Kansas Half Marathon

A local running organization put together a race series called the Heartland 39.3— three half marathons in one month, all within 50 miles of the Kansas City metro area. These races include last weekend’s Rock the Parkway, the Kansas Half Marathon, and Running with the Cows, which is in two weeks. I registered for the series back in October and got a steal for the races, it cost me $39 per race since I signed up so early. I figured it would be a fun challenge, but at the time I didn’t realize how amped up my spring race schedule would be.

Going into this weekend, I had no idea what to expect. I’ve run marathons, but never back to back half marathons before. I didn’t know if I would be sore from pacing Austin in his half on Saturday, if my allergies would subside,  or how fatigued my body would be. When I got home from the race on Saturday, I slapped on my compression sleeves and pants, hydrated and stretched like a champ, and relaxed, trying to do my body the best I could with hopes of waking up feeling alright on Sunday.

It worked! I popped out of bed at 4:30am on Sunday and was pleasantly surprised with how fresh my legs felt, which raised my hopes for the day! My baseline goal for the race was to run it in under 2:30, but I really wanted to shoot for another sub-2:20. Having been on my feet for 13.1 miles the day before, I wasn’t sure of how attainable this goal was, but it was still what I was aiming for. I did my usual pre-race routine, water, bathroom, breakfast, bathroom, brush teeth, bathroom, you get the idea. The race was about 30 miles from where I live so I hopped on the highway at 6am and rocked out to my running playlist on my iPhone the whole drive. My adrenaline was definitely pumping and being able to crank my music super loud and dance in my car helped get the nerves out.

The temperature was perfect for racing, in the upper 40’s, but the wind was not. Upon arriving to Lawrence, I was greeted with 20-25mph winds…brrrrrr! It still wasn’t going to get me down, it’s not like I haven’t ran in the wind before! However, I was very thankful I packed a throwaway long sleeve shirt to wear for the first couple of miles and a pair of gloves to wear during the race to keep my fingers warm!

My friend Jacob made a 3-hour drive to Lawrence to run his first half marathon! We rowed together at Wichita State and it was great getting to see him again! I found this picture from back in the rowing days…which feels like a million years ago!

He was pretend napping and I was not-pretend bothering him 😉

He was slightly freaking out before the race started as we were huddling with other runners in a bus waiting area in attempt to block the wind and noted that I was, “Cool as a cucumber,” which puzzled him. I realized that I like spending the last 10-15 minutes before a race soaking everything in–the people, the moment, the start line…I love it. I love being able to stand there silently and totally be in the moment. This race wasn’t huge (less than 2,000 half marathoners) and was incredibly organized; normally I like being at the start line about 20 minutes before a race starts, but due to the wind, all 2,000 of us corralled to the start line together about five minutes before the gun went off in efforts to stay as warm as possible.

Jacob and I agreed that we didn’t want to hold each other back, so we didn’t plan on running together. We stayed together for the first couple of miles and he took off ahead of me after the first aid station. I had situated in with the 2:20 pacers who were so fantastic, they were great pacers and really nice people. I didn’t study the course beforehand, just the elevation, and knew to expect huge hills at miles 4 and 10, other than that, I was cruising right along with my group and enjoying the run. My legs were so cold due to the wind that it took several miles for them to finally warm up and not feel like wooden boards, which is a feeling that I absolutely hate. So finally, when my legs got warm, they were rudely greeted by said monstrous hill. It was on the University of Kansas campus and I wish I had a picture of this thing because it was such a beast. My breathing efforts had really increased and I had to work mentally and physically to keep on running up the hill while keeping my breathing intact. Finally when we got to the top of the hill we were greeted with a cold rush of wind and I was so thankful to be back on flat ground.

This portion of the course was an out and back, and after mile 5, we started seeing the leaders of the race heading on the back portion. It was cool getting to cheer them on, but a big con was that we were running on a wide sidewalk, literally right next to these people going in the opposite direction. I feel like it was more of a con for the faster people because if they were wanting to make a move to try and pass someone, it was nearly impossible due to the mass of slower people going in the opposite direction. This race has also never had as many people run it as did yesterday, so I’ve got to give them that. I feel like if it retains popularity (which I think it will) then they will/need to alter the course to be accommodating to more runners.

One reason I did love this out and back portion was because you got to see everyone in passing, so I got to cheer on and high five several friends, plus the people watching made the miles fly by! We came up on the 9-mile marker and I could hardly believe we had been running that long…that’s when you know it’s a good time! My left shoe lace had been getting looser and looser, and around 9.5 I had to pull over to the side and retie my shoe, I knew I couldn’t make it to the end without doing so. This really messed up my rhythm and even though I was able to catch back up with my pace group, we were about to hit a sucker of a winding hill at mile 10 and then I really started to feel it. Fatigue was setting in and I had to take a short walk break. I wasn’t happy with having to do this, but my legs needed it.

The race was happening so fast, after climbing up that last hill there was an awesomely long downhill to mile 11, and the rest of the race was flat to downhill. I vowed to run the last 2.1 miles with all I had and I knew my time would be at least under 2:25 and I went with it. Kids had their hands up for high-fives coming into the final stretch and I fived maybe 4-5 kiddos which was so fun, my legs were cruising me right into the finish and I crossed with a huge, goofy smile on my face.

I seriously felt SO. GOOD. Maybe it was the runner’s high, or accomplishing something I wasn’t sure I would be able to do, or having a time I was happy with, or knowing I poured my all into it…but was so stinking happy! These feelings are what make me love running. My official time was a respectable 2:23:17 and I am completely happy with that.

Jacob finished in 2:19 and it wasn’t as pretty for him as it was for me. Let’s just say he spent some time praying over the porcelain gods a short while after the race…

Pre-pukefest

Two half marathons in two days, check! This experience reaffirmed to me how important it is to believe in yourself and that the seemingly impossible is quite more attainable than we may realize. Like I said on my Facebook, you never know what you’re capable of until you test the limits, and then push past them. The end may not always be bright and clear, but you’ll never know what it looks like until you get there.

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Garmin Half Marathon

Today was a different race experience–I wasn’t running it for me, I was pacing a friend to the finish line of his first half! He came to be about four months ago and asked if I would help him train for this race and he put so much work into getting where he did today.

Going into the race today, I really wasn’t completely sure what to expect out of the morning. Austin had done a fair amount of the training on his own and aside from typical nerves, we were both feeling alright about the race. We situated in with the 2:40 pacers and the first couple of miles went really well. Eventually, we began a run-walk strategy and maintained that for the remainder of the race. Did I tell you that Austin has never done a race before? Not even a 5k! This was huge for him. Parts of it were tough, physically and mentally, but he was able to push through and I am so proud of him.

This race was a big, humbling, learning experience for me. All of my previous half marathons have been at ‘my’ pace and I was always going for ‘my’ goal, never for someone else’s. I spent the entire 13.1 miles talking through things with Austin, keeping him encouraged, reminding him how capable he was of finishing, and making sure we got to the finish line in one piece! I hadn’t thought of it until his mom mentioned it to me after the race, but I was kind of his brain for him during the race. It felt really good being able to help someone reach their goal, after all, that is one thing I desire to use my running-ness for.

What I love most though, is that he’s already talking about ‘the next time…’ he’s going to race!

I will say that I loved the race, course, volunteers, everything! I absolutely want to run the marathon of this race next year and count it as my Kansas marathon!

Tomorrow I take on the Kansas Half in Lawrence…wheeee!

Rock the Parkway 2012

It’s funny now that I’m repeating some races, that recaps now need to include the year.

In the days leading up to Rock the Parkway I began to feel anxious–something I haven’t felt before a race in quite some time. The last two halfs I did were both while training for my first full, so I didn’t have any ‘real goals’ for those races. When I ran my first marathon my goal was to finish alive (check) and my goal for the second was to enjoy it (check).

Last year, I set a half marathon PR at Rock the Parkway and I did, at 2:20:18. I didn’t break 2:20 but I was very satisfied with my efforts at that race. Every half I ran last year was slower than that time, ha! But it was because my goals had shifted to a marathon, which I run at a much slower pace than half marathons or any distance shorter than that. Basically, I had gotten really good at running slowly for stupid long amounts of time, but had to fine tune my speed before lacing up for RTP.

Friday night I fueled up with lots of hummus and a huge Greek salad at a new-to-me Greek restaurant with my friend Shelly to plan our trip to Minnesota next month for Med City (she’s on her way to running a half in every state)! It was fun and delicious, and I was at home in bed promptly passed out by 10:30pm. This is the first race I’ve been able to sleep in my own bed the night before in 6 months! It was glorious! I loved being able to set out all my things where I wanted, and not having to check out of a hotel at 6am.

I wasn’t totally sure what I was going to have for breakfast race morning, but 5am on Saturday rolled around and I scrambled up some egg whites and two slices of Genesis 1:29 bread, with a large iced coffee (which I NEVER do before a run) to get my nervous poop out, because I knew otherwise it wouldn’t happen. At 6am I was out the door and a good thing too, because though RTP is only in it’s third year, the popularity of it has grown exponentially! They had to cap the race at 4500 half marathoners, up 1000 from last year, and it showed in parking!

This was Jen’s first half marathon, and Bridget came down from Omaha so her family (who lives pretty close) could all finally see her race! They came in VERY handy too in cheering me on at the race course when I was feeling like death multiple times, but onto that later. After doing the standard 2+ pre-race potties, us ladies headed to the start line and said a pre-race prayer and were herded in like a bunch of cattle. Moooooo.

The forecast had predicted some possible storms for Saturday morning, and I prayed for no lightning and no hail. I should have been more specific and asked for no humidity too–I forgot I live in the humidity capital of the world. It was around 60* which was perfect, but about 85% humidity. You could cut it with a knife. We were also so packed in at the start line that we were very close behind the 2:15 pacers, which is what I secretly wanted. My baseline goal was to break 2:20, but if I could run faster than 2:15 I was going to be elated. It was ambitious, but I was willing to put up with the pain and effort to reach my goal.

Ten minutes into the race I was already sweating and running at a faster than what is comfortable pace, which I knew would bite me later in the race. I was with Jen for the first 5k, but knew she could pick it up and I lost her at a water station. I didn’t want to hold her back and knew that I needed to run my race. Regardless, I was still right behind the 2:15 pacers which I was okay with. Here for a portion of the run I just let my mind go. That’s one of the things I really like about running–it let’s me turn my brain off and I don’t think about anything. At all. Right after mile 3 there was a slight incline, but running around a 10:20 pace I was really feeling it. I thought several times, “There is no flipping way I can hold this pace for 10 more miles. No way.” But I couldn’t let myself get down about it, I just kept pushing.

We passed the 5th mile right before 53 minutes and that’s about what I run when I’m on my own, and the 10k mark at 1:03 which I was actually pretty proud of. They changed the course from last year and added a loop around a downtown park, which consequently added a couple of more inclines. I was silently cussing out the inclines and trying to keep from getting frustrated. I was giving it my all, but I still felt like it wasn’t going to be good enough, then I realized there was still half of a race to go which made me feel a little sad, I didn’t know how much more I had left.

Earlier in the morning I stuck a gel in my bra just in case I wanted to take it, and after mile 7  I was thankful for thinking in advance. At that point I would take any extra boost of energy I could get. By this point I was also ringing my shirt out of sweat, my clothes were absolutely dripping (literally, dripping), and made sure I took at least 2 cups of water at each aid station. The course is an out and back, a beautiful one, and at this point we were now on the ‘back’ portion, which was thankfully mostly flat. My aunt surprised me at mile 9 and it was so good seeing a face I knew, even though I could just muster out a ‘Love you,’ as I passed by, with a totally off center high five.

Three thoughts were going though my mind: “Four miles four miles four miles,” “I can’t do this. What was I thinking. Is this goal even attainable?? I’m going to die.” and finally, “Kelsey if you don’t freaking believe in yourself you WON’T reach your goals. BELIEVE in yourself, woman and get it!”

Honest to God, I took more walk breaks than I imagined I would (uhh…3 between miles 9-11) but was okay that I was moving forward. I had to convince myself that I would be happy no matter what because I knew I was giving it my all and leaving everything out on the course. A few familiar faces and cheers later and after the 10 mile mark, I convinced myself I just needed to run the last 3 miles as fast as I ran the first 3 and I would be done.

I allowed myself a final walk break up another dang hill at mile 11 and promised myself no more walking. I can go balls to the wall for two miles. Even if it means feeling like you’re going to pass out. I kept looking at my watch…I knew I was going to PR. I didn’t know by how much, but knew it was going to happen. After 12.5 I picked it up, and it helped to have other racers who had finished cheering me on because they could tell I was going for it. I ran harder in the last .6 miles than I ever thought I could–I couldn’t feel my legs, but I knew they were pumping. I’m not sure I was even breathing, I don’t really remember. My aunt snapped this beauty…how was I smiling while in so much physical pain?

I’m happy that at least my form wasn’t absolutely terrible. I don’t know how it wasn’t, but I’ll take it. And then I finished.

My head was spinning, I wanted to keel over, but knew if I could stay on my own two feet I would be alright. I got my water, timing chip off, and medal and then miraculously found my aunt and sat on a rock. I wanted to puke, every inch of my body was sweaty and I just needed to sit with my eyes closed. I missed out on the runners high on this one, and I wasn’t even as happy as I imagined I would be to have a new PR.

The one thought that can encompass my race was, “I have never ran that hard in my life.” And in that, I am happily satisfied with my new half marathon PR of 2:19:35.

Jen did amazing and pulled out a sub 2:10 for her first half, and Bridge gave her absolute best (overcoming injury, sickness, and oh yeah, she’s a mom too) and ran faster than her last half!

Then I realized I’m doing this again next weekend. Twice. Three half marathons in nine days…I clearly did not have my brain plugged in correctly, and sometimes I wonder if it’s plugged in at all. I’m gonna love it anyways! Maybe I can set a new PR next weekend too, ha!

Little Rock Marathon

Let me preface this by saying you are in for a LONG post.

Friday night I did eventually get my stuff packed for the weekend and slept terribly. I woke up at 5:30am on Saturday to shower, finish packing and hit the road with my mom and aunt to Little Rock, Arkansas. We wanted to find a Cracker Barrel to have breakfast at, but unfortunately the route we took only lead us through countrysides of Missouri, even gas stations being hard to come by.

Eventually we were all getting hangry and pulled off a random road that looked civilized and ran into this little gem, Mary Dean’s Diner. I’m not usually one for ‘diner’ food, but we were all so hungry and the food was awesome. This was a small town diner for small town people, and it was adorable.

When was the last time you saw food this cheap? How about pretty close to never.

With full bellies, we hopped right back on the road en route to Little Rock. We made great time and actually got into town before we could even check into the hotel, so we made our way right to the expo.

The weather was absolutely perfect and after sitting in the car for 7+ hours it was great to be able to walk around. Most race expos are pretty much the same from what I’ve found, Little Rock’s was very organized, had great vendors, and I really liked that they had more unique event merchandise for sale than other races.

I ran into some local running friends, and it was nice to see familiar faces in an unfamiliar place! The expos are usually when I start to get excited about the race, but my nerves were surprisingly absent even at the expo.

After picking up my packet, I reunited with my mom and aunt who had been meandering, and I told them that Bart Yasso was at the expo and I really wanted a picture with him. He designed a workout that many runners and marathoners incorporate into their training plans called Yasso 800’s, he is the chief running officer at Runner’s World Magazine, an author and of course, a seasoned runner. Needless to say I totally geeked out and got to talk to him for a short while, and soaked in every bit of advice he gave me for Sunday’s race.

He also told us he was announcing names at the finish line of the race, and I think I was looking more forward to him announcing my name than finishing the actual marathon!

We got checked into our hotel and hung out for a little bit before we all agreed we were hungry for dinner at 5:30pm. Being the prepared person I am, I had researched restaurants in advance and we went to Big Orange for gourmet burgers. I am pretty cautious about what I eat the night before a race and ended up getting the blacked tilapia ‘burgerwich’ which was so delicious. My mom was just happy that she got to watch college basketball. Easy to please, I tell ya.

After dinner we went back to the hotel and I couldn’t stop yawning. Nerves had sort of set in for the race yet and road trips make me feel super greasy and gross, so I stood in the shower for about half an hour to help relax. I wasn’t near as nervous for this race as I was my first one, it was strange. I didn’t miss my stomach flopping around but my energy levels still weren’t ‘there.’ I hopped in bed and proceeded to watch college basketball which I think is a great way to spend the night before the race.

I didn’t even make it to half time. I can’t remember the last time I fell asleep before 10pm, but Saturday night was a new record for me. But because my body has gotten used to an average of 6 hours of sleep per night, I was up at 3:30am ready to race. Too bad we weren’t leaving the hotel until nearly three hours later! I was up and down until my alarm went off around 5:15am.

Generally, you’re not supposed to try anything new (food, clothes, etc.) the day of a race and I’m also not usually one for energy drinks, but I did do an 18 mile training run after two iced coffees and the run went great, so before the trip I picked up a low-carb Monster and drank about a third of it with my breakfast of egg whites, Ezekiel bread and water.

Finally, excitement hit me! Maybe a little of it was the caffeine too, but I skipped out of the bathroom just before 6am on Sunday and was ready to rock! ‘I’m gonna run a marathon today!!!’ I was excited to run 26.2 miles. What?? Crazy crazy crazy.

More than anything, I was excited and thankful to be able to run this marathon, because a couple of weeks ago I was sad and mopey, thinking that this marathon could potentially not happen for me this year.

We packed up all of our stuff because we weren’t coming back to the hotel, said our ritual pre-race group prayer, and were on our way to the race!

Little Rock greeted us with a perfectly beautiful and crisp race morning!

Before anything happened, I had to take care of business. Yet another pre-race ritual, visit the porta-potties at least two times before the race, even if you don’t have to go.

Then stand around and wait for the race to start

and talk to other runners and make new friends with them while standing around

Then get in your start corral and stand around and wait some more.

Okay, enough with the waiting. One of the things that blew me away with Arkansas and the community of Little Rock is how FRIENDLY and NICE people are!! Plus their accents, oh man did I love their accents. This race was bigger than Tulsa which I really liked, and the people we so awesome. I talked to probably seven or eight new people consistently before the race started, which doesn’t seem to happen frequently in races I’ve done.

After all of the waiting, it was finally time to start the race! I didn’t have a specific time goal in mind, but I situated myself right behind the 5:10 pacers. Honestly, I did much less mental preparation for this race than I have for any other race in the past. All I did was remind myself why I was running this race and to fully enjoy it, and with the sign on my back I hoped to encourage other runners as well.

Bart had told me that the first half of the race was deceivingly fast, and he was right. It was flat with a few rolling hills, and I did start out faster than I should have, but not so fast that I wouldn’t have enough energy for the tail end of the race. Since I almost always run by ‘feel’ anyways, that’s what I did. I set into a comfortable pace and just kept along. From mile one, people were reading and commenting on my shirt, I got many congratulations on the surgery, people telling me I was an inspiration, and others agreeing on how great God is.

At first, I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to some of the comments, but I just made sure that I encouraged every person who was encouraging me. Whether it be talking with them for portions of the race, to telling them that they were amazing for being out running a marathon, I made it a goal to consistently build others up.

The course started in downtown Little Rock, going over bridges and up and down baby hills, with great crowd support the whole entire time.

I loved running over the Arkansas River on that bridge, but maybe because it was a decline?

Before I knew it, we were already past five miles. I hadn’t run more than five miles in the past two weeks, and bad thoughts tried to creep in my head but I left those in the dust.

My mom and aunt were staked out between miles 8 and 9, which also happened to be the location of the first semi-vertical uphill of the race

I was also talking to my mom while running and she managed to capture this hilarious beauty of a photo. Apparently running hills makes your hamstrings stick out more than normal. Sigh.

Now is where I talk solely about the race. This point was be the last I saw my mom and aunt until the finish line, because the course was so spread out.

The first eight miles of the race truly did fly by, they felt like nothing which is quite unusual for me. I was still hanging close with the 5:10 pacers and met a couple of ladies in that group who were running their first marathon. It was so fun getting to cheer them on while we were running, all the way up to the finish line. After we ran through downtown, we hit more residential parts of Arkansas, and eventually the state capitol and the governor’s house, and the governor of Arkansas himself was out cheering on all the runners.

Oh, and for the first time ever, I hit up the porta-potty during a race. I couldn’t imagine running any further without stopping (especially with my kidney issue), and felt SO much better afterwards. I had always been nervous about having to go to the bathroom during a race, but I had to overcome my fear. It took less than a minute and I was back on the course, but by this time I was well separate from my pace group.

The area where the capitol is located was absolutely beautiful. We continued on residential areas and again, the course support was amazing. You could tell that the marathon is a big deal in Arkansas because many of the houses we passed had music playing out of speakers from their porch, and many families were out tailgating, I’m not kidding! There was one house with people who had tables set up of champagne and orange juice for mimosas, bloody mary mix and vodka for bloody mary’s, AND they were grilling right there on the side of the course. If you ask me that is just plain rude to be having a good time and grilling out while thousands of runners pass by with over ten miles to finish a race 🙂

For every group of tailgaters, there was also a group of church people! Many of them couldn’t have service Sunday morning because the course ran right along where their church was located and the roads were closed, so they still had their congregations our cheering us on with pom-poms, cowbells and gospel choirs. This was the south, after all!

The miles came, some seemed longer than others. Miles 11-15 really dragged on for some reason. Oh wait, I know why…this was probably the hilliest portion of the race. The race course had started to lead us into some winding back roads of Arkansas, and winding back roads in Arkansas means there are hills. None of the climbs were particularly steep, but they lasted forrrrreverrrrrr. I was also waiting for this ‘dreaded downhill’ I had been warned of on the course elevation chart and also by Mr. Yasso around mile 16. I took my first real walk break up the hill at mile 14 or 15, I can’t remember which one it was, but I needed to walk. That hill was kicking my butt.

Then there were more hills, again, not steep, but winding and long and I was convinced I would never see a downhill. Turns out the real downhill didn’t happen until mile 17, and Bart warned me to not go down it too fast because it would kill my quads and I would be hurting for the rest of the race. I did exactly what he advised in adjusting my form, but still, halfway down, I felt every step in my quads. Man oh man, did I feel it.

Despite this challenge, this was a very enjoyable section of the course. We were on winding roads lined with tall pines, it reminded me of Oregon. I was also by myself for a small section which reminded me of the trails I run on here at home and I loved it, the beauty and serenity were perfect.

From the course map, I was prepared for a long out and back section from about mile 19-22 and good grief, those were the longest three miles of my LIFE! It was some flat, back country Arkansas road, and pain was really setting in. I don’t feel that I ever quite ‘hit the wall’ but this was definitely a challenging part of the race. Seeing all the people that were on the back portion, at miles 21-22 wasn’t encouraging either because they were closer to being done than I was. Then there was the headwind, that was just fantastic. Actually, it was kind of nice because the road was shaded from the hill and the wind was keeping me cool, but the back portion was the exact opposite.

We hit the mile 20 marker which thankfully had a DJ playing great tunes and were coming up on the actual turn around, shortly followed by an aid station. The back portion of this loop was hard. The sun was really getting to me at this point, my face was sun burnt and wind burnt, and my lips were raw. Being mentally tough at this portion of the race was crucial, and after we passed mile 21, I began to feel encouraged. One of my favorite distances to run is five miles, it’s just perfect for me. A lady who I was taking turns passing since mile 17 met up with me and we hung together until near the end of the race.

We shared running chatter, walk breaks, and encouragement. She was wanting to run a sub-5:18 but wasn’t sure if she would be able to make it. Misery really does love company, especially during a marathon. At this point, a lady was talking to me about the surgery and we passed an older man who yelled out, asking about my surgery. I slowed down to talk with him and he snarkily said, “So why are you running?” and all I could think of, was, “To see if I could do it.” His comment hit me, not in a bad way, but I’ll elaborate on that later.

The lady I had been running, walking, and talking with was walking more than I wanted to. I knew I needed to run and get to the finish line, especially with just four miles left, so I wished her luck and continued on. She told me to “Get after it girl!” and that was just the push of motivation I needed.

At this point, I was surprised I was still moving forward. My face and arms were burning, my body ached, and I couldn’t feel my legs. With three-ish miles left we encountered another hill. How cruel! I ran up 85% of it, walked to the crest, then picked up my pace again. To see another hill. We couldn’t catch a break!

One lady who I passed was reading my shirt and said, “You had surgery 18 days ago…but you’re running too fast we can’t read the rest!” This made me smile and pushed me up that last, painful hill with a mile left to go. There were more aid stations in the last 4 miles than in the first 8 miles but I flew by them all because I wanted to get to the finish and to hear Bart Yasso say my name. On the way to the finish I passed a lady who I had been running with in the pace group and I shouted, “You’re about to finish your first marathon!!!!!!” There is nothing like that feeling of finishing your first.

I knew I was going to beat my time in Tulsa and pumped my not-little legs all the way until the end. I almost teared up a little bit, but that feeling was overcome with sheer joy and happiness.

I think I gave my mom this thumbs up as a sign that I wasn’t going to totally pass out.

The only way to describe how I was feeling at this point was that my heart was completely full. I was so stinking happy, and still am.

To me, running this race was completely about being thankful that I serve a God who can overcome anything and everything, every challenge, adversity, whatever it may be. God seriously proved himself to me and I know the overwhelming joy I am experiencing is all from Him.

I faced a lot of questions and criticism leading up to this race, people not sure that I could do it, not sure that it would be safe, and doubting my ability to complete this. I had really felt down and about about my decision to try and finish the marathon. However, I knew that if I didn’t at least go to Little Rock and try, there’s no way I would have been able to live with myself. Not trying and having that faith is worse than trying and not finishing.

I also must say that I did not finish this race by my own ability. I even told other people on the course this, when they told me I was amazing, I told them, “No, God is amazing. I’m not the one doing this,” and that’s how I want my life to be. It’s not by my strength, might, or power, but by His.

This post cannot justify or describe the feelings I have. Like I said, my heart is so full, it’s just bursting! Never did I imagine that it’s possible to feel this strongly about something in my life. Just by running this marathon, my faith has grown past what I thought it could be, my heart has grown, and I have no doubt that the sky is the limit when it comes to anything.

No words…that’s the best way to describe it! I cannot fully express in words the immense joy I am experiencing from this!

As soon as we got in the car to start heading home, I said, “I wanna do that again!” No joke. I’m wishing there was another marathon I could do sooner than later! This was just another step in my journey and I cannot wait to see what lies ahead!

As long as I can have Cracker Barrel wherever this journey takes me. Ha!

Route 66 Marathon: Race Day

After an expected restless night on Saturday, come 6am it was finally time to run a marathon. There is no doubt in my mind that most of my nerves were due to the fact that I was entering completely uncharted territory, I can do half marathons; I only need one (if any) gels and can be done running in a couple of hours. I was about to set off on a 5-ish hour journey. Would I need to stop and go to the bathroom? Will I stay warm? Will I collapse in the middle of the race? What will it feel like? Will I regret this?

I can’t even lie about the fact that I was scared. Marathon morning I stumbled down to the lobby to step outside and see what the weather was like, and I needed just a couple of minutes alone to walk around and try to calm myself. The feel of the marathon was definitely in the air; other runners already downstairs doing the same as I, getting a feel for the temperature, walking around, getting coffee.

The weather was exactly what I had prayed for, about 32 degrees and overcast. This is proof that prayers work because the day before it was sunny and in the mid-70’s as it had been most of the week. Sorry everyone that wanted nice weather, my prayers trumped all. My pre-race breakfast was blueberry Kashi cereal straight outta compton the box, enjoyed in bed while listening to “Sexy and I Know It,” pretty methodical pre-race ritual if you ask me. Just kidding. Eventually I clothed myself in my favorite running gear:

She Runs LA tank, Adidas running skirt, Nike arm warmers and Zensah compression sleeves. I was ready to run like a girl. Before we left the hotel room, we had a mandatory prayer time and I’m 100% sure that’s why I survived. But still, it hadn’t sank in, I am running  a marathon?

We waited in the lobby of the hotel to kill time and stay warm for as long as we could

This hot ensemble of mine is what I refer to as ‘throw away clothes.’ Usually runners will wear an extra layer of old sweats to colder races to stay warm while waiting around the start area, to toss to the side right before the race starts. Volunteers then collect these clothes and they are normally donated to charity.

We waited until as long as we could until we walked about the half mile from the hotel to the start area…this was really happening.

The race was incredibly well organized. There were four different starting corrals based on estimated finish time, fast people in the front, slow people me in the corrals behind them.

I wasn’t freaking out or anything, but just in complete awe that this was happening. Eventually it was time for me to hop into my corral and stand around freezing. I should have kept my ‘stay warm’ clothes on longer.

We stood around for too long. I guess that’s what happens when you can’t run a sub 3-hour marathon. You are punished. I was surrounded by people running the half marathon and I couldn’t help but think, “You guys have FUN because I’m pretty sure at some point in the next five hours I will be wishing I was you.”

I also met a lady who was running her first half marathon and it felt good to get to encourage her, I hope she caught the running bug like I did after my first half.

Where’s Kelsey?

The first couple of corrals had been started off and then it was my corral’s turn, see? We are moving soooo fast…

It was happening. I really liked that they started off each corral separately, even though my corral didn’t get to the start line until about 13 minutes after the first corral had gone. The emcee announced each corral, we got an official countdown, music and streamers blowing at the starting line. It was pretty cool, and not to mention I’m pretty sure they stole my iPod workout playlist because “Super Bass” and “Moves Like Jagger” were blaring from the speakers. Could this be any more perfect??

Before I knew it, I had crossed the start line and began running a marathon. I had comfortably situated myself behind the 5:00 pacers, because although I didn’t have a real time goal, I knew if I stayed behind him I wouldn’t start off too fast. Tulsa isn’t a town I am overly familiar with, so I was just enjoying the first couple of miles looking around and in my own little world.

After the second mile I was wondering if I was ever going to warm up and get in my groove,  which is something I think of at the beginning of nearly every run. It happened eventually a little after mile three, and at mile four it was time to take my first gel. This is pretty silly but I started to measure how far I had left to go by how many gels I had left to take. I had planned 5 gels and one pack of Stinger energy chews; supplementing my energy at miles 4, 8, 12, 16, 20 and 24.

While looking around and enjoying the run, I noticed a guy passing me who had a sign pinned to his back that said, “In Loving Memory of…” and I recognized the names of the people he was running in memory of. It was a mom and daughter who died in a car accident near my hometown the week prior to the race. I came up next to him and asked how he knew them, and with grief in his eyes, he explained to me that the ones killed in the accident were his sister and niece. We both started crying. “Today has a lot more meaning to me than I intended it to,” he expressed, and all I could muster up was, “I know they are here with you today and they are proud of you. Have a good race,” and fell back into my pace as he pulled ahead.

One goal I had for this race was to meet people I was running with, and that is a prime example of why.

I had planned to meet with my cheering section at mile 7 and I was so happy to see them!

For some odd reason, I started to feel minor fatigue in my legs around mile 8 and basically had to talk myself out of any pain I was feeling. I still had a lot of miles left to go and there was no way I could start giving up. Right after mile 8, some loud boisterous men came up behind me and I witnessed something I have never seen before, a man drinking a 40oz of Guinness (yes, the beer my friends) while running. He polished it off and tossed it to the side of the road. All I could think was “HAHA Are you kidding me?!” But no, he was certainly not kidding.

While running races, I love reading people’s shirts. One girl ahead of me was in a neon yellow shirt with Isaiah 61:1 on the back, which is a long verse to read when you’re trying to run. The point of her shirt was, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me…” which was encouraging. She and I had played cat and mouse for a couple of miles, but we settled in pace with one another and started chatting. I began by telling her that her shirt is so encouraging, to more people than she knows. Her name is Selby, she is newly sixteen years old, and Route 66 was her second marathon. We talked about everything, our families, our faith, why we run, what we are doing with our lives, we covered it all. She goes to a school which her parents started when she was four, and since no athletics are in place, she chose to start running. Selby and one of her friends started a charity and people pledge money to the girls for each marathon and half marathon they do and the girls in turn donate to a missionary foundation.

One of my friends told me that my life was going to change after running a marathon, and I didn’t understand how or why, but after meeting Selby it made perfect sense. This girl inspired me, motivated me and stirred up my own dreams. We stayed together for the majority of miles 8-16 and it was perfect.

Here’s me coming up on mile 12

and I was begging for my gloves back STAT! I couldn’t move my hands because they were so cold

Woah, hey mile 12…this means we’re almost halfway through. Whattttt? Yes. Almost halfway. When it was time for a gel at mile 12, my hands were so cold that I couldn’t get my gel un-safety pinned from my skirt, so I had to pull a spare one out of my bra. Then I had to ask a volunteer at the aid station to open it for me because my hands were completely useless. THEN as I’m departing from the aid station I notice that one of the gels I had tried to unpin was MIA…it fell off about 100 yards ago, sucker. Something wasn’t as planned, crap. I wasn’t going to let myself freak out and knew there had to be GU at other aid stations, so I went along my merry way.

I caught up with Selby again after that minor incident and we were preparing to bid farewell to the half marathoners as the course split and they went to the finish line. For the first time in my life I was taking the ‘Marathon splits here…’ route and not the ‘half marathon is almost done…’ route. I had always wondered what that was like, and thus furthered my venture into unchartered territory.

Not long after passing our halfway point, Selby trailed back and I kept on trucking along. Suddenly, for the first time in the race I was totally alone. It was crazy how many people split to the half marathon and there I was…mile 14 with just a few people scattered around, no one especially close. It was a familiar feeling though, which I appreciated. I completed most of my long training runs alone so being alone for part of the race made me feel like I was just on another run. The solitude was interrupted by Guinness man from earlier. Except this time he was sipping on a bottle of Pale Ale. What was this guy doing?! Needless to say I thought it was quite hilarious that this man’s ‘hydration’ pack was full of beer.

Based on the research I did prior to the race, I was lead to believe that the course had some rolling hills but was mostly flat. Wrongggg wrong wrong. There was a beast of a hill before mile 15 and I don’t know why I kept running up it, but I did. I’m pretty sure that I was more afraid of what would happen if I stopped running than I was of the pain my muscles were experiencing.

This race also had a couple of groups, the Marathon Maniacs and 50 States Club. The 50 staters have goals of running marathons in every state, and at this point in the race I met a nice old man who was running marathon number 41. I was awestruck. This guy was probably old enough to be my dad, and we encouraged each other for the short time we ran together. Personally, it doesn’t take much for me to get inspired. Hint. Hint?

I was alone again. More hills, just alone. Me and the hills and downtown Tulsa. I knew I was soon approaching the detour though. This race gave the option for completing the Detour to the Center of the Universe, which is a landmark in Tulsa. You stand in a designated spot and when you talk you can hear your echo, but no one else can. The detour was sponsored by Michelob Ultra with the theme of, “Living life to the Ultra,” there was a band, photographers, you got an additional medal for taking the detour and you ran an extra .3 miles, making this race the shortest ultramarathon ever.  I’m not counting it as an Ultra, because really an ultra should be 50k+, but the detour was fun.

The detour rejuvenated me and I was thinking positively, I exclaimed to a random person running behind me, “We only have miles in the single digits until we’re done! We’re running a marathon!” and dude probably thought I was crazy. After mile 18 I was kind of like, “Ok this is where it starts to hurt a little bit..” and for some reason I was starving? Thankfully the next aid station had bananas, unfortunately only one bite of which made it into my mouth before I dropped the rest of it on the ground, but it would be time for another gel soon anyways. Note to self: work on perfecting the art of eating and running.

Look! It’s the bright pink thing!

One thing that kept me motivated was knowing that I was going to see my cheering section again at mile 19, it really helped pull me through!

Jen ran with me for maybe half of a mile and it was nice getting to talk with her. She asked me how I was feeling and though I was trying to remain positive, I had to be honest. I hurt. My legs hurt, my sides hurt, my back hurt, my feet hurt…apparently running a marathon isn’t supposed to feel good. She told me that I was looking really strong, especially compared to some other runners who were looking pretty haggard, though I felt like there was no way I could be looking good after running for three and a half hours.

Jen gave me my next back of Stingers and I told her I would see her at the finish line! Upon reaching mile 20, I had never been happier to know I only had two 5k’s left to run…anything to keep it in perspective. I have to admit that frequently seeing the hot police officers blocking off traffic for us definitely helped me stay motivated.

Some lying spectators also said that shortly after mile 20 it was all downhill for the rest of the race. Never believe spectators. If by downhill they meant ‘flat with three huge a (star star) hills between miles 22-25, then yes, it was a very downhill final 6 miles. Rude spectators, rude. Also, never tell a runner they are ‘almost finished!’ when they still have six miles left to run. Six miles is not close to being done. it only means you are barely 3/4ths of the way finished, not almost finished.

I felt good crossing mile 20 because my longest run was over 27 miles, so this wasn’t a distance that was completely foreign to me. Many other runners I met had only run 18-20 miles and I couldn’t help but think, “Have fun with those last 6…” I also never really hit a ‘wall,’ and I believe that part of that was because I wasn’t even thinking about hitting a wall. I must admit that around mile 21, I was mentally getting a little worn out. This had become more than a physically taxing event and I needed my mind to stay strong to get me through the rest. I snapped out of that moment of doubt and kept on.

At 22 things really came into perspective, the idea of crossing the finish line was no longer a far fetched fantasy, it was something I could begin to visualize and feel. To my comedic relief, there was an unofficial aid station set up of a guy handing out beer, pretzels and Jolly Ranchers. As I passed by I told him I thought he was pretty funny…but I’m pretty sure that there was more beer at this race than there was Gatorade.

Then came a hell hill. Mile 23, there was hill. To keep from mentally breaking down, I walked the dang hill. I wanted to cross the finish line on my own two feet and knew I needed to take a walking break if that was going to happen. At this point I also experienced the same mental weakness I had at 21, but I tossed up a couple of prayers, said some mantras and sang to myself a little and eventually was able to get my legs in the running motion again. At mile 24 there was another hill but that was the last one. I made the volunteers promise me that was the last one otherwise after I finished, I was going to drive back and berate them.

Coming up on mile 25, a guy and I had been cat and mousing again, like an unspoken runner’s code. I love stuff like this. He would start to walk, and I was pass him, then he would run up to pass me, but then start walking again, so naturally I would pull up and pass him, etc. We continued this through the end of the race, and I’m happy to say he finished ahead of me.

Now it was more real than ever, I was going to finish a marathon. Expecting to see the mile 26 marker, the next marker had the number 25 on it. I was so confused! I said out loud, “Does that really say 25??” But as I got closer, I realized it said 25.9…it was the end of the 26.2 for those of us who took the Detour, and I crossed the mat for my official time, but still had .3 to the real finish line.

This was really happening! I pumped every last bit of energy my legs had in them to get across that finish line. All I remember from that exact moment was smiling, I will never forget what it felt like to step across that finishing mat. I can say I fully enjoyed that single moment more than I ever thought possible.

Then it was kind of a blur. I was greeted by volunteers handing me a mylar blanket which I was incredibly thankful for, and was directed to where to get my medal. I started looking around and just wanted to find my mom. I heard my name and cheering and looked over, my mom standing right outside the secure finish line barricades and I fell into her embrace and we both cried.

“You did it, you did it…I’m so proud of you…you did it!” I’m not sure either of us could believe it. This was undoubtedly one of the best feelings in the world. Another one that I will never forget.

I think this picture accurately portrays my feelings upon finishing and coming back down to earth: spent, exhausted, and gave that marathon all that I had.

I never imagined that a race would change my life, but it did. I worked hard and made sacrifices, I poured all that I could into training for this marathon with a goal to simply enjoy and finish the race. But I got so much more out of that. Over the past four months I have learned so much about myself, and knew that this would change me, but never thought that the change would be as drastic as it was. I have a completely newfound sense of motivation, determination, appreciation, and faith, both in my Creator and the faith He has in me.

I’ve said it many times, but if you had told me even a year ago that I would have ran a marathon in 2011 I would have laughed at you. But like I’ve heard, “If people don’t laugh at your dreams then you’re not dreaming big enough.”

Don’t ever limit yourself, for you can do so much more than you even imagine you’re capable of. We are called to exceed and surpass what is commonplace. To the first of many marathons…

The Perfect Race

Last night I was going to write a post on my pre-race rituals, but those rituals got interrupted by something that might need become a new pre-race ritual:

Yes, this definitely happened. 

I typically would never eat this before a long run, but I have no willpower when it comes to an invitation for froyo. At least this was the ‘small’ cup compared to my usual bucket. Plus candy corn can always fuel me for a run…I ❤ candy corn.

After fueling with probiotics and extra sugar, I prepped all my stuff for the race, which is a necessary race eve ritual

I do this to avoid scrambling race morning. Getting out of bed at 5am is hard enough as is. This step was important last night because I almost forgot to everything except my running shoes and socks. Almost forgot my race bib, timing chip, body glide, Accel Gel…yeah. Setting everything out the night before helps prevent potential race morning disasters.

Typically I set goals for races. This is the first half marathon I have ran that I have experience running before (last year). I knew the course, I knew what to expect and what I needed to do. My goals for this race were to 1) beat my time from last year 2) stay relaxed 3) have a good run and 4) enjoy the race. I didn’t want pressure of a PR, I just needed a solid run. Check, check, check and CHECK.

Before races I usually get butterflies, psyched, nerves, you name it, but this time around I didn’t. I’m not sure why but I am definitely not complaining. I didn’t miss those butterflies one bit! 5am rolled around way too soon, and I pulled myself together in a haggard fashion. It was nice being able to ride with my mom and dad to the race, so on the way I was able to listen to some jams, say lots of prayers, and drift in and out of sleep. I also focused on staying calm and relaxed through the morning. Nothing like being half asleep to stay relaxed.

Three rituals I did follow this morning included immediately getting in the lines for portapotties, warming up, and getting back in line for the portapotties because for some reason relieving oneself is…relieving? Ok so I do get those little bitty nerves right before a race and two bathroom trips helps. No matter how nervous I get, at least I wouldn’t pee myself.

I decided to hang with the 2:25 pacers at the start of the race. In Texas, I know I started out too fast and in order to have a good run today, I knew the importance of not blasting across the start line like a bull on charge. My pacers, Mary and Gretta were hilarious. They were both wearing wings, cheering and the jokes and sarcasm started less than five minutes into the run. Gretta was my comical relief, and we have a very similar sense of humor. Read: sarcastic, quick, witty and punny.

The course is great with the exception of a few hells hills at miles 3 and 4, when my quads were yelling at me, but I showed them who was boss. After that, this race went by super fast. What? We’ve been running for an hour and a half? Running sans watch finally broke my terrible habit of looking at my time every 5 minutes during a run, and I was fully enjoying this race.

Around mile 9, Gretta asked us who had found their inner Kenyans, and as she pushed us to keep a steady pace ahead of her, she gave us homework: to make up our own Kenyan names. Something to pass time? Sure! Why not. My Kenyan name is officially: Bih Azbuhddi. Just sound it out.

Around mile 9-10 is where I used to crap out/hit the wall/walk. But this time, at mile 10 I caught the most amazing runner’s high. I hadn’t looked at my watch, knew there was only 5k left to run, and came upon the most glorious downhill ever. I just kept going and going like Forrest. Probably all those prayers I were doing the trick.

At mile 12 I allowed myself to look at my watch, and I’m glad I did. I was at 2:11 and flabberghasted. What?!?! I WANT A PR! RUN KELSEY! Then I was like, wait. Don’t be mad if you don’t PR, but push it to the end. I wanted a solid run and that’s what I was getting. From mile 12 I hauled Bih Azbuhddi. I kept telling myself, “Strong is all you have when you’ve used up all your weak. Run this with your heart Kelsey, run it with your heart.” Because I had already used what I had stored up in my legs and mind. I don’t think I have ever ran that hard in my life, I know I must have looked wretched, but pain is not cute. And I finished. In 2:21:10…seven minutes faster than my time last year, 5 minutes faster than I planned on finishing, and sixteen seconds short of a 13.1 PR.

Story of my running life

I. am. elated. I could not have imagined or asked for a better race; everything was perfect. The weather, the people, the pacers, it was SO good.

I also have the best parent cheerleaders ever…they mean so much to me! No you may not rent them out, they are all mine, not to share.

Finally, please get as much of a laugh out of this as I did. This 110% accurately describes how I felt upon immediately crossing the finish line, I’m just glad it was broadcast for all of Kansas City to see.

Now off to enjoy the rest of the weekend!

Heels, Hills and Him Half Marathon

This weekend I had a mini-vacation down in Texas, a vacation that included a half marathon. The first time I have ever traveled for a race! I had been wanting to drive down and see my brother + family for a while, and knew that if I were going to stick to my training plan and get my weekend long run in, I needed a race to motivate me to make sure I didn’t spend all weekend shopping and eating.

Why did I pick this race?

  • Location: it was close to where my family lives in an area that I am very familiar with.
  • Time: this weekend my training schedule called for a 13 mile run or half marathon so how PERFECT was it to do this race!
  • Course: there was another half in Grand Prairie but the course didn’t seem as appealing as this one.
  • Competition: I felt as though this was a race I could do well in.
  • Cause: the Heels and Hills is an advocate for women’s fitness and health in the DFW area which I loved, this was also a big event for Team in Training.
The race was the smallest half marathon I have ran (roughly 1100 runners) and about 90% of the race was on trails throughout Irving, which were well paved and shady but definitely NOT spectator friendly. One thing I though was strange were the pacers; there were 2:00, 2:20, 2:25 and on pacers but nothing in between. I started with the 2:20 pacers (and maybe I should have stuck with them) but I got in my own comfortable groove and got a good warmup in the first mile or so. I also remembered that I forgot to factor in the heat when setting my goal time. Slap in the face! It was kind of hot.
Running solo allows you to eavesdrop, and I heard a couple of guys talking something about a half marathon course that was only 12.5 miles, so naturally I inquired about this race hoping that it was the full distance. It turns out, one of the guys, Jason, is a 2:15 pacer for several Dallas half marathons (yesssss!) so I hung with them for about 5 miles, then Jason picked up the speed a bit and I hung back, and the other guy hung back farther than me, so there I was running solo once again. Honestly, I didn’t mind it; all of my long runs have been solo so I relaxed up and reminded myself that this was just a training run.
Apparently crazy people run half marathons in Texas. Right after Jason and I parted ways, I noticed this lady in front of me who was running in booty shorts (like you could literally see her cheeks) and matching bra, with a white tank top over it…which doesn’t make sense. But anyways, she was wearing headphones and carrying an iPod in her left hand, and waving her right finger like she was practicing telling someone off. Up came a curve in the trail and she started weaving which is very rude and annoying to do in a race. Then she cut me off and I didn’t say anything because she was too busy waving her index finger and probably wouldn’t have heard me. “Whatever,” I thought, some people just don’t know race etiquette. She started to slow down, so I went on her left to pass her…just like driving because we’re all Americans here…and after I passed her and was a decent distance ahead of her, I hear, “Oh well just go ahead and cut me off, that’s rude!” and I signed and thought “WTF??” I though of probably 8 things I could have said, but I just sighed and kept on my way, she clearly had problems. The next 20 minutes were the most awkward running moments of my life because she finally caught up to me and we ran side by side without a word for nearly two miles. I was keeping an eye out to make sure she wasn’t going to swing at my or poke my eye out with her index finger, eventually I let the woman pass me and I’m pretty sure she was cussing me out to herself whilst still waving her finger.

Then I was alone for what seemed like forever. Though there weren’t a ton of spectators, but many people gathered by the water stations and were very awesome at cheering us on…I loved it! They also had motivational signs every quarter mile or so which gave me something to read helped. After the crazy lady incident, I found Heather and JJ, both moms, both running slower than they wanted, and so we pushed each other the last 3.1 miles. It. was. awesome. It was so nice having someone there to chat with and to motivate/be motivated by. The Team in Training coaches also were cheering everyone on, not just TNT runners.

The last mile my legs were on FIRE…I just wanted this ‘training run’ to be over with. It was hot. It was 90 degrees when I was on the last mile. I made a mental note to race in Texas again when it is winter everywhere else. And then before I knew it…I was crossing the finish line. I can say that I loved the feeling of pushing through and sprinting at the end which is something I NEVER do on training runs. I sprint when necessary, only.

I wanted to set a PR this race, but didn’t because I (doh!) forgot that it is still summer in Texas.

I left the race happy that I had a solid run; I maintained a pace nearly 2 minutes/mile faster than my recent long runs which is right at my goal marathon pace. Later on Sunday night when the official results were posted…I found out I got second place in my division! I was ecstatic but wanted to curse when I saw that I was beat by 12 seconds. Naturally, I thought of all I could have done to have gotten first (pushed harder) but calmed myself down; I have never placed this high in a race in my life and I decided to be happy about my finish.

My awesome uncle, grandma and aunt who were waiting at the finish line!

What I have learned: sign up for small races with people slower than you. Then you can win every time! Ha!

I needed this race to break up my training, I’m finally more than halfway through! Also very much looking forward to this half marathon in a little over two weeks!

PS. THANK YOU to everyone who encouraged, supported and congratulated me on Sunday, it means more than you know and you are totally amazing 🙂