Monday, November 28, 2016

{Not your average} Medal Monday

I can't let this month slip by without sharing an amazing part of this year's running journey with you.

This is not about a personal achievement. Not at all.

Although personal tooting of our own horns is often the subject of our blog and/or social media posts, that is not the purpose of this post.

Instead, it is a celebration of friendship, same pace camaraderie, and the massive amount of miles it takes to cross the finish line of a marathon. Especially a first marathon.

Back in January of this year, the running gods aligned me with three amazing women. We all had similar goals for our spring half marathon races and therefore had similar goals for our workouts at each Fleet Feet Mechanicsburg led running class. We all held each other accountable to our goals and paces... just a little obsessively.

This is a picture of us all bundled up at that first workout. Little did we know...

Long story short we trained together all spring and, in the process gained a group nickname. We always needed to know very specific details regarding paces and exactly what our workouts each week should entail. We asked lots of questions and pushed ourselves at every workout. What was the nickname, you ask? OCD Diamond. We were referred to as the OCD Diamond quite a few times and we eventually gave in and began referring to ourselves as just that.

Next came the summer/fall season and we all signed up again to train together. Katie and I had eyes set on marathon and ultramarathon distance (respectively) while Michele and Michelle were focusing on half marathon goals. Unfortunately Michele became injured early-ish in the season and was out for PT a large part of the summer and fall. We missed her dearly and exchanged TONS of facebook chat group messages back and forth checking in on each other to see how she was progressing.  I had issues of my own and also missed some running. Katie had an Achilles issue and was also out and on reduced running restrictions for over a month. Michelle dealt with some unexplained calf cramping issues at a few races.The injuries and issues sucked, but knowing that we were all always there for each other was unbeatable. 

A month before Katie's goal race, Harrisburg Marathon, the other three of us were inquiring over what the plan would be for Katie and whether she was still planning to attempt the race. Although she had missed quite a few long training runs and more miles than she would have liked, she continued to be cautiously optimistic. She persevered and continued increasing her mileage gradually to assess whether the race was realistic. 

Katie sent a message the group after each run with a status report. Every time we had a verbal positivity party for her as we neared closer and closer to THE day. With each added mile and each positive report the excitement for her grew. 

We made group shirts and I even got group bracelets made for us by Momentum Jewelry which I gave them and of course we had to get a picture immediately!! We adapted our shirts to say "The Diamonds" so as not to offend anyone who didn't know the story behind the name. 

You might be wondering... why did we need group shirts if we weren't all running the marathon? Well, back in the summer when Katie first set her eyes on the marathon, we all decided we would also form a relay team so that Katie would not be alone in those miles when things got really tough. At that time we were just thinking it would be a nice thing to do given that it was her first and that having company is so helpful, especially in those final miles when you want so badly to throw in the towel. The night  took the photo above we had an an honest conversation with Katie. We all told her that we were not leaving her or letting her quit (barring really awful injury or reason she couldn't continue) because we were not there for us, but for her. There may have been a small tear fest at that moment, but that was the 100% truth. 

I was volunteering earlier in the day to help set up all the water stations so Michele and Michelle ran the 2nd and 3rd legs of the relay, while I ran the 4th. I waited there for Michelle to return and then would take my turn running with Katie. When Michelle arrived, we switched the tracking anklet and off I went. She had to make a pit stop and then (QUICKLY!!) caught back up to us. Katie was hanging in there at mile 21. Recognized soreness but no injury or pain that was going to stop her from making it to the finish line.  The three of us put one foot in front of the other, chatting like usual, until we reached mile 25 where we picked up our 4th member, Michele!!

She even had the honor to carry the pacing stick the last .2 of the race since the Diamonds had become the pace group. Doesn't that sign look good on her?? 

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Getting to cross that finish line as a group and being there to support Katie as she bravely finished her first marathon was by far one of the best moments of the year!! She fought and worked so hard to make this finish happen despite her body trying to punk her and make her give up.

So today's medal Monday isn't about my medal from this race. It is about Katie's and all that it stands for. Strength, perseverance, and true grit. 

(yes I stole this from her facebook)

I am so incredibly proud of you and your accomplishment. Thanks for letting us all be part of your special day and share those miles with you. I hope you never lose the feeling of how it felt to cross the finish line at your first marathon. 

I was also hoping to have a super special photo to end this post with, but I am still on the hunt. After we all crossed the finish line, we instantly went into group hug (and crying) party mode. Someone from the media staff covering could be heard taking many snapshots of us together. Unfortunately, I am still trying to track down that photo. I do think I have a pretty good lead, but bummed I didn't have it in time to share this post. 

That being said, I could say so much more about our little group and our crazy weird bond that we share, but mostly that I am so honored to know each of them and am so proud to call them my friends. Each one of these ladies inspires, uplifts, and encourages me just when I need it the most. 

Is there someone (or more than one someone) in your running circle that you have a similar connection with?? I would love to hear your stories in the comments below!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Try This Tuesday

All week, I was looking forward to this weekend. I know they say you shouldn't live for the weekends, but sometimes it's hard not to. I didn't go on a trip or some fancy getaway, I just stayed in my home area and enjoyed some great events/outside time.

Friday night after work, I headed over to Absolute Pilates for a special "Runner's Night" event hosted at their Mechanicsburg location. There were two 30 minute classes along with some great tips on remaining injury free from Zang Physical Therapy and running form type advice from the wonderful Fred at Fleet Feet Mechanicsburg,  Funny enough I knew most of the other ladies who showed up from class at Fleet Feet.

When I first walked in, I was pretty intimidated by all the equipment!

Really though, that's only because I have no idea what they do with it!! I set up time to meet with Andrew Zang prior to the event starting to seek out some possible answers on my annoying returning injury in my left leg. He confirmed to me what I though- glute weakness like WOAH. Basically, my injury is pretty typical of long distance runners because we all stink at strength training and making sure our muscles are at our absolute best for running. So lesson learned (again and again) is that I need to focus on continuing my strength training even during marathon and further distance training. I struggle so much with this but I continue to lose time running (and progress) each training cycle because of it. It's time for a change!!

Here's a cool shot posted on their insta @absolutepilates from the barre class. Such a neat (and SUPER challenging) experience. I definitely felt all my muscles working really hard. The burn was REAL. 

During the PT session, we learned some great ways to work the glutes since this is a major problem area for female runners. Apparently glute weakness is a pretty primary reason for most female runner injuries. Explains a lot. Again.. work to do!! 

Fred talked to us about stride, cadence, posture, and other run-nerdy things. I have heard of a lot of the info before through taking their training programs, but it is really always great to hear the info again. Sometimes you learn something in a different way than before or you end up with a good reminder. Either way, its great.

After the two info sessions, we hit the mat and did some more WORK! I definitely felt it all in my legs and abs. I knew I would be feeling all of that hard work the next day (and no worries, I did!!).

In addition to the great workout space, they carry some adorable shirts and tanks as well as leggings. They carry some other fun stuff too, but theses caught my eye. 

I was pretty excited that one of my favorite running ladies hung out the whole night too and we snapped this cute selfie before heading home for the night. 

Have you ever tried Barre or Pilates? 

Monday, November 21, 2016

(some of my) Weekend adventures

Saturday morning I woke up earlier than I do on work days- and happily!!

One of my trail runner partner in crimes, stopped by to pick me up shortly before 7 am to make our way to Boiling Springs to meet up with Appalachian Running Company for their trail run. I have been trying to make it out to more of these runs while my mileage is lower to keep my "trail legs" as they say. Really glad I have been doing this since my 50k since I have added something to my plans for the end of the year (more on that later).

It has been fun to join this group on a few runs and meet some new faces and enjoy a change of pace with the trails and beautiful views.

Here's the crew!!

We were greeted by some really cool fog on the Children's lake in town and I quickly jogged across the road to get some photos (of course!).

Views I don't get to see on my regular day to day. So refreshing and wonderful to soak up the last of the beautiful colors of fall here in south central Pennsylvania.

But wait!! There's more.

Trail partners at the top of the climb!

This picture doesn't even it do it justice.

We got a nice 6 miles in on the trail and we were ready for some breakfast!! We grabbed coffee and carbs at the near by cafe and headed home. 

On to Sunday!!  I got up even earlier- at the bright time of 5am to get myself ready and get to Hershey by 6am for the fall Capital Area Girls on the Run 5k. This is my fourth season on the planning committee and even though it means early mornings on race day, I am always happy to do it!!  We got all the bins unloaded for each of the "Friends and Family" zone areas as well as the registration and other check in areas first and then we all spread out to set up our individual areas before the girls and their families arrived.

The pitch black when we first arrived.

We got all set up and watched everyone start rolling in.

Each school team has their own table where all the girls meet for their race bibs and their running buddies (people they can choose to run the race with them.) They have recently added a middle school program "Heart and Sole," which I think is so awesome and important with all the life changes at that time.

My happy hair station!! Always so fun to add color and spunk to each girl's hair pre-race. For some reason, blue seemed to be the popular choice this season.  Our hands were cold, our hair aprons and spray cans were constantly blowing away, but we definitely had a great crew this time around. 

(both Spirit runner photos borrowed from a friend ;))

This year we changed it up a little and added super cool new tradition called "Spirit Runners." This was a group of runners (most of who I think I recruited from our local River Runners group..LOVE!!) that kind of floated all over the course to cheer on and encourage the girls. I heard great feedback about how fun this responsibility was and I am so glad. Not all of them are pictured here, but I hope they all had a great time.

After the girls headed to the warm-up and announcements pre-race, I relocated to the info booth to relieve another volunteer. It definitely got even colder as the morning went on and the girls and their families did not stick around long like they do sometimes. 

We got cleaned up and that was that. We pretty much ran to our cars since we could not wait to get in the warmth again. Oh, and get home for a hot shower and a nap.

In all seriousness, I love this organization and was so glad that this 5k was on my weekend "to-do" list. To be honest, my to-do list was really not a chore this weekend and I am so glad for things in my life that allow me to step away from all the madness of every day life and the online world to enjoy and appreciate even the smallest things. 

So I ask you--- how did you spend your weekend?? 

I really hope it was filled with lifting people up, being kind, and witnessing some awesome humans doing awesome things. Otherwise, you might be doing it wrong. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Hero Run 5k - 2016 edition

Hey there, friends!! I am not quite sure what happened to the last month, but I do know that I have been SUPER busy. Between work, my side jobs, family, and running I feel like the last month has been both long and short.

Do not fear, even with the busy times I still made time for some fun and this really cool favorite race of mine.

This is both the 4th year of the race and 4th year I have run it. If you have been around a while, you know that I tend to prefer the longer distances so you might be wondering, why?

Originally, it just started out as a fun and different race at the end of the year to see how I could race a 5k after long distance training all summer and fall. But the race has a great mission as well.  Funds raised from the race gives back to the Keystone Wounded Warriors, helping veterans either currently residing in Pennsylvania or those with past "ties" to the state. Funds also go to COPS for K.O.P.S which supports children of officers wounded/fallen during service in Pennsylvania. Last, but not least, it also contributes to the local Swatara Township Police Department's Crime Prevention fund. So basically, I get to challenge myself, have a blast, and support a good cause all at once.

One of the SUPER fun things about this race? Dressing up as a hero, of course!! I am not a huge running in costume fan generally, but it is always so fun at this race. I especially love when I don't have to buy a thing. I borrowed the skirt and sleeves from a friend, cut a sticker from adhesive vinyl to put on my shirt and made the mask and cape myself. It definitely pays to be crafty in situations like this. 

All ready to go, just hanging out waiting for others to arrive.

River Runner crew 

Smaller crew with the mall mascot

This picture was by far one of my favorites from the entire event. My friend Allison and I found our doggy twins and thankfully their owners were AWESOME and let us get our pictures with them. Aren't they freaking ADORABLE?!! Warms my heart a little every time I look at it.

This is a nice little action shot inside the mall. Another super unique thing about this race is that you actually run from one end of the mall to the other right before popping back outside to the finish. While it sometimes presents a little bit of a challenge breathing and temperature-wise, this year I didn't feel like it affected me as much. Either way, its SO COOL to run through the mall. After all, at what other time is that acceptable? 

Right ahead of me in the picture is Ana from Mother, Run, Hike, Repeat and I can't end this post without a huge shout out to her.  Our story is pretty funny and I think I will save it for another day, but she has become one of my favorite running partners. She always pushes me and this race was no exception. We ended up starting together and staying nearby the entire race. This was really my first "race" since my first ultra run last month and I really didn't have much confidence for the pace I could or could not keep. But we did it!! We got to mingle with and encourage some other runners as we coasted through the course. The only time that didn't feel so easy was the slow painful path around the mall to the front entrance. 

I am actually stealing this photo from her blog because its SO awesome. We truly were in sync until the end. There was definitely some back and forth about who was in front of the other, but never in a competitive way. In fact, on the way out of the mall, Ana was the one who pushed me to power it up right at the end. 

Smashing the finish. 

Darn sun glare. 

Great job, ladies!

I will definitely be back for year number 5 in 2017!! After all, it is Wonder Woman!!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Hershey Half Marathon take 2

WARNING:  This isn’t going to be your typical race recap- it may also be a little lengthy. Bare with me. 

A little over a week before Hershey Half Marathon was set to take place, my phone vibrated and when I checked the message it was one from a friend asking if I’d like dibs on a free bib to run. HECK YEA!!! I hadn’t planned on running any more long distance races this year since I had just completed my first 50k merely a week before. The being said, as a stubborn runner who doesn’t like to miss out on an awesome opportunity, I could not turn this down.  I responded very quickly that I would love to.

I was not sure how my performance would be at all but I knew I could not miss out.  I have mentioned to a couple runner friends how much I wanted to go back and do this race, but figured I would have to wait to see if it would be in the cards for 2017. Last year I decided against running it because I had a marathon the following week.  This year, the 50k two weeks prior and I had no idea how my body would feel recovery wise.

Why did I want to do this race again so badly? Hershey holds a special place in my heart and always will. This is where I ran my first ever half marathon (you can read about it here). It is also, coincidentally, my PR half marathon.

Yesterday all I could think of was how different so many things were for me since I ran this same race just 3 years ago.

First and foremost, I arrived by myself at 6:15 am this year instead of probably a little later with my husband and training friend in 2013. I did not stay alone for long though!! I knew a few groups were meeting up at different times prior and quickly checked dear old Facebook to see if anyone else was there yet. Low and behold, Brad was parked close by so I hopped out of my car and walked to meet him. We chatted for a while and caught up since it has been a good few months since doing so. We talked about race calendars and our plans for the race. 

At 6:40 am, we traveled up to another meeting spot for our local running crew, RIVER RUNNERS for our group picture.  We chatted for a bit, used the bathrooms, then headed back to the cars to finish getting ready.

(from the RR facebook page)

Part of getting ready was heading back to my friend's car to partake in some adult beverages. This group was fun because I didn’t really know most of the people very well and two of the ladies were running their first half. It was funny to hear how nervous  and squirmy they were, mostly because I remembered the feelings all too well!! 3 years ago I would have never dreamed of drinking anything other than water before a race but there’s apparently a first for everything!!

(thanks for the photo, Brad!)

After partaking, we all broke up and headed our separate ways to the start line. This was another awesome difference from 3 years ago. I have a running family now that I could have never dreamt of 3 years ago. While I trained with and ran about half of the race with a friend 3 years ago, it is so different when you know a ton of the people running.  I started out with 2 other friends who were  in the same boat as I was- recovering from races and unsure what the race might hold for our bodies.

(Names have been changed to protect the identity of the runners. Just kdding- we were all running on swapped bibs)

I also ran into an friend from an old job and got to catch up with her before the race started- SO SO GOOD to see her. 

(Ignore the weirdos in the background..ahemm)

We got started and just chatted away. The miles flew by. SERIOUSLY FLEW. About 3-4 miles in, we heard a familiar voice (and laugh) of another good friend coming behind us. We continued to chit chat all the way through Hershey. We checked on each other to see how we were feeling, made sure we all kind of stuck together, and had a good old time.  We all conquered each and every hill together and stuck together mostly until somewhere close to mile 12.  I am still pretty impressed that we took very few very quick walk breaks and kept on pressing on. 

(thanks for the photo, Holly!! A fellow solemate- we laughed because later in the race someone cheered for us by saying "GO PURPLE PEOPLE EATERS!! Much needed humor. )

One thing that was just as amazing the first time around was the support from the awesome kids at Milton Hershey School. For anyone reading that doesn't know, this school is generally for underprivileged and impoverished kids from all over the country. It is an amazing opportunity for these kids and they live and go to school on the campus in Hershey, PA. the race takes you through quite a few areas of the campus and kids of all ages are out there cheering you on with signs and high fives galore. I dare you to run through and not tear up a little. I can't. They tell the runners how inspiring we are and we tell them thanks for being there and how much the mean to us. FEEL THE LOVE?!

(from MHS facebook page- I wasn't trying to take a picture at this point!)

(arm candy including a bracelet handed out by the MHS kids)

Crossing the finish line felt just as victorious this time around. Although it wasn't my first half marathon any longer, this finish line represented how far I have come in the last 3 years. Countless 5ks, 10ks, 10-milers, half marathons, two full marathons and one 50k later I know I can do so much more than the runner I as 3 years ago. 3 years ago I though maybe, some day I would do a full marathon. I wasn't entirely sure when or how I would make it happen. 

(official, not so official race photo with Kelly!)

I have changed as a person and as a runner since 2013 in SO MANY WAYS. So many good ways. Ways I am proud of. Running has truly evolved my life and given me this incredibly wonderful running group that I consider family. It has really helped me push my limits, give me confidence and connected me to so many amazing people in the process. 

(from Chocolate Town Challenges facebook page)

We celebrated afterwards at Troeg's brewery since it was a quick drive from where we were.. of course we needed another group photo. Sadly, there were a few other's there beforehand that we missed.

I was so nervous back in 2013 as I lined up at the start line but little did i know that it was just the beginning of an amazing adventure and how much running would continue to change my life race after race and year after year.  It was so fun to reminisce at yesterday's race as I took in all the miles for the second time. I hope I will be back many more times in the future!

Have you ever run a race more than once and stopped to think.. really think about how you are different than the first time you ran it?? I am not just talking about paces, but rather how YOU are different as a person?

How has running shaped or changed your life? 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Blue Cruise 50k 2016- My first ultra

Let me just start this post by saying... HOLY CRAP I AM AN ULTRA RUNNER!!!!!

Now let's get down to business.

The Blues Cruise 50k started at 8:30am with packet pick up starting at 7:30am. Needless to say, we were up extra early and arrived plenty early. We grabbed our awesome swag and headed back to the car to get everything ready. And of course snapped some ridiculous pictures to capture the moments prior to my first 50k ever. So thankful that I had my awesome tasc Performance gear on. It held up well and was so comfortable the entire race. 

This photo was taken by one of the photographers really early on in the race- probably around mile 2-3. We were trying to really pace ourselves coming down the gravel hill- it was way too easy to want to FLY!

Blues Cruise is known for its pretty epic aid stations. Even the first one was entertaining as we were greeted by this lovely smoking nun. I didn't really take anything from the first station other than some water. 

Beautiful views were abounding in this race. It is one big loop around Blue Marsh Lake and there are plenty of chances to view the water. 

This is the name and entrance of the second aid station.. Say it slowly and you'll see why it's so funny. The aid station was around mile 8 and is where I took my first drink of soda and I think pickle juice. I never tasted anything so good!

The pictures won't do most of the scenery justice, but I will share them anyway. You will thank me. I felt an amazing sense of peace and relaxation while running this race just because I was so disconnected from the "real" world. I left my phone in the car and was SO thankful I did. I wanted to allow people to live track me, but I did not want to see messages or notifications. I took a chance and just went free. It was so amazing. It also helped that I had an awesome friend, Bekah, who ran most of the race with me and showed me the ropes

Super blurry, but that's what happens when you try to take pictures when you take pictures while running.. slowly.. but running. 

...same goes for selfies. 

This path was more of a road, but it was so covered by leaves and everything else, it was still just as peaceful and wonderful as everything else. 

At our 1/3 of the way point!! I thought it would be overwhelming to think that we still had 21 miles to go, but I really did not feel that way. We were just on an adventure!

Some more aid station pictures here. Everyone at this one was dressed up and they had some good stuff going on. They had french toast which people raved about. I think I just ate oranges and really salty chips and drank some soda and pickle juice again. 

Halfway point- Still a lot of miles to go but smiling and ready to tackle ALL OF THE MILES. 

Another awesome aid station.. and they even knew it!! Pink flamingos and an amazing array of food.  

I had this delicious burger as a last minute decision because I didn't even know they were an option until I had already downed some soda and who knows what else. 

We found a pretty impressive FUNGI in the forest. Loved the color. 

Another picture that really doesn't do the scenery any justice at all. You could see the fog over the mountains and it was just breathtaking. Which was ironic because we had just come up a decent incline and were out of breath

THE ABSOLUTE BEST AID STATION EVER was at mile 21 (ish). It was the best for quite a few reasons. They are as follows:
2. We had to climb a ginormous mountain/hill/death incline to get there..NO SERIOUSLY. We did.
3. They took my pack off and filled it while I stuffed my face full of delicious calories. 
4. BEER. We were so sweaty and at 2/3 of the way through, we definitely deserved to celebrate.
5. We got to run on flat ground for a while after this aid station which was also reason to celebrate.

But seriously, the volunteers at all the aid stations were great, but these people were just fantastic. I got a hug that lifted me off the ground and cheers for my first 50k and all of this gave me renewed energy to get it done. 

More water.. my happy place. 

Our last selfie together until the end of the race!! And coincidentally my last picture during the race too. I am not sure why. Maybe I was just absorbed in everything that was this race and looking forward to the finish. 

Thankfully, there were photographers in there somewhere as we came down a pretty steep hill. It was really awesome that they had people out there to catch some shots of us on the course. 

I can't really recall all the thoughts I had while running in this race.. except those silent (and those not so silent) curses as we approached climb after climb when I wasn't so sure I could power my legs through another one. There were many moments were my legs felt so burned out, but I never once thought "I can't do this" or "What am I doing here?" Maybe I am an extra kind of sick or crazy. However you want to spin it, that's totally fine with me because I had an absolute blast. 

Right before the end of the race, you climb this gravel hill that you think you will never make it to the top of and then when you do, a nice man tells you that you are almost done. They tell you that you have about a quarter mile to go and you get really excited. You get even more excited when you realize you have someone to make that last little journey with. This guy I crossed the finish line with was that someone. I have no idea his name is (although I keep meaning to look him up in the results.. maybe I will) and only know that his IT band was burning (he told me). This is why the running community is so cool. We support each other no matter what and stupid little things mean a lot. All this is to say that we shared some conversation that last leg of the race and we crossed the finish line together. We crossed the finish line and he turned and gave me a high five. The coolest. I proceeded to tear up (okay, maybe some sobbing occurred.. and maybe Bekah laughed at me too) of course and get my finishers jacket. 

All changed (not clean, just clean clothes) and some food in our bellies, we thought it would be fun to get one last picture with our new jackets before we hit the road. 

All the swag- long sleeved shirt and visor for participating, jacket for finishing!!! Not too shabby. 

Maybe you are all wondering whether I will be running any more 50ks? 
The answer is..ABSOLUTELY!!  I enjoyed this so much and will definitely be looking forward to my next one. No, I did not come home and sign up for another one, but it will be happening. 

Would  you ever consider a 50k? Are trails your friends or enemies?