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!

Let’s Go!

Man am I glad it’s Friday! My week wasn’t absolutely terrible, but parts of it stunk majorly. I am SO happy that today is Friday, because in my mind, Friday = start of the weekend! Except for one thing. I woke up about an hour ago with a sore throat which is not okay. Let’s just say I’ll be drinking gallons of water and taking it relatively easy today, plus I think that a little retail therapy will help this afternoon (I need new shoes for a wedding…definitely important stuff here).

This weekend marks the start of the half marathon madness. Tomorrow, Rock the Parkway is the first of four half marathons that I will be running over the course of the next month. I ran this race last year, and this is the course that I set my current half marathon PR on.

A reader emailed me and asked if I ever got the jitters or nerves before races, and I haven’t lately, but I started getting anxious earlier this week about RTP. I realized this because I haven’t put pressure on myself or had a challenging goal for a race in a long time. The last two half marathons I ran were both in training for my first marathon, and I couldn’t put serious goals on the Little Rock Marathon because it was so close after my surgery, I was just happy to have a properly functioning body.

Fast forward to today. I’ve spent the past month investing in quality long runs, tempo work that left me wanting to puke, and dabbling in 8:34-9:20 minute miles, which for me…is painful in the best way. Then there’s the thing I love about racing longer distances; I have no clue what is in store for tomorrow. I know I’m ready, am praying for no rain tomorrow, and also hoping my sore throat magically goes away.

Lots of mental prep has gone into getting ready for tomorrow. I have somewhat been psyching myself out (ie “It’s only 13.1 miles! Run balls to the wall then you can be done! Pain is only temporary!”) Ha. ha. ha. My nerdiness amuses me so much. But also I’ve been working setting some realistic goals. Last year, I was soclose to breaking 2:20 at this race, but came up a handful of seconds short. In 2011, I ran the Kansas City Half Marathon course nearly 7 minutes faster than I did the first time I ran it (2010), and that is a challenging course. So I figure, if I can shave that chunk of time off of a race I was running for training purposes, then surely I can reach my goals tomorrow. My baseline goal is to break 2:20; I want a half marathon in the 2:teens or lower. My, “I would be floating on cloud nine and the happiest little runner ever” goal is to break 2:15. Tomorrow I will be lining up with the 2:15 pacers and am going to run this race harder than any race I’ve ever ran before. What happens after that…is a mystery to me and I can’t wait to find out how it goes!

All I know is that I’m going to give it my all, every drop of energy and runability that I have. With that, I will be happy.

What are you going to be giving your all to this weekend?

I’ll be reporting back (potentially tomorrow afternoon) with a race recap! The rest of the day I’ll be getting up close and personal with this:

One last thing. Because it’s Friday, here’s a picture of my dog loving life, which we humans need to get better at!

Funplanned Weekend

Like that? Fun + unplanned = funplanned weekend.

The more I have been running, the larger my circle of running contacts and friends has grown. For example, on Thursday, a friend who I know from coaching in Girls on the Run posted on my Facebook wall asking if I was running a local race called Brew to Brew, because she knew a team who needed more runners. A few messages, emails and texts later, Friday it was decided that I’d be joining a team to run the 44.4 mile relay from Kansas City to Lawrence on Sunday (yesterday)!

I knew of Brew to Brew because I had some other friends running it, but had no clue of what it would be like. The team that I was joining was also with people I had never met in my life. Old Kelsey would never have been down for this type of adventure, but new, more relaxed and fun-loving Kelsey was pretty pumped!

First, a little about the race. Like I said, Brew to Brew is a race to benefit cystic fibrosis and starts in Kansas City at the Boulevard Brewery and takes a 44.4 mile route of backroads, some highways, and dirt/gravel roads to the Free State Brewery in Lawrence, KS. It has 10 legs of the race, and composed of mostly teams of 2-10 runners, while yesterday there were 70 runners that took it on as a solo adventure! Each team is allowed a team vehicle (we saw vans, RVs, trucks) to carry supplies and runners. How it works is the team vehicle drops their runner at the first leg and drives to the second leg, then picks up the first runner while the second runner is going, then drives to the third leg, and so on. Each exchange had portapotties, fuel, and people drinking beer and playing frisbee while waiting for their runners. It was called Brew to Brew, after all!

We started the morning by meeting at the lovely Lara’s house at 7am (that was rough) to load up and head to the Boulevard Brewery to drop off our first runner

Our team was the Punky Brewsters!

Our ‘baton’ was the decorated bra, it was hilarious!

Then it was time to send off the first runners from KC

And hopped in the Expedition to head to the exchange!

Thankfully, our team was able to have 9 runners and everyone did a leg, and we skipped the 9th leg because it was hot and no one wanted or needed to run it. The ones who ran earlier in the day were lucky because it got HOT later in the morning and into the afternoon.

We would drop off a runner for their leg, hang around for a little bit, then load the truck up and drive to the next leg. Everyone was having fun and we weren’t doing the race for a time, so it really was just about enjoying the day.

My team was so much fun and I’m so happy I got to be with them, of all people! Yeah, it felt a little weird meeting them all at 7am not knowing a single one, except that they were a friend of a friend’s friend, but we bonded throughout the day and ended up having a blast.

I was assigned the final leg of the race– 4.7 miles along the levee to the finish line. There was no parking at this exchange so my team literally had to drop me and leave…off I went!

My portion of the race was flat, but I didn’t start running until 2:30pm and by then the temperature had reached 90 degrees. The 4.7 miles was along some farm land on a gravel road (which I loved, it wasn’t easy but I loved it) with the sun beating down on us due to no trees within 150 feet of the road. The scenery was a part of Kansas I hadn’t seen before, though it was hot, the bright colors of the farm and the blueness of the sky made me thankful for that moment because it was so beautiful. Here’s a picture from a blog I found that is along the exact trail I ran:

But it was so hot–that was the stinker! There were no mile markers, I had no idea how far I had ran or how long I had left to go, and the trail was a straightaway with no changing scenery until we came upon some houses and I knew I had to be getting closer to town. Hands down the hardest 4.7 miles of my life!

Eventually I saw a familiar face– one of my teammates! He had a beer in hand and told me the finish line was right around the corner, and he booked it with me, beer in hand, to the finish! A few other teammates joined for a few strides to cheer me to the finish line.

Oh and that skirt…that’s the first and last time I’ll ever be wearing that thing to run it. Yes it’s cute, but the WORST for running in; I wanted to rip it off no less than 5 times during my leg of the race.

That’s beside the point, but we finished! I have no idea how long it took, but I would do this race again in a heartbeat. I’m so glad I joined the Punky Brewsters, it reminded me how much fun it’s possible to have while doing a run, I loved it! I’m really already looking forward to next year–I’d love to make this race an annual thing!

Life is short, when given an opportunity it is best to just go for it and enjoy every minute!

I also inadvertently got a head start on my summer tan…clearly not enough sunscreen could have saved me. Boo. Ya.

Have a good Monday my friends, also…here’s to hoping the Hawks win it all tonight!

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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!

Pre-Marathon Prep

Cue butterflies in my stomach and sweaty palms…marathon weekend is nearly here! I’m telling you, this feeling could never get old, and I hope it doesn’t. The anticipation, culmination of training, travel prep, visualizing myself at the starting line, everything…I love it.

Before my first marathon, I had never traveled for a race other than the half marathon I ran in Texas, but even then, I stayed with my brother and was still in my comfort zone.

Here’s a look at some things you may not think about that go into a travel weekend for a marathon:

  1. Registering for the race. Obviously, this is important. The earlier you register for a race, the cheaper it is. I specifically waited to register for Little Rock at the Route 66 race expo because I knew they were having a booth there, and you typically get a lower rate and occasionally some free stuff for registering on the spot.
  2. Book a hotel. Unless you know someone living in the city you’re traveling to, it’s nice to book a bed to sleep in the night before running a race of any distance. Most races have host or affiliate hotels. I booked our hotel room back in December, and it is an affiliate hotel of the race and offers free shuttle rides to and from the start and finish lines on race day–this is HUGE! It is a plus to not have to worry about parking near the race, etc.
  3. CHECK THE WEATHER. Oh goodness, it baffles me at how many runners don’t look at the weather on a daily basis or especially when traveling. As soon as the 10-day forecast is within ten days of the race, you better believe I’m watching it like a hawk. Even on race morning in Tulsa, I stumbled downstairs in the hotel at 5:45am to step outside and check the weather for the race. So far, Sunday is looking might fine in Arkansas! 
  4. Make a list of the stuff you need to pack. Yes, I have to write down EVERY thing I need, otherwise I will not pack it. If it is not on the list, I will forget it and be without a sports bra or socks on race morning. I like to avoid serious public humiliation at all costs. Don’t worry, that’s not my whole list. Oh yes, and this is a trip that will last a whole two days. I pack less when I go on week-long trips.
  5. For runners, find out where you want to eat before you get to your destination, especially if it’s some place you’re not familiar with. It is advised to runners to ‘not try anything new’ the night before or day of a race, so you wouldn’t want to end up somewhere that only has Man vs. Food portion sizes of food you’ve never eaten before…or maybe you would. Different strokes for different folks.
  6. Confirm your hotel reservation! This is VERY important, and it’s also a good opportunity to ask any questions to the staff that you may be concerned about. I called our hotel earlier this week and was wanting to know when late checkout was, which is 2pm. This is good to know for slow-pokes like me, plus the time getting from the finish line back to the hotel (via shuttles) would not ensure us back at the hotel by 2pm, so we had to make alternative plans. You know what that means right? I don’t get to shower after the race…hahahaha! I seriously think this is hilarious, and if you saw my whole packing list, you would understand why ‘baby wipes’ were on there.
  7. Write out directions. I know this is old school, but GPS’s cannot be trusted. This is said entirely from first hand experience and a girl whose family is notoriously nicknamed the “Wrongways.” Just know where you’re going!

I am sure I could think of 100 more things to add to this list, but this handful of steps help make any race experience more enjoyable, especially when traveling. I am not typically an anal person, but when it comes to racing weekends, I like having a plan, sticking to it, and being able to fully enjoy myself sans stress.

Tomorrow I’ll be posting about packing for a marathon, and stuff you may not think you’d need but actually do, stay tuned! I’m going to go have sweet dreams about the frozen yogurt I’ll be enjoying with my best friend tomorrow night, because a good race deserves a froyo send off 🙂