Tough, but pretty.

I walk into the gym on a Sunday night. I’ve been stressed. I need this. Mentally ready to smash this workout, I turn on the appropriate music, Christina Aguilera. Headphones go in and I’m ready to tune out.

As I warm up, an older gentleman approaches me. I set down my dumbbells and pop out one of my earphones. The man proceeds to tell me in the kindest voice possible, “I’m not trying to flirt with you. But good, bad, or indifferent, you look a lot like Ronda Rousey, tough but pretty.” I thanked him, he wished me a good day, and walked away.

I stood there for a moment, somewhat taken aback. Oftentimes, I brush aside compliments. (Not to say that I receive them often.) I smile politely, thank the person, but I’ve always had somewhat of a rule to not let those words go to my head. Fear of too large an ego, perhaps. “Tough, but pretty” was different. It felt genuine and it not only put a smile on my face, but bolstered the rest of my workout. Tough was the last thing I’d felt in recent days, and how perfect was it to be both tough and pretty? The ultimate combination for this girl.

Random compliments are often the most genuine. However, I almost felt guilty for letting someone’s random (and heartfelt) words affect me in such a way. I had to stop and ask myself why though. Isn’t that what life should be about? In the words of Hannah Brencher, “It’s putting your selfishness on the back-burner to make sure someone else feels like they can conquer something today.” With those words, I felt like I could accomplish my workout.

It is often the small words that mean the most.


I spent a long weekend disconnecting in the beautiful PNW. I had to disconnect to reconnect, both to myself and to the world around me. The phone was put aside. The camera stayed (mostly) tucked away. I did not take many photos this weekend. Which, if you know me, is somewhat absurd and quite rare. I found myself wanting to savor the moments, the sights, the sounds, the emotions surrounding each place I visited. Instead, I took mental photos and relished in the disconnect from the stresses of the daily grind.

When the year started, instead of having New Year’s resolutions, I decided on a mantra. Something I could gently use to remind myself of what intentions I have for this year and my growth. “Do more of what makes you happy.” That is exactly what this weekend was about. Re-learning to love myself, appreciating my strengths as well as embracing my weaknesses. It was about finding happiness in the small things and remembering what it is like to show self-care and love.

So often I get caught in the day to day grind. It is all about how much I accomplish, how many checkmarks are made on the sticky note to-do list. It is about how I’m improving myself every. single. day. How clean the house is. How shiny my newest photo on IG is. Measurable daily accomplishments. At the end of the day though, I’ve started asking myself, ‘what did I do for me?’ I take ten minutes for myself and write. I set aside the phone, computer, and other distractions and pick up a paper and pen. I reflect on the day’s events and indulge in a little self-care. It is in these small moments each day that I find myself reconnecting to me.

I went for a run on the waterfront during this disconnect weekend. Nearly 7 miles of crisp air, beautiful sights, sounds, and catharsis. My lungs ached for more, more, in a way that only other runners can understand. My feet felt light and my body responded in a way that only happens once every 674 runs. Never mind that I received a number of odd looks as I was the girl in hot pink shorts in 45 degree weather with a giant smile pasted on my face. I was running happy.

It was on this run that I thought of Oiselle’s increasingly appropriate catchphrase: Head up, wings out. I used to run a lot of trails. With trail running, it is difficult to stare straight ahead. Your eyes have to be trained on the ground, lest you trip over a tree root, rock, or trip over your own two feet. I’ve done all three. I blame these trail experiences on my tendency to stare at the ground while I run.

On last weekend’s waterfront run though, I noticed just how much my eyes were trained on the pavement beneath my feet. Rather than brush it aside, I attempted to retrain my eyes to take in the sights around and in front of me. I thought of my dad when he was teaching me to drive, “Jessica, the best drivers are often looking 10 seconds in front of them to anticipate what they need to do next. Keep looking ahead.”

A couple minutes into the ‘retraining,’ I looked down at my run watch. I was running a full 30″ per mile faster by simply adjusting where I set my gaze. Let’s talk about the physical effects. Your head is up, thereby opening up your airway. Your lungs are actually getting more oxygen, which equates to more efficiency. Not only are you looking to what is ahead, you are aware of what is around you at the time, fully able to savor the moment.

How much can this apply to daily life? So often I get caught up in the day to day grind. Focusing on the to do list, the work schedule. Was this not said above? How much better off am I to focus on the sights ahead, head up and wings out.

So often, we let others’ influence and opinion govern our actions. So much of this last year, I feel as if I’ve been held back. Often chastised for my constant need to look to the future, to plan, to set goals and to set measurable objectives to reach said goals, I’ve hesitated to push for true growth. I am finally in a place in my life where I am again learning to stand on my own two feet and know what it means to be myself. I have realized how important it is to set my sights ahead and dream so big it scares my pants off. To realize that in order to enrich someone else’s life, I need to first learn how to enrich my own and be happy with me. Flaws and imperfections included. It is not weakness to be independent, opinionated, and goal oriented. I am focused. I am strong.

I am tough, but pretty.

You Spin My Head Right Round…13.

I haven’t decided which is harder, lacing up my shoes and walking out the door or running the actual 11 miles. The mental game is often times more difficult than the physical. I psych myself out, I find all of the excuses, I conjure up tummy aches and knee pain. I fall into the thought pattern that I’m just too tired, I wouldn’t be able to put 100% into it, so why should I do it? The mental struggle is real.

This round of half-marathon training is no different. I am currently in week 5 of my 13th round of training. Holiday Half, here I come! You would think that 3 weeks of zero running while in Central America last month would restart all of my motivation. (More on the trip later.) Not the case. This round of training has had an entirely new focus: speed. I am going to PR this next half-marathon. Track workouts once a week, tempo run once a week and a long run. I’ve gone from lifting heavy 6 days a week with intermittent running to focused running 3 days a week, lifting heavy 3 days a week and one active rest day.

It looks a little like this:

# Week Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
1 9/20-27 Track

8×100

 

Leg Day

Core

Bi/Tri

Shoulders

Core

3.5 

Tempo

Chest

Back

Core

7 L Off
2 9/28-10/4 Track

6×200

 

Leg Day

Core

Bi/Tri

Shoulders

Core

4.5 

Tempo

Chest

Back

Core

9 L Off
3 10/5-11 Track

8×100

 

Leg Day

Core

Bi/Tri

Shoulders

Core

5.5 

Tempo

Chest

Back

Core

11L  Off
4 10/12-18 Hill Rpt

5×30sec

LD 1

Core

Bi/Tri

Shoulders

Core

6.5 T Chest

Back

Core

12 L Body

Weight

 

5 10/19-25 1,2,3,4-

321

Ladder

 

LD 2

Core

Bi/Tri

Shoulders

Core

6.5 T Chest

Back

Core

13 L Body

weight

6 10/26-11/1 Hill Rpt

8x30secs

LD 3

Core

Bi/Tri

Shoulders

Core

4.5 T Chest

Back

Core

9 L 3-5 E
7 11/2-8 8×100,

4×400

 

LD 1

Core

Bi/Tri

Shoulders

Core

7.5 T Chest

Back

Core

15 L 3-5E
8 11/9-15 1,2,3,4,5

4,3,2,1

Ladder

 

LD 2

Core

Bi/Tri

Shoulders

Core

6.5 T Chest

Back

Core

13 L  Off
9 11/16-22 8×100

 

LD 3

Core

Bi/Tri

Shoulders

Core

5.5 T Chest

Back

Core

11 L 3-5E
10 11/23-29 4×400

 

LD 1

Core

Bi/Tri

Shoulders

Core

4.5 T Chest

Back

Core

9 L Off
11 11/30-12/6 8×100

 

LD Any

Core

Bi/Tri

Shoulders

Core

3.5 T Chest

Back

Core

7 L  Off
12 12/7-13 Rest or

Stretch

6.5 E Bi/Tri

Shoulders

Core

3.1 E Chest

Back

Core

REST! 13.1!

 

Track days included a mile warm up and a mile cool down in addition to 4 different dynamic stretches like walking lunges, squats, butt kickers etc.

Each of our gym days are a concentrated power hour in the specified muscle group. It’s heavy lifting and a killer challenge. The tempo run is typically 50% of that week’s long run and it is done at a 10k pace. The long runs on the weekend are generally run naked. That is, without a Garmin or headphones, so I can disconnect and actually remember why I love running.

Like I had mentioned, this round of training is focused on speed. I truly want to get better. But, let me tell you, the track workouts are a reality check! I consider myself an adult most of the time. I hate adulting, but I didn’t think there was much 5 year old left in me. I was wrong. Jess, the small child, comes out during track workouts. I must have thrown 3 temper tantrums during an hour workout. There was so much negative energy, pouting, arm crossing and throwing myself down on the ground. At one point, Eli made the mistake of asking how I was doing. I wailed, “I’m f*&%ing AWFUL!”

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I do give my best effort though. I push myself into asthma attack oblivion. I push beyond my comfort zone. That 5 year old can be quieted if I focus on the track in front of me. I keep my head up. My wings out. Thank you, Oiselle.

It’s all going to make me faster, right?

All of my complaining and failed adulting aside, I actually like track workouts more than I do tempo runs. I have the hardest time motivating myself to push hard for that many miles. Anyone else have such a complicated relationship with running?

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I am looking forward to seeing the improvements in my running. By designing this challenge, I knew it was going to kick my booty. I knew there were parts I was going to hate. What is that adage though, ‘if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.’ I’m ready to change. I want to run faster.

I also want to keep the balance. I love running. I love running for the mental clarity, for the run highs, for the happiness. I love running to discover new trails and to both lose and discover myself. When I push myself to run faster, I lose that joy. It becomes solely about getting through the workout and not the joy of the run itself. I’m working to find joy in the challenge.

Maybe it looks like this:

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Or, perhaps this is just what a break during a long run looks like.

A Yarn About Running.

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Shorts pulled on. Shoes laced. Hair braided. Mind set. Go.

As I tie my running shoes and head out my door, I set my intentions for my run. Is this an interval run, a pace challenge, a hill run? Or is this simply a run because I need it? Am I running because I feel obligated to or because I want to? These questions set the tone for the run as a whole.

Tonight, I ran because I needed it like bananas need peanut butter. I ran because my muscles were tight and sore from my relay last weekend (more on that in my next post.) I ran because it was my therapy

I haven’t written in a while. Fact. Now, I could sit here and give you all kinds of justifiable excuses. But that’s just it, they’re excuses. School, work, relationships, board exams, the dog ate my keyboard…excuses. The real reason I haven’t blogged about running, cupcakes, and happiness is because I’d lost the groove.

I’ve said this more than once, I find my best inspiration for writing after I’ve had a good run. And, I simply have not been putting in the time needed to have good runs, to find that inspiration. Yes, I’ve been running. But, they have not been the feel good runs where magic happens.

Those runs are what make everything else worthwhile. The magic is when everything just falls into place. Your mind isn’t telling you to stop with every step forward. You aren’t worried about time. Or pace. Or distance. You just run. Magic.

It is on those magic runs that I have the best mental clarity.

A side note: You know when you have a skein of yarn that you didn’t bother to roll into a pretty ball? As you use it to knit or crochet, the skein becomes this tangled bunch of yarn. A messy mass of string. The more you tug on it, the worse it gets.

That is how my brain feels before a run. Tangled with the day’s stresses, worries, and the ever-present to do list. It is tangled with thoughts of everything else I should be doing besides running. It is tangled with guilt that I haven’t been more consistent. It is tangled with every bit of negative self-talk tinged with anxiety.

It is not until I’m a couple miles into my run that I can feel those knots start to loosen. I can feel that silly, negative voice in the back of my head start to calm down. The muscle tightness starts shaking loose. The daily stresses start to shake themselves off.

It is so often on these runs that I find myself living in the moment. Once the tangles have been undone and I finally have a pretty ball of yarn. It is then that I can keep my inner voice calm, focus on my breathing, and be thankful for the privilege to run.

This is how today’s run felt. Magic.

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This yarn about running can really be summed up this way:

Before Run = Sad Jess.

After Run = Happy Jess.

And sometimes, it just takes a small reminder to motivate us to keep going.

Set your intentions. Find the magic. Not every run is going to be great. But, remember that a run brings cupcakes, unicorns, and rainbows. Or an untangled mass of yarn. Your choice, really.

 

Never Trust A Fart

Trust :noun: Firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.

Mile 17 of the Bend Marathon. We’re finally coming downhill from a 4+ mile climb. I’m sweaty, grouchy, tired, and my body wants to coast down this hill. I let myself relax….and it happened before I could even do anything about it. I trusted a fart. As I continued running, every backside muscle clenched, I wondered to myself the definition of trust. I trusted myself to maintain composure, I trusted my bodily functions to contain themselves and act appropriately. I was wrong. 

Thankfully, there was a port-a-potty within a half mile of the accident, so I was able to clean myself up the best I could. I never dreamed that this would happen in real life!

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When I try to think of how to describe the Bend Marathon, the only word that comes to mind is humbling. The course was humbling for even experienced runners; plenty of hills and trails to contend with. It humbled me, mind, body and soul. The 4+ mile long hill, that started around mile 12, humbled my mind into realizing that the mental strength I thought I possessed wasn’t adequate even if I tried to convince myself otherwise. It humbled my body into realizing that the 2-3 days/week (if that) of training was not nearly enough to prepare me for this race. This race humbled my soul in that not every person loves to run long distances. And, even if you love them for a while, you may not always feel that way.

I truly felt I loved to run long distances until I ran this race. Maybe it was the lack of training. Maybe it was the lack of happy vibes. Maybe it was the lack of good sleep the nights preceding the race. But, I finally learned what people refer to as “the dark place” when running long distances; that emotional, negative, pit of despair. It was the Blerch in all of his terrible glory. I had to run away from those feelings like the grim reaper (or the Blerch) was chasing after me.

I cried for the first time during a race. Less than two miles from the finish line, in the middle of a park with people around, I lost it. Big, heaving sobs and alligator tears when I told Eli that I just couldn’t do it. 

I still crossed the finish line. I still ate my cupcakes. But not without a small change of heart. I learn a lot about myself while running 26.2 miles. It was certainly no different in this race.

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A huge thank you to Ida’s Cupcakes for the frosted post-race deliciousness!

 

I learned what it meant to push yourself, even when there’s nothing left. Even when there’s no desire to even put one foot in front of the other. You separate mind and foot; you force the body to keep going. It is amazing how quickly weakened the brain can become in such a long race if you aren’t prepared.

I learned what ill preparation does to your mind and body in a marathon. I learned how important proper hydration is, and how much gummy bears really mean to me.

I learned that sometimes the worst side of you comes out during a race. I had a sailor’s mouth and a spiteful heart. The things coming out of my mouth after the halfway point…I truly don’t know how Eli kept by my side, repeating, “I don’t care what you say. We promised to cross the finish line together.”

In the week leading up to the race, I had to be honest with myself. Yes, we had fabulous shirts made for the race. But. The training was nowhere what it needed to be to run a solid race and potentially PR. I was accepting of that fact, and Eli and I decided to run this race for fun. And perhaps take a few selfies along the way…

 

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The above photo was a little more than halfway through, and about a mile into the 4 mile long hill. I was still feeling pretty decent, and even had the thought of beasting my way up the entire hill…Hence the face.

And, here we are, only a few miles out from the finish line. At this point, I think Eli hated the camera as much as I hated the thought of having to place one foot in front of the other. Where had all of our joy gone?

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I wanted to write an inspiring post. I wanted to put a positive spin on a race that did not at all go to plan. I wanted to write how loving, positive and supportive Eli and I were to each other throughout the race. (We were both buttheads.) But, sometimes, things don’t go as planned.

The Bend marathon was a beautiful course. A mixture of river trail, city streets, a daunting uphill climb, and a glorious downhill to the finish. More aid stations than I ever could have imagined, gummy bears galore, and energetic race volunteers. I ate my weight in bananas offered post-race, and the libations were perfection.

I thought the course did a wonderful job of giving a taste of the city of Bend, the beauty of some of their parks, as well as the Deschutes River. It gave those from out of state an idea of all that the Pacific Northwest has to offer.

Aside from my bad attitude, the only other negative thing I can say about this race was the organization/flow. The 300 and something marathoners started at the same time as the 3,000+ half-marathoners. It made for a very crowded river trail, with passing a near impossibility.

Overall, I would do this course again in a heartbeat. I love Bend. The views were fantastic. The course kicked my ass. The aid stations and volunteers were wonderful. And, did I mention the giant wall-mount bottle opener for a medal?!

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We crossed the finish line holding hands, with smiles on our faces. We learned a lot during this race, both about ourselves and each other. The two most important were these:

Celebrate finish lines, not finish times.

And believe me, never trust a fart.

 

Marathon Training and Less Complaining.

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What do you do when you’re stressed out? Do you reach for the large spoon and the jar of peanut butter? Lace up the running shoes and take it out on the pavement? Grab a pen and write it out? Grab some iron and work it out?

I’ve not posed a question to my readers before, but I’m honestly curious as to how everyone handles stress. So, lay it on me! I’ll even put the peanut butter spoon down…

I think I do a combination of all of the above. But, not all at once. Week 3/15 of spring semester of dental hygiene school has just finished, and I already cannot believe the length of my to do list. Numerous projects, six board exams, many clinical hours and long days. Oh, and did I mention round 4 of marathon training?

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This was my, “Let’s rock this!” face before taking my first board exam last weekend. Nerves and coffee had me a little excited. Anesthesia written exam is complete. And I aced it! I’m ready for my next 5 exams! -Or am I? Next up is my clinical anesthesia board at the end of February.

Today begins week 3 of Round 4 of marathon training. This time around, my focus is on injury prevention and keeping my sanity. As aforementioned, I’m busy. You’re busy. We are all busy. Isn’t that the point? We’re always busy. We’re always moving, doing, thinking, planning. But we are never too busy. I am a firm believer that if it is important to us, we will make the time. This goes for anything: meditation, relationships, eating well, studying, sleep. Not just running or exercise.

With this in mind, Round 4 of marathon training has been created with the intention of balance. My previous training plans have included running 5-6 days a week with only the mere thought of cross-training in there. This time though, I’m only running 4 days a week and spending 3 days a week cross training at the gym. This is in hopes of providing a more rounded training plan without completely fatiguing my body. I’m currently compiling a good runner’s workout, and hope to be able to share what I come up with soon!

As for the running, I’ve taken and tweaked a number of marathon training plans, and formed one that actually works for my schedule. Sundays are my long, slow, distance, (LSD) run day with the runs ranging from 12-22 miles. Saturday is my mid-pace run with distances from 6-10 miles, depending on that week’s mileage. Monday-Friday is a little bit up in the air, as my school schedule does vary. I just make sure I get at least two days in at the gym, a fartlek run, and a hill repeat or mid-distance run in.

A fartlek run is basically ‘speed play.’ For me, this means running for one minute and sprinting for 30 seconds and then repeating this for the duration of the run. Yikes. With hill repeats (HR,) I run to a pretty decent hill near my house. I sprint (or, erm, run hard while thinking that I’m sprinting. When, in reality, I look like a turtle wading through peanut butter) up the hill and then walk/light run back down. I repeat this however many times specified.

Here’s a gander of what training is going to look like (Clearly subject to rearrangements and many changes…):

We Run For Cupcakes Marathon Training Plan

W Date Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
1 Jan 12-18 Gym Gym Fartlek 30-45min Hill Repeats 5x  Gym Mid-pace 4-6 LSD 12
2 Jan 19-25 Gym Gym Fartlek 30-45 6-8  Gym Mid-pace 4-6 LSD 14
3 Jan26-Feb1 Gym Gym  Fartlek 30-45 HR, 5x  Gym Mid-pace 4-6 LSD 16
4 Feb 2-8 Gym Gym Fartlek 30-45 6-8 Gym Mid-pace 4-6 LSD 18
5 Feb 9-15 Gym Gym Fartlek 30-45 HR, 6x  Rest Mid-pace 6-8 LSD 20
6 Feb 16-22 Gym Gym Fartlek 30-45 6-8  Gym Mid-pace 4-6 LSD 16
7 Feb23-Mar 1 Gym Gym Fartlek 45-60 HR, 6x  Rest Mid-pace 6-8 LSD 22
8 Mar 2- 8 Gym Gym Fartlek 45-60 4-6  Gym Mid-pace 6-8 LSD 16
9 Mar 9-15 Gym Gym Fartlek 45-60 HR, 7x Rest Mid-pace 6-8 LSD 20
10 Mar 16-22 Gym Gym Fartlek 30-45 6-8  Gym Mid-pace 4-6 LSD 18
11 Mar 23-29 Gym Gym Fartlek 30-45 HR, 8x Gym Mid-pace 4-6 LSD 16
12 Mar 30- Apr 5 Gym Gym Fartlek 30-45 6-8  Gym Mid-pace 4-6 LSD 14
13 Apr 6-12 Gym Gym Fartlek 30-45 HR, 6 Gym Mid-pace 4-6 LSD 12
14 Apr 13-19 Gym Fartlek 30-45 Gym Gym  Gym Mid-pace 4-6 LSD 10
15 Apr  20-26 Gym 4-6 easy No run 3-4 easy No run No run RACE!

 

*****

A moment of gratitude. In the 2 1/2 years that I’ve been a runner, I’ve never been able to coerce someone to run or train alongside me. Granted, I’ve had many a runner join me in the same race. I’ve helped spark that running fire in a number of wonderful people. I have also had runners that are training for the same race. But never someone following the same training plan, experiencing the same agony  joy that I am.

I am so thankful to be able to say that I have a training partner with me to prepare for the Bend marathon. The same guy who kicked my butt at a 6 week fitness challenge is now getting his butt handed to him with marathon training. He is now part of the We Run For Cupcakes team. We do our Monday-Friday runs on our own, as the half-state distance between us prevents us from doing everything together. We then run Saturday, Sunday together.

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This was completing our first week of marathon training together. Tired, sweaty, smelly and exhausted, I was so elated to have someone running by my side!

 

Let me be honest, though. I don’t always love running with someone by my side. Especially long runs, when I just tend to tune out.

We just finished week two of marathon training. We ran 14 in Forest Park on Sunday. I’m never a very happy camper the first 3 or so miles of any run. It takes me about that long to settle into the run, and the self-talk is generally of the negative variety. Never mind the fact that we were also running those first 3 uphill.

I’m not a very competitive person. At least, I don’t consider myself one. Until a certain someone comes along with natural running talent and can just bound up these trails without being winded, while I’m back here wondering if someone stole one of my lungs.

That’s what happened Sunday. First 3 miles. Uphill. I’m trying to calm my mental demons and settle into a steady rhythm. And yet, it is all I can do to keep up with Eli! I’m thinking to myself, “Hey man, these are my trails. This is my domain. I was going to teach you about running. Why are you already showing me up?” The inner 5 year old in me screamed, “It’s not fair!”

No, no, I didn’t say that out loud. I surely was thinking it though! He did the smart thing and ignored my complaints. We laughed about it later, when I finally settled into the run. Maybe I am competitive…?

So, here it goes, here it goes again. Marathon training, round 4. I’m very much looking forward to this challenge in physical fitness and balance of time and energy. At this point, I don’t have a time goal in mind for finishing. Ideally, I would love to finish in under 4:30.

Bend Marathon, here we come!

 

Head, Shoulders, Knees and Feats

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Portland marathon: 26.2 miles

Cupcake flavor: Pumpkin with maple buttercream frosting

Wakeup time: 4:45 am

Start time: 7:11 am

Finish time: 11:50 am

Temperature: 60 degrees

Mood: Giddy, excited, happy…after a successful pre-race bathroom trip.

Pre-race meal: Honeycrisp apple, almond butter, and a pumpkin ALT bar.

Race fuel: Nuun, pink lemonade and GU chomps, watermelon

Longest training run: 22 miles

Length of time training post-injury: 10 weeks…yikes.

Here I am, a month and a half later, finally blogging about the Portland Marathon. Sigh. Dental hygiene school gets in the way at times. But, I promise this post is full of happiness and cupcakes!

My training wasn’t the greatest this time around and, quite frankly, pretty stupid inadequate. I was apprehensive about what the Portland held in store for me. I’d signed up for this race a year in advance, and I wasn’t about to give up running because of a silly little injury and a lame boot. Das Boot came off the end of June and my physical therapist was adamant that one, I wait at least a month to begin even light running, and two, that I purchase shoes with lots of support and cushion in them. I did my best to listen.

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My first run back was in mid-July. See the picture? I listened. I waited a month to run and I’m even wearing supportive running shoes (and mismatched socks.) These are an old pair of running shoes, but I even went so far as to go and try out 8 different pairs of running shoes with varying amounts of support in them. I hated them all.

I made a valiant effort to try supportive shoes for 3 weeks. And then I ditched them. Not. A. Fan. They felt heavy and entirely too rigid. I’m so accustomed to my Brooks PureDrift or New Balance Minimus, that anything more felt cumbersome. I like the minimalist, lightweight, flexible, 0-4 mm heel drop, kind of shoe. So, that’s what I returned to. Sorry, Kyla.

My few weeks of training were slow, as I eluded to in my last post. It was humbling, grueling, and a little disheartening at times. I never once kept track of pace. But I know I was slow. It was enough of a mental struggle to get out the door each time, that pushing pace didn’t seem like the smartest thing to do. Not to mention that my tibia wasn’t fully healed either. I was not concerned about pace. I needed to focus on distance, on crossing that damned finish line.

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Here I am chucking deuces at the 22 miles of Forest Park I’d just  conquered. Longest training run before the marathon.

What a run. I set out that morning to run 16. Eight miles out and eight back on Leif Erickson trail. 7 miles in, I had a very sudden and large need for a bathroom. And not the kind of need that can be satisfied with jumping off the trail for a moment. From that point, it was 4 miles to the nearest outhouse. Which happened to be at the entirely opposite end of the trail, 3 miles beyond my turn-around point. My other option was to turn around and run the 7 miles back to where I started. What do you think I chose? My 16 mile run suddenly became 16+3+3=22. At least I had a happy tummy at the end!

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Race day came way too quickly. The stats of which I eluded to at the beginning of this post. I’ve been mulling over (for 6 weeks now) how exactly I wanted to discuss my Portland marathon experience.

Let’s talk about songs. These tend to define the overall race experience in a number of ways. Driving to the race with one of my best friends from elementary school and our respective boyfriends, the nerves were almost palpable. I woke up that morning with a rather ridiculous song stuck in my head, and had no choice but to play it for the car: DJ Khaled, “All I Do Is Win.” What can I say? I was ready to win the race.

After my first real experience with multiple race corrals, I really did start to feel like cattle being herded. The song going through my head at the start line is one I’m rather ashamed to admit. Standing there waiting, I kept hearing, “Players gonna play, play, play. Haters gonna hate, hate, hate. I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake. Shake it off, shake it off.” Taylor Swift, you do not need to be in my head this early in the morning. However, I could stand to shake off those nervous jitters that always take hold of me in the minutes preceding a race start. 

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Here I am in the first third of the race, still entirely too energized and happy. Except, that’s surprisingly how I was through the majority of the run. In the first 8 miles, I kept looking all around at the other runners, in awe of the energy surrounding me. We all had put forth so much effort, so much time, to make this day a reality. This sounds rather silly, but the REM song, “Shiny Happy People” popped into my head as I ran down Naito Parkway. The song is rather repetitive, but it basically talks about being surrounded by shiny, happy people. And that is exactly how I felt. I even felt like a shiny, happy, people. Yes, a people. Shiny, happy, sunshine and smiles.

Again, the first 6-8 miles seemed to zoom by. Partially because they had so much live music for us. The other part being the aforementioned energy. The music though! So many wonderful artists, guitarists, vocalists, multi-instrument ensembles. One group was playing MGMT, “Electric Feel” on a particularly boring straight stretch. Thanks guys, I had that song stuck in my head for the next 10 miles.

Overall, the race went better than I’d hoped. A random spectator during mile 18 saved my life with the most amazing banana I’d ever eaten. I really should just start carrying a banana with me during long runs, because they always seem like pure, ingestible gold 2/3 through a marathon. Remember this? Mile 19 of my last marathon, and my aunt handed me a banana. I am fairly certain I had tears in my eyes. That was how happy I was at the sight of a banana.

Mile 20, there were belly dancers! What a random form of entertainment for the runners. I, however, loved it. Little known fact about me: I belly danced for 4 years in high school. It’s such an amazing form of self-expression, not to mention pretty great to watch…except when you’re 20 miles into a run. I stopped and demonstrated my best hip shimmy and hip circle with a huge smile on my face, as if to say, ‘see I know how to do this too! Can’t you tell?!’ Sadly, I am more than certain I looked very similar to someone having a seizure. Sigh. I tried.

The last few miles of the race, I was accompanied by an awesome runner from Seattle. I’m pretty sure our random babble was what kept me sane.

 

This was about mile 23 or 24. I made my new found friend stop so I could capture this. I’ve been taking pictures of random “Hello, my name is…” stickers for two years now.  You can see them here on my Instagram. I promise you, I’ve never placed one myself.

As we ran the last 2.2 miles, every other word out of my mouth was profanity. Poor friend. All I could think about was the burger I was going to feast on afterwards. I detailed every last topping I wanted.

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1/3 pound burger with pepperjack cheese, over easy egg, bacon and avocado.  Craving was indeed satisfied.

Head, shoulders, knees, and feats. Head, shoulders, knees, and feats. Eyes and ears and nose and mouth…Head, shoulders, knees, and feats.

What a random song to pop into my head while running a marathon.

Head: Positive mental attitude is everything. Without that, the race could not have been conquered. It is remembering why you’re out there, why you run. It is remembering how far you’ve come to be in this moment. ‘Wherever you are, be all there.’ I could not be where I am today without the support and encouragement of my friends and family.

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With tears streaming down my face, I could not think of a better way to come across the finish line. This guy even made a shirt to show his support:

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“Team Jessica” on the front and “#werunforcupcakes” on the back.

These ladies. Forever friends. And an amazing support and more hugs at the finish line.20141125-131834.jpg

 

Shoulders: I had the most difficult time keeping my shoulders out of my ears during the marathon. I kept having to conscientiously relax them. Surprisingly, they were the only part of my body that was sore the day after the race. Explain that.

Knees: Going into the marathon, I reminded myself to keep the pace slow and steady. About halfway through the race, my knee started to twinge. Immediate thought: “Oh no! Another injury! How in the world am I going to make it through the rest of the race?” It is amazing how quickly my brain jumps to conclusions. I pushed on.

Feats: Simply, I crossed the finish line. I completed another marathon. I ran 26.2 miles two months after Das Boot and an incredibly humbling injury. I pushed through mentally and physically to cross the finish line of my third marathon with tears streaming down my face and a giant grin.

Don’t worry, the cupcakes were devoured.

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There Are No Problems, Only Opportunities.

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No news is good news. But, this is a blog. I need news to write; be it good or bad.

The good news: No stress fracture.

The bad news: No running.

In other news: Meet my new friend, Sexy Boot. We’ve decided to start going on adventures together around the grand city of Portland. He’s not the fastest means of transportation, and we get some strange looks, but overall, it’s looking like it will be a mutually beneficial (and hopefully short-lived) friendship.

Remember my mention of shin pain in my last post? Two weeks prior April’s marathon, I started getting twinges similar to shin splints in my right leg. The pain worsened, but I still ran my marathon on it. Even when the pain kicked in at mile 2. I gave it a couple weeks post-race to see if it would get any better. It started aching all the time. If I tried walking around on it too much, it would turn into a shooting, sharp pain in the lower part of my shin. The thought of running would make me cringe. I’m not a big fan of doctors. I’m not at all against them; it just takes a lot to necessitate going in. The lack of improvement after two weeks and my complete inability to run was reason enough.

A trip to the orthopedist, an x-ray, and an MRI later and I learned what ailed me: torn tendons in the lower portion of my right tibia. Overuse injury. The Remedy = No running + Sexy Boot + Physical Therapy.

Sometimes, it takes being deprived of something to make you truly appreciate it. Running is a gift. A privilege. I felt that I’d always valued this ability. But, to be suddenly told that I’m not allowed to run, not allowed to partake in an activity that brings me happiness, mental clarity, and most of all, sanity? The world better watch out. It gave me an entirely new perspective. I’ve only been a real runner for 20 months, but it has become such a defining feature of myself. “Hello, I’m Jessica. I’m a runner, an amateur photographer and a lover of teeth.” To have to add a caveat to the first on that list was painful (pun intended.)

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Yes, my house has stayed incredibly clean. I’ve found myself getting anxious and irritable when Sunday rolls around and I’m not heading out on the trails for a long run. I see runners on the road and find myself thinking murderous thoughts that would surely get me in trouble if I verbalized them. Those runners didn’t deserve my negative attitude.  I was (am) surely just jealous. Side effects of not running: mood swings, irritability, insomnia, guilt, crying, irrational behavior, excessive caloric intake to expenditure ratio…

A reality check was needed. I’ve found new activities to occupy my time. Sexy Boot and I have gone on some adventures. We hiked Munra Point in the Columbia River Gorge. This is a view at the top of the hike, facing west.

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It was a beautiful and steep climb that was absolutely enjoyed. The day was warm and none too windy. The hike was 7.5 miles round trip. The only downside of the hike was that the first portion of it, you walk pretty much parallel to the freeway. Once you pass Moffet Creek though, you begin steadily climbing and leaving the road noise behind.

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This is facing south, looking down Tanner Valley. I was perched rather precariously to even get this photo.

In addition to hiking (slowly, I might add), I was given the okay to start biking. This is an activity that Sexy Boot and I are not together for. I’ve been cycling over 100 miles a week to help in my pursuit of the mental clarity that running brings me. I’m also trying to take all of this extra time I have and start learning to properly cross train and strength train. My sister’s wedding is less than 3 months away. As her maid of honor, I can’t be the dumpy looking one of the group…right?!

Sexy Boot is not getting me down. My mantra right now is the title of this post, and comes from one of my dental hygiene professors. She said this to us at the beginning of our program, “There are no such thing as problems, only opportunities.” That is how I’m viewing this setback. It is an opportunity for me to discover new things, new ways to stay fit. It is an opportunity for me to focus on improving my overall body strength, work with physical therapists so as to prevent myself from injury like this in the future. I had three half marathons scheduled for the months of May and June. It has taken a lot of willpower and a humbled attitude to have stepped down from them.

I want to be a runner until the day I die. If that means taking time off to heal now so I can be stronger in the future, then I am ready for it. It is surely a test of my mental toughness, as I have a hard time even considering myself a runner right now. Regardless, this setback is going to set me up for an even stronger comeback. Be ready for it.

I Found It.

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It. I found it. My running mojo, my running spirit, that zeal that I’ve been missing. It was out there all along. We can call off the search parties. It was out there in the dark and the rain, hiding. I found it after a 12 hour school day, with a headlamp on, reflective gear, and a flashing red bike light on my backside. My running mojo was outside, only to be found after 5 miles of loops around the neighborhood. Sneaky, sneaky little mojo.

How exactly did I find it? By pushing myself. But not that simply put. All of these things mentioned above are easy excuses not to step outside. The lateness of the hour, the rain, the cold, a long day. It was the realization that, even though I was tired, I had the mental toughness to lace up those running shoes and walk out that door. That was one-third of it. The second portion came from the determination to not look at my Garmin. That little GPS watch is an evil thing. Garmin = gremlin. It does nothing but give me anxiety about how fast, slow or how far I’ve gone. Each mile, the little thing bleeped at me. I resisted the urge to look down at it. I didn’t want to know my pace, my exact distance or how long I’d been running. Not today, anyway. Do you have any idea how much self-control that took? And yet, it brought so much more peace of mind. Ignorance, for once, is bliss. And the third part in this discovery of mojo can be summarized in two words: Albuterol inhaler. My asthmatic lungs were appreciative.

In rediscovering my zeal, I made this realization: Running is what you need it to be. Be it therapy, clarity, sanity, happiness, calm, a way to eat more cupcakes, a center, a challenge, training, a way to better oneself… Sometimes it’s all of these reasons, sometimes it’s only one. The only limitations set are placed there by our own self.

This rekindling has made me realize my training has been slacking. Like, real bad. (Say that last sentence with a drawl.) Structured runs have fallen by the wayside. Many would scoff at such an admission, and I must say that I am a bit ashamed of myself. I’ve 5 more races on the schedule for this year, and being focused on improvement would be the wise course to take. However. Semester 2 of dental hygiene school is underway, and stress management is of utmost importance. Running is my therapy, clarity, catharsis, my fun, and not a stressor. I need to keep it that way. This is what I need running to be right now.

With that being said, I give you my Redding Marathon Relay race recap. With a special focus on fun, cupcakes, and a weekend of nostalgic connections.

The weekend of: Through some grace of both the running gods and the god of social lives, I had 4 days off the weekend of the race. How does this happen? Really, it doesn’t. I decided to take full advantage of my time off and, rather than drive the 7 hours to Redding, Ca, I flew to San Francisco on a Thursday evening. I spent the weekend with a classmate from middle school (nostalgic connections, remember?)

Friday was spent exploring the city in as much of its entirety as can be managed in a 24 hour period of time. We traipsed around by bus and by foot, up and down the hilly streets of San Fran like it was no big deal.

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Armed with the best tour guide ever, I was able to see all that the city had to offer amidst fantastic weather. Ready for the sights covered? Deep inhale… Fisherman’s Wharf, Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill (and the nearly 400 stairs to the top), riding cable cars, Presidio, Embarcadero, the Ferry Building, Union Square, Lombard, Chinatown, Haight, Palace of Fine Arts, Russian Hill and the beautiful views that surrounded, Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, and a plethora of both delicious coffee, and splendid food. Whew! All of that in one day.

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Saturday held more old connections (and delicious food at Stacks) with a friend I hadn’t seen in over 6 years. It held a beer mile relay and party in Alamo Square for a 40th birthday. It held new connections with amazing running people. Sidenote: you know you’re at a party with kindred spirits when a guy walks in and proudly announces he’s just run a 50k that day. Though, he doesn’t like cupcakes. So, I’m none too sure what to make of that. Speaking of cupcakes, that’s how I ended my Saturday night. At Sift. A delicious cupcake bakery. Nom.

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Onto Sunday. Race day: 3:30 am wakeup time. The roads were empty and the clouded night sky padded almost all of the quiet 3 1/2 hour drive. Bon Iver on the radio, and I had the privilege of sleeping instead of driving. Bleary eyed, this is what I woke up to about 45  minutes before arriving in Redding:

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A lovely sunrise and my usual pre-race food: a honeycrisp apple with almond butter. Such a slow, hazy, calm way to begin my day. Race start was 8 am, with a lovely temp of 30 degrees. My amazing 4th grade teacher, Eva, ran the first leg of the race, with 9.6 miles. I ran the second leg with 9.8 miles. The third and final 6.8 mile leg was run by Eva’s amazing 11-year old daughter. And no, I did not get quizzed on my elementary science knowledge. Phew!

The course itself was beautiful. I could definitely see myself returning there to run the full 26.2. The sun came out, the sky was blue, and the choice to wear shorts wasn’t terribly regretted. Although. The rolling hills were a bit grueling. I mean, how did I get roped into the single hilly leg of the course? About three miles in, I came around a corner just as I was cresting a lovely little climb when the sun bursted through the clouds, the intensity temporarily blinding me. And then it happened. My legs saw direct sunshine for the first time in months. And, let me tell you, they positively glowed. I think I could’ve rivaled what’s-his-name, the glittering vampire. Aside from that, the lungs behaved fairly well, as did the mental toughness. My biggest gripe in the course? A hill over a mile long. As I was running up the hill, I came alongside another runner. She said to me, “Now this is just a silly course. A silly, silly, stupid choice in course,” with a pained smile on her face. I shared her sentiments. Post race was celebrated with cupcakes, silly photos, and happily exhausted conversation. And brunch food.

To those of you who know me, I am not what one would refer to as a morning person. I like to get up earlyish (think 8-9 on weekends), and I force myself out of bed early for long runs. But. Getting up before the sun does really isn’t a choice I would voluntarily make. Surprisingly though, Monday brought another pre-dawn wakeup. And another noteworthy sunrise. 6 am and we went up to Twin Peaks to watch the sun creep its way above the horizon line.

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My California weekend brought with it a lot of amazing memories, ridiculous moments, sleep deprivation, and splendid scenery but it taught me one large thing. I spend so much of my time on the go. School, work, running, always planning, sticking to a schedule and my endless amounts of sticky notes. I’m constantly ‘plugged in.’ To email, my phone, social media. Save for my camera, my SF weekend was entirely different than my norm. I put away my phone. My laptop stayed closed. I focused on the moment. I took deep breaths. And I smiled. I kept thinking to myself, wherever you are, be all there. And I did exactly that. The result, I am happy to say, was content and a peaceful happiness that crept its way onto my face 93.2% of the weekend.

The latter portion of Monday morning brought another check off the ol’ impossible bucket list: running across the Golden Gate bridge. Never mind the fact that I ran across the side of the bridge designated for cyclists only, without knowing prior, or that I was informed of this sad fact no less than 6 times in the 1.7 miles across the bridge.

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It was such the perfect run that day, though. Clear blue skies and warm enough to run in a tank top and shorts. In San Fran. In January. Who does that? Me. While avoiding oncoming cyclists and stopping in the middle of the bridge  to assist a couple failing at taking a selfie.

Speaking of failing at photos. Right after I helped the rather surprised couple in taking their photo (I mean, what kind of sweaty weirdo stops their run to help someone take a photo?), I decided to stop for a photo myself. Not a selfie. But, a photo with a view of the city. However, it was so bright outside that I failed to realize my camera was on front-facing mode. I laughed pretty hard at the result. Top photo: inadvertent selfie. Bottom photo: The view I was aiming for. Whoops. What shall I caption this face? ‘Intense concentration’?
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And with that, my San Francisco vacation came to a close, Angus and Julia Stone’s song “Big Jet Plane” on repeat in my mind, and a content smile on my face.

**

I finish this post after a Sunday run with a wonderful friend, delicious brunch, and avoidance of all things school related. As I was driving home from food, still smelly from my run, I decided to stop at the grocery store. Grimacing at the smell emanating from my running shoes (and the rest of me, really), I got out of the car. As I walked in the store, a not unattractive gentleman in his motorcycle leathers strides up to me, smiles, hands me his business card and says, “I am quite certain you are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in my life.” He then turned around and walked away, while I stood there awkwardly dumbfounded with my cheeks becoming increasingly reddened and a dopey smile on my face.

You guys, I hadn’t showered yet. I had salt crystals on my face, no makeup, and my hair looked like an afro. I was wearing awkward layers of clothing that made me akin to the abominable snowman in running tights. And that’s not even getting to the smell. I envision myself like this Peanuts character.

My day was absolutely made. But, it begs a few points here. One, even when we feel we are at our worst, there’s going to be someone out there who still thinks we’re wonderful. Whether it’s just the fact that they think you’re attractive, have a brilliant mind, or just appreciate you for something that goes unseen by yourself.  And two, it never ceases to amaze me how far one small compliment goes. Seriously. I finished my weekly shopping venture walking just a smidge taller than normal.

So you, dear readers, do something for me. Go out of your way once in a while and make someone’s day. Ideally, today. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, but you’d be amazed at how far small words will go. Just be honest about it. That man didn’t walk up to me and say, “My, you smell lovely!”

 I’ll never see you again, stranger, but thank you. I’m still smiling.

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The take away today is this: Wherever you are, be all there. Live in the moment. Breathe. Find balance. Smile, even when others think you’re absurd for doing so.

And don’t forget to find a silly little song to put on repeat (and dance around to in your underoos):

Holiday Half

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I begin writing this post with a giant, proud smile pasted across my face. These three people with me in the photo above crossed the finish line of their first half-marathon on December 15th . No one can take that away from them. They trained hard and this race was their reward. Well, and the cupcakes. Which are homemade gluten-free dark chocolate with a mint buttercream frosting. They were gone before the weekend.

My sister and her fiancee came up from the Oregon coast for the weekend. What a whirlwind weekend it was! Christmas parties, Peacock Lane, Pioneer Square, Christmas trees, amazing food. Always amazing food. I cannot show someone Portland and not give them a taste of the delicious food mecca they have stumbled upon. That would be absurd!

I also took sister to Foot Traffic for their expert advice in running shoes. Thank you, Kevin! Both my sister and her fiancee had their gait analyzed and shoes recommended. I even talked them into doing a few test runs around the block. I will just say this: running in knee high boots to provide moral support to someone testing out running shoes is not recommended.

We all ran the race in good spirits (holiday cheer, anyone?) and weather outside was surprisingly cooperative. 40 degrees with intermittent light drizzle. No wind this year, and I am eternally grateful for this.

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Sister and I ran in matching outfits because we’re awesome. Running tights, highlighter yellow 1/4 zip long sleeve, head bands and gloves. Glorious gloves, there really is something to be said about them. They’re wonderful when it’s cold out. I find that about mile 3 though, they get ditched. It’s the first part of my body to really warm up.

I need to digress for a moment. I’ve been training on an injury. Again. After my last half, pace became almost an obsession. I wanted to PR the Holiday Half more than anything in the world. So I began running with a focus on my speed. I’m proud to say my current 5k best is 21:18, 10k best is 46:50. Though, with this hyper-obsession with pace (which, if in moderation, can definitely be a healthy and motivating thing) , I pushed myself too hard. The week of Thanksgiving, while visiting family, I injured my left ankle and shin. I was out on my well-travelled 6 mile loop in Gold Hill. I was about halfway through, pacing a sub-7 minute mile and pushing it pretty hard, when my tibialis anterior muscle just seized. I couldn’t flex my foot downwards. I came down hard and crumpled in a pile on the pavement. As any runner knows, the first emotion to hit you is not upset at injuring oneself. It is anger that the injury may interfere with one’s running ability. And interfere it did. Two weeks before my half-marathon and I was lying in a heap on the side of the road, staring at my shin and ankle like they were to take all of the blame. How I wished death glares worked on injuries. Eventually, I got back up and hobble/jogged back to my family’s home. Two weeks before my half-marathon and the realization came that a PR probably wasn’t in the books for this girl.

Injury aside, I still ran the half. I was not about to let this huge day for my sister, her fiancee or D slip by without being a part of it! I am so happy I did. Sister and I ran together until about mile 9. We kept a sub-9 minute pace and great conversation. When I run with someone else, I always feel like I need to preface myself with, ‘I am not responsible for any of my words and/or actions during the first three miles.’ That proved quite true in this race. Profanities, complaints, rants…Sorry, sister! My injury decided to really flare up a little more than halfway through the run. So, at mile 9, I slowed for some water and ushered sister on her way with a, “Get it, girl! Kick some ass! I love your face!” I couldn’t keep the 8:45 pace we’d maintained, and she was still feeling good. Those last 4 miles were hard on me, as they are for anyone. I rounded that last corner of the race and locked it in. I gave it all I had left in the tank to cross that finish line with the exact same time as my current PR: 1:57. And that with an injury. My sister kicked my bum with a 1:55 finish, her fiancee crossing the finish line a full 11 minutes before her. Finish line cupcakes were demolished, post-race beers were enjoyed by the boys and many photos were taken.

20131217-114226.jpgNot long after the race, I convinced all three of my lovely Holiday Half-ers to run a full marathon with me. Honestly, it really didn’t take much convincing. Just a few smiles and words of, “it’s really not that hard, I promise.” Okay, okay, so I lied a little. But, it worked. Portland Marathon, here we come!

In addition, we’ve already locked in our next half. One that I’ve also run before. The second annual Hop Hop Half! The next few months will give them that much more time to improve their pace and really whoop my ass! All in good fun, right?

Pride. Happiness. Elation. Inspiration. All of these emotions experienced over the course of our Half weekend. I am so appreciative of the amazing family I have and our shared loves; food and running, namely.

 

I hope all of my lovely readers have the privilege of spending this time of year with those that mean the most to them. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve some peppermint hot chocolate to drink in front of the fireplace and some crazy family time to enjoy.

Happy Holidays, all!

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