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!

I Promise I’m Still Here…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Bootcamp is Changing My Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NYRR Poland Spring Marathon Kickoff 5M Race Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2016: The Year of That. Just. Happened.

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

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Too soon?

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s review, shall we?

January

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

February & March

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

 

April & May

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

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June & July

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

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Photo by Brian Zuleta

August & September

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

October & November

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Runners World Half & Festival Day 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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thumbs up for free race pics!

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

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

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

 

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

Bart even played host and got us our cake!!

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

Apologies in advance for the shaky camera and profanity.

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

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

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

Shoe Review: Altra Paradigm 2.0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Runners World Half & Festival Recap: Day 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo Credit: Brogan Graham

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

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

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

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

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::heart eyes::

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for Day 3!

Runners World Half & Festival Recap: Day 1

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

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

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

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

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

Me: Yes, hi!

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

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

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basically me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for Day 2!