Race Recap: Philadelphia Children’s Hospital Parkway Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race Recap: 2018 Seaside Semper Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NYRR/Front Runners Pride Run & NYC Pride March

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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tired post-Pride subway riders ❤

Race Recap: Newport 10K and a New PR!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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pics or it didn’t happen, right? 😉

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Star Wars Dark Side Challenge Recap: Half Marathon

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

Gotta love that Disney touch 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sore, sweaty, exhausted eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

Star Wars Dark Side Challenge Recap: 10K

After a relaxing pre-race day in Florida, my alarm went off at 2:35 and I poured myself into my snazzy homemade Captain Phasma outfit for the Star Wars Dark Side 10K! PS – a HUGE thank you to Tiffanie (aka Star_Wars_Runnah) who made my skirt and tank BY HAND to thank me for donating to her NYC Marathon March of Dimes fundraising efforts! She’s one of the only other runners out there who loves Star Wars as much as I do, and I pretty much fell in big-puffy-hearts-on-your-Trapper-Keeper-LUV with her after meeting her in Disneyland during the Light Side Challenge. Go give her a follow on IG.

If there was one good thing about getting to Florida a few days early, it was being able to acclimate myself to the heat and humidity. Seriously, it was brutal. Like, in the 90’s with 86%+ humidity every day we were there. But arriving a few days early gave me a chance to get used to it and hydrate extra, which paid off in the end.

So I hopped on the easy-peasy lemon-squeezy bus to the start area right outside my hotel and before I knew it, we were at the Magic Kingdom parking lot start staging area!

I SPY A MATT THE RADAR TECHNICIAN!

The coolest thing I discovered about the WDW races (when compared to the Disneyland races in Anaheim) is that they set up character photo ops at the start and finish areas to guarantee that you get a pic with whoever your little heart desires without having to worry about missing them on the course (or being swept from the course if you waste too much time waiting)! They had Phasma, Kylo Ren, Darth Vader, Jabba, Boba Fett, and BB8! So what’s a girl who arrived way early to the start to do? Go make some friends in low places:

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I almost stole Salacious Crumb but the running from the cops would have added extra miles to my legs before 19.3, which seemed kind of pointless.

After heading into Corral C and waiting for what felt like a LOT longer than I waited during the Light Side Challenge (probably because I was alone this time), we were finally at the starting line!

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Once the gun went off just after 5:30AM, we took off in the dark through the Magic Kingdom parking lot and out the gate that folks drive through, which was fun:

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The one downside to the WDW races (compared to Disneyland) is the time spent off Disney property. The run down the highway to get to the first park was a loooooong one. Especially when it’s dark and about 90% humidity and you’ve got a cape that doesn’t breathe (but absorbs your sweat quite nicely) flapping round your ass the whole time.

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They DO kill it on the pro photos though, especially in the parks!

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This is a funny shot I had to share: apparently, social media is now a part of my very DNA, as evidenced by this pro shot after I stopped to snap some on-course pics:

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Pathetic. Hysterical, but pathetic.

And while I kept an eye out for the character stops at each mile, no one really jumped out at me as a must have. Darth Maul and R2-D2 were there I think, but I was just kind of hot and wanted the whole thing to be over with, really. The last 3 or so miles as the sun came up were quite lovely, though!

And for all the miles of non-character filled highway we had to run, I will say that Disney made up for it BY PUTTING HUX ON THE MILE 5 MARKER.  YOU GUYS, HUX. GENERAL BITCHFACE HIMSELF. I died.

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He’s one of my favorite characters in the new trilogy. He continually looks like he’s watching someone NOT use a coaster on his new Ikea coffee table, and it’s killing him. I love his sassy ginger resting bitch face and cannot wait to see him return in Episode VIII.

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They also had some non-Disney sanctioned folks (aka the 501st legion!) IN the parks, which was cool!

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Another fun part about the Dark Side race (and dressing up as a Dark Side character): is getting to play a BAD GUY! I had SO much fun sassing the Stormtroopers – and they got into it too, saluting me and giving Phasma the respect she deserves (yaaasss QUEEEEN).

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Right before we finished, the last character stop that I made was for Chewy, because how can you NOT stop for Chewy?

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Here’s another fun pro pic. Of course I had to do airplane arms because I’m a child and can’t think of anything better to do in front of a race photographer:

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Here you can also see how poorly my $4 silver gloves handled the Florida heat and humidity. They served their purpose.

Finally I entered Epcot, the final half mile in view of Spaceship Earth, and crossed the finish line with smiles and thanking the lord this running sauna was over with.

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The medal was so cool: a badass Stormtrooper with a red ribbon that matched my pedicure of all things!

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While I was glad the race was over, I was even more excited: now I got to wait for more character photo ops that I didn’t get before the race or on the course!!

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Although I cannot, for the life of me, seem to NOT be awkward around Kylo Ren. I turn into teenage me, acting all weird around the hot guy and forgetting how to form sentences or look at the camera for a photo.

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We did get to do the Force choke thing. heheh. Which was fun.

Finally, I jumped in line for a photo with my namesake and LOVED it. I wanted to hug her like Mickey Mouse, but I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have liked that.

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Fun Fact: Alex, who I met at the Disneyland races, also went for the Kessel Run Challenge and ran these races too. He snapped a pic with Phasma and posted this to Twitter:

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Thank you for making me giggle-snort, Alex!!

Once I had my fill of character photos I headed back to the hotel on the bus and showered for a day of fun with mama and friends at Disney Springs.

I also made it to the WeRunSocial meetup as well, where I got to hang out with folks I’ve only ever seen online – so fun to make “real world” friends!

Overall we kept it low-key (to spare my legs before 13.1 the next day) and had a great time before heading back early for another 8PM bedtime and 2:30 wakeup for the next day’s half marathon!

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!

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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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!