. But more on that later.

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From Mile 1 we continued on past Paradise Pier and backstage – because it was the first time I’d seen any of this, I could feel myself welling up at some of the really amazing sights:

From there we continued backstage to the 5k point where I found the line for BB-8 and made my first stop. A 25-minute long stop!

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I even made friends with line mates like this woman who wanted a picture for her granddaughter because “Rey is her favorite!”

We chatted with each other as the line crept up, and after about 15 minutes I realized catching up to my old pace after this stop was going to be brutal. My legs had gone cold. My knees started to lock up. It was OK, though, I told myself. This was my only stop. Right before I got up to take my photo, a woman behind us announced that her friend ahead of her just spotted Kylo Ren on the course at mile 3.7.

::cue record scratch and breaking glass::

Say WHAT? I had no idea he’d be out there! I HAD to get a photo. Would I be able to make it? I looked out at the course, where folks were still moving at a moderate pace, but a lot of walkers were in there too. I could do it, I reasoned. I HAD to. I asked the cast member as we prepared for my BB8 pic: Kylo is the next stop, isn’t he? He nodded. How fast am I going to have to run to catch him? This cast member, bless his heart, merely took my phone from me, closed his eyes and said solemnly, “Really fast.

Well that settles that. Take my pic and let me RUN!

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And run I did! No, really: I glanced at my watch as I sprinted the next .6 miles and saw an 8:12 pace at one point. I wasn’t messing around. And sure enough, right at 3.7, there he was: Kylo Ren. Along with a line that looked to be about 34 miles long.

But I didn’t care. I jumped into the line and it turns out the line wasn’t THAT long – after standing for about 5 minutes, we’d moved almost halfway through the line. I even had time to snap a photo of another runner dressed as Kylo Ren, complete with his flowing raven locks (a hysterical wig):

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Another 5 minutes later, a cast member announced that the sweepers were only 10 minutes behind us. 10 MINUTES?! Panicked, I counted 5 people ahead of me. I could do it. I had to chance it. If I jumped out and sprinted and missed my photo op, I’d hate myself. So I stuck it out. And I am SO glad I did. Because Mr. Ren seriously enjoyed sassing me. And judging by how I reacted in the photos, I enjoyed it too! Observe:

Stage 1: You aren’t so tough.

Stage 2: Oh my god you’re actually kind of tough and getting all up in my personal space with your face and your finger, please stop, or maybe don’t, also is that Dolce & Gabanna cologne?

Stage 3: this is where I actually started asking the cast members what to do, because Kylo was still monologuing about how he could teach me the ways of the Force and blah blah blah and I had to get running because the sweepers were on their way.

The funniest part of this whole interaction was that the cast members just rolled with it. No one was like “OK, great! You’re done!” They just let me flounder helplessly as they snapped pictures of me looking right at them, begging them for help. That’s commitment!

Finally, I was able to grab my camera and I  TOOK OFF. Knowing the sweepers weren’t too far behind, I wasn’t about to stick to my leisurely 12:xx pace for the last 2 miles. I knew it would shred my legs before the half, but I had no choice now. But that didn’t stop me from having fun:

Yes, I did airplane arms through Tomorrowland.

I couldn’t help it, I was riding the high of nailing both character stops and the unexpected excitement of getting to hang with Kylo Ren! But by now we were now in Disneyland proper, and it was CROWDED. I fought my way through crowds and weaved where I could, wanting to make up some lost time but still managing to snap pics of some Stormtroopers and Captain Phasma as she stood on a bridge and watched us all go by.

With less than a half mile to go, I slowed down; my legs were TIRED from all the sprinting, and I knew the half the next day wouldn’t feel so easy if I pushed straight through. So I walked and jogged to keep my pace, and had a huge laugh when I ran into a crew of Matt the Radar Technicians:

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Bonus: I think I now have my costume for the Dark Side 10K in April!

As I neared the finish I got a burst of energy: all the folks lining the finish area and cheering for us were SO excited, calling out our character names and even finding our names on our bibs to cheer us on that way. It was truly incredible to cross the finish line and finally get my BB-8 spinner medal!

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After getting my medal, the finisher’s chute led us through a tent where I picked up a bottle of water, snack box and banana, and then I found Mike easily near the stage. I breathlessly told him all about the race, we all wandered through Downtown Disney back to the buses, surrounded by the ::clink clink clink:: of everyone’s medals as they walked, and we made it back to the hotel for a quick shower before the We Run Social meetup at Trader Sam’s later that afternoon (and a churro).

It was SO incredible to finally meet all the folks I’d only ever chatted with online – the running community is the best. Once the excitement settled down, we headed to Tortilla Jo’s for a victory lap of guacamole and wine, and some yummy fuel before the half marathon the next day!

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Stay tuned for my half marathon recap!

Star Wars Rebel Challenge Recap – Day 1

I know I’ve been a bad blogger lately but the next few posts will totally make up for that, because I’m back from the 2017 Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend in Disneyland and I’m ready to tell you all about it!

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This was my first runDisney weekend, and while I was a newbie, I still had high expectations. The race fees for these things are borderline obscene at $330 for the Rebel Challenge (10K and Half Marathon), and I expected to get my money’s worth. I’ll ruin the surprise for you: I did. The runDisney folks nailed every aspect of the weekend and then some. Crowd management, security, entertainment, course support; everything was impeccable. And with more than 12,000 participants in the half marathon, that’s quite a feat.

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We flew out Thursday, thinking our 4pm arrival time would give us plenty of room to get to the expo before it closed at 8pm. Unfortunately the weather had other plans and with all the rain-related and rush hour LA traffic, we didn’t end up getting to our HOTEL until 8pm, famished and exhausted. So we scrapped our perfectly planned day 1 and instead stuffed our faces with burgers from the Carl’s Jr. around the corner and passed out by 9:30.

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WORTH IT. SO WORTH IT.

On Friday we woke early and headed into Downtown Disney to get breakfast and kill time before the expo opened at 12, and I might have gone into Disneyland overload.

See, I’ve never been to Disneyland before, and while I’m not usually one to go ga-ga over the whole Mouse and pony show (see what I did there?), it’s hard not to get swept up into the Happiest-Place-on-Earth mania when you’re in the middle of it.

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Especially when they’ve got BB-8 Mickey ears.

We wandered through shops and grabbed some sandwiches, then headed over to the expo at about 11:30 where I was treated to my first glimpse into the runDisney machine: the LINES.

When we walked down the ramp, we were directed to go “left for bib pickup, right for merchandise”. Thanks to my diligent research (reading 1,482 blog recaps from other runners), I knew that merch would be my best bet as they frequently sell out of hot-ticket items, and I didn’t want to miss out on scoring a fun jacket or whatever else struck my fancy. So we were herded into the right side of the basement with what soon felt like about three thousand other people. I was ready to be disappointed by a 2+ hour wait after hearing about other people’s experiences, but was surprised when they opened exactly at 12 and we were moved back up the ramp and into the hotel for a short line around the merch tent itself.

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We only had to wait about another 20 or so minutes as people filtered in and out, and soon we were in the hallowed hall of gear where I snagged a Rebel Challenge jacket, hat, headband, magnet and tank. The jacket was my favorite thing, as I had seen previous year’s versions and got super jealous when I saw folks wearing them around.

While I scoffed at the prices on some things ($36 for a thin cotton t-shirt?), the semi-outrageous prices made it easier for me to pick and choose the things I really wanted instead of going overboard. After leaving the merch tent and being herded to another quick line to pay, we were released into the wild again. And while I thought I’d have to go back on that crazy basement line for my bib, I walked RIGHT up to the counter for my bib and was told to go pick up my shirts in the expo!

The expo was a little crowded, and I was relieved to find that my Women’s Large shirts fit just perfectly. Knowing I had a long two days ahead of me, we opted to skip wandering through the whole expo and grabbed a quick bowl of soup then headed back to the hotel. But not before I serenaded Mike and everyone who watched my IG stories that day with my rendition of the Star Wars theme song that played as we left the park:

I also managed to snap a pic of a bus that matched my BB-8 mickey ears too perfectly:

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Clearly I needed a nap. So after relaxing a bit at the hotel, we walked across the street to Roscoe’s House of Chicken n Waffles for an early dinner.

It was there, halfway through my Carol C. Special of a breast and a waffle, that I decided to move to Anaheim and become a professional Disney runner. Not really, but you know what I mean. I was pretty blissed out on a day filled with Star Wars and running fun and was ready to do anything it took to make it last.

Fun story to end Day 1: When we got back to our hotel, we stopped at the gift shop to pick up some snacks and water, and I discovered an impossible treasure trove of Star Wars toys that I promptly took off the shelves, blew the dust off, and went insane over.

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I’m not talking original trilogy holy grail type stuff, but Episode 1, late 90’s things that I’m pretty sure Liam Neeson wishes would disappear:

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Look at our matching faces!!

After Mike pried me away from the gift shop, no toys in hand, I laid out my gear for the 10K the next morning, set my alarm for the impossibly early hour of 2:45AM (what the HELL), and we were asleep by about 9.

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Stay tuned for my recap of the 10K, where I cried in happiness twice, had my personal space invaded by Kylo Ren and nearly got swept off a race course for the first time in my running career!