Salt Lake City Marathon 2018

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This was my 6th marathon and I cut off 3 minutes & 22 seconds off of my previous PR that I set 5 months before at the Las Vegas Rock 'n Roll Marathon! I finished in a time of 3:52:11 with an average pace of 8:52 and finished 9th in my age group and 31st female overall! I was a bit nervous before this marathon (I always am...) and was unsure what my goal time should be! I followed the Hanson's Marathon Method again (I did for my Rock 'n Roll race as well) and peaked at 63 miles. I was following a plan to break 3:40, but because I had my MS Run The US Relay Segment in less than a month after this race, my goal was to stay injury-free first and foremost and have a great experience (before setting a new PR). I knew I was in great shape and could have gotten close to that 3:40, but wanted to play it safe! My other main goal was to have a faster second-half (negative-split). While I didn't exactly negative-split, (my first half was 1:54 and second half was 1:57) the splits were MUCH closer than previous marathons (my second half would be as much as 10+ off my first half). 

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The race was to be a net-overall downhill course with some hills in there. I thought it would be a great challenge to run some hills (my first for a marathon- besides my first marathon, Steamboat Marathon!) and it ended up gaining 841' in elevation (according to my garmin). Alright, so let's go back to the start of the race. I got up at 4:45am (we stayed near the airport) and ate some oatmeal (heated water up in the coffee maker in the hotel room) and foam rolled everything out (along with A LOT of deodorant to prevent chafing- works WAY better than body glide! I didn't have one chafed spot after the race). We left the hotel at 5:20am and planned to drop me off at the library square tram stop (all race participants got free transportation on it the morning of the race and this stop meant I wouldn't have to change trains at all which was MUCH easier). I got on the tram by 5:45 and arrived at the race start a few minutes before 6 (the race didn't even start until 7!). They had the bikers start their race at 6am, so I got to cheer them off and also enjoy clean porta-potties..win win! 

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I did a bunch of stretching, drank my Nuun Energy (contains caffeine)/ mixed with coconut water and had a banana. It was still pretty chilly out (I brought an old fleece jacket to wear before the race start and then put it in my drop bag) before the race began (around 50*), but I used the bathroom one more time (way more racers started to arrive by 6:30) and dropped my bag by 6:45. I got to the start and was in corral B! I've never been so close to the start line before- it was crazy intimidating! 

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The national anthem was sung and we were off 30 seconds after the first corral. There was a small hill in the first 1/2 mile, which certainly got the legs warmed up! I opted to wear my new Brooks Ghost 10 (hadn't worn them yet) with my used Superfeet insoles. I know you're technically not "supposed" to race in new shoes, but I've had 3+ pairs of these and with my broken-in insoles, I figured I was OK. My feet were actually numb and tingly for the first 5 miles, which got me pretty nervous (I was also really cold still- the race was in the shade) but it finally dissipated. The first 4-5 miles of the race were absolutely breath-taking looking over the city from the hills above. Then we started going down a crazy canyon (and not the best road- so many pot-holes), with a pretty steep decline. I wanted to not "fly and die", so had to keep focusing on my form and leaning into the hill, rather than breaking it with my quads.

I took water/ gatorade at every station (they were so great with announcing what (water vs gatorade) was where and took Honey Stinger gels every 5 miles. I alternated between caffeinated/ non-caffeinated at every 5 mile segment. This is how I had practiced and also what I found works best for my body. The half & full marathoners started together, but we ended up splitting off around mile 11 and that's when the real work began. We were immediately were faced with a pretty steep hill (I was prepared for the rollers in miles 8-14 & another one expected around mile 20-21), there was no going back now! The sun started to hit us around then, but thankfully there was a bit of a headwind to cool us down. I focused on leaning into the hills and relaxing my shoulders.

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Around mile 13 or 14 (I can't remember), we entered one of the two parks that we ran through and I needed to do a quick Shalene Flanagan-style pee break. I think maybe it took me 11 seconds total before I was out running again! I still felt great at this point and the crowd support was incredible! We were in the park for several miles, so when we were coming out it a spectator told me to relax my hands (at least I think he was talking to me) and that helped SO much! I continued to think about relaxing my hands from then on! At this point, I was still feeling great and keeping a rather comfortable pace around ~8:35/ 8:40. I started passing a lot of people (which never happens to me during a marathon normally) and that felt fantastic (because I got passed considerably during the first half). 

I smiled and hit posters that had the words "hit here for energy" and high-fived the chik-fil-a cows and waved to the older spectators sitting on their lawns cheering along. I'm not going to say this was my happiest marathon (because Rock n Roll Vegas is SO much fun), but it was very close to being a 26.2 party! Before I knew it, we were getting close to mile 24 and I STILL didn't have any music on! I had listened to the Ali On The Run Show's podcast with 2nd place finisher, Sarah Sellers (wanted something to keep my pace in control and not pump me up too much) and that finished by mile 5 and I didn't put anything else on. With 2 miles to go, it felt appropriate to put some music on to hit some fast paces for the last 2.2 left! I actually ended up getting into 7:5x pace in mile 24, which is just INSANE! 

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Alex ended up surprising me at mile 25 and snapped the photo below. I felt relaxed, excited, and honestly just loving life! I sprinted into the finish line (still passing a few people, including half marathoners) and didn't feel gassed after I crossed the line. I wanted to keep going! I've never felt so strong throughout a race and cannot believe that an 8:52 average pace felt easy. This gets me REALLY excited for my next race, when I will actually push the pace and race! 

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Overall, this had great organization and was so much fun! The course didn't feel overally difficult to me, but I was prepared for the hills! If you fly and die on the first few downhill miles, you may not feel the same. I highly recommend running this course and holding back a bit until after you get past mile 14 (there's still a few small hills after this point, but nothing too crazy). Plus, FREE race photos! How amazing is that?!? You don't have to break the bank to get some awesome action shots ; ) We got Inn-N-Out burgers afterwards to celebrate and then I dropped Alex off at the SLC airport (he had to fly to Vegas for a work conference) and made the 6-hour drive home solo. That certainly wasn't the fun part, but my runner's high was still going strong that I didn't even care! Plus, a pit-stop at TJ Maxx certainly made it better as well ; ) 

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Las Vegas Rock 'n Roll Marathon 2017

 I did the 5K as well, so came home with some pretty hefty bling (along with my finishers jacket)!

I did the 5K as well, so came home with some pretty hefty bling (along with my finishers jacket)!

This was my FIFTH marathon and my favorite (so far). I did the Las Vegas Rock 'n Roll Marathon in 2016 (did the half) and had so much fun that I actually took advantage of their pre-race entry and signed up for the marathon (I really realllly wanted that marathon finisher jacket). I followed the Hanson's Marathon Method (you can find my weekly training rundowns and training review on the blog HERE ) and felt SO prepared for this race. Since the race doesn't start until 4:30pm, I had enough time in the morning to braid my hair, prepare my race playlist, foam roll, carbo-load with some bagels, drink lots of electrolytes/water, and put my legs up the wall. We stayed at the Excalibur (because it's so close to the start line and within a mile of the finish), so we didn't have to leave our room until 3:15 to head to the start area festivities!

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Because of the horrendous #VegasStrong events that occurred, the start line was moved actually closer to our hotel and we were able to use the REAL bathrooms just inside of New York New York. They had ample security set-up throughout the entire starting area, which made me feel really safe. I began in corral #4, but because of where the entrance to our Blue Corral start was, had to weave my way through other corrals to get to my start (definitely recommend getting into your corral 50+ minutes early)- which was really crazy considering I tried to get into my corral over 30 minutes prior to the start and it took me 15 minutes to weave my way up to Corral 4! In 2016 they had the blue start just for marathon runners (but they blended the two for this year), so hopefully they change it back because that was insane. It was also a wave start (NOT corral starts which I assumed it would be), so when the gun went off, everyone began running/ walking and it was just insane. It took me the first few miles just to weave through the crowds. Not so much fun. I decided I would break my run into time splits and focus on just the hour I was in, with an acronym for each hour ( 0-60 minutes- A-Attitude; 60-120 minutes- B-Believe; 120-180 minutes C-Conquer; 180-finish ABCs just keep repeating the mantra)- also wrote these ABCs on my arm. I was also planning on taking gels every 50 minutes (roughly every 5.75 miles), which doing the math for the gels really helped keep my mind off running! 

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The marathon follows the half marathon course until mile 11, where we peel off from the half marathon and from that point, it was SO much nicer. I kept my music off until this point (actually kept it off until past mile 12) so I could really take in the strip and hold my pace back a bit and just experience it all. I really recommend doing this during your next race! The crowd support was incredible and energy is contagious. The course is also definitely downhill after the turnaround by the Welcome to Las Vegas sign (miles 3-8ish I believe), so I tried to net 5-10 seconds during this section. I was my fastest pace during this time until mile 25, around an 8:41 pace. 

At the point of the pull-off, the course opens up and becomes quieter as it heads into Downtown Las Vegas. I really enjoyed miles 11-15 for this point, but then I believe around mile 15 or so we hit a small hill and that was pretty difficult (one of two hills you'll encounter during this race). It didn't feel like they had as many bands through miles 11-24 where the marathoners are split from the half marathons, but I've never done a Rock 'n Roll Marathon before so maybe this is normal for these races. Thankfully I saved my music until these miles. Once I hit mile 17, we weaved through a parking lot where they had strobe lights (which hit me in the eyes a few times and blinded me..not so much fun). This part was the most challenging for me because it was a maze where you could kind-of see where you're running next, but couldn't see the end of the maze so mentally it was HARD. I tried to stay positive and focused on catching the runner in front of me.  Around mile 18 they had salt packets (which was SO needed!), I took one (I've never used salt before but this was perfect because I had been craving pretzels) and immediately started feeling better. I also took a gel (with caffeine) a bit earlier at this point because I started to feel slugglish.

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The gel kicked in and as we re-entered the strip around ~mile 23 (with the half marathoners), I started to look for my mom (who was running the half!). We had thought that we may finish around the same time, so I scanned the crowds and SAW HER! It was the most amazing boost to see her within a mile of finishing her second half and that really pushed me to the finish! We didn't stay with the half course for very long and began to be weaved through the staging area of the 5k the night before (again we were in a maze and could see where we were running throughout these two miles). It seemed like a lot of people began to bonk at this point because I started passing A LOT of people (or else was just so jazzed with seeing my mom and knowing that if I kept a decent clip, we could finish around the same time). I had been following this one girl from mile 18, but after mile 24 I hit my surge and passed her (THANK YOU to that girl who really helped pace me for those tough miles from 18-22).

We wove back onto the strip for ~.25 miles and then were on the last stretch. I knew from looking at the map that this out-and-back was the final push and that after this, I only had less than a half mile to go. It was difficult to pick up my pace during this part before the turn around because it was uphill, but as soon as I passed that mile 25 marker I got SO excited! I even turned off my music and picked up my pace to 8:20 for that final 1.2 miles! I passed several runners on the home stretch along the strip and used the amazing energy from the crowd to dig deep and push it to the finish. 

I crossed the finish line and honestly felt like I still had more gas left! I do wish I had picked up the pace a bit before mile 25, but I was still SO HAPPY to cross that finish line in under 4 hours (in 3:55:33 to be exact!)- a goal that I had set for myself at the beginning of 2017. I looked over my shoulder to the half marathon finisher shoot and there was MY MOM! She had crossed the finish line exactly the same time that I did! I was SO HAPPY! We got our medals at the same time and seeing the notification of a 'new marathon time' come up on my Garmin was amazing. 

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The finisher shoot is pretty long (~.4 miles) and the walk back to our hotel is really a struggle, but it's nice to stretch out your legs after the race. 

Overall, I LOVED every minute of this race and the runner's high is still going strong almost 2 weeks later. I love running and can't wait to set my next goal! I will definitely be back next year (and probably for another 26.2 miles!!). 

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Jackson Hole Half Marathon 2017

This was my 16th half marathon and 10th state and possibly one of my favorite half marathons ever! The Jackson Hole Hole-Half is at a higher altitude than many may be used to, however it is a VERY small half marathon (they also offer a full marathon there as well). The race is run almost entirely on their amazing bike paths and very well-marked. You get picked up at the base of their ski mountain (by the finish) and take a shuttle 13 miles back from the finish near the Teton Science School. The overall course is mainly flat (it loses a bit of elevation within the first few miles) and then gradually increases elevation over the remaining 7ish miles. I think the entire half-marathon maybe had 250 runners, so the field is pretty small and I was often running by myself (especially towards the end), which made for the experience different than those big-city races and pretty nice to really step back and enjoy the scenery!

We camped the night before about 55 minutes from the finish line (and shuttle area) at the Fireside Resort Buffalo Valley, which was a nice campground, but a really long drive to get there (we saw the biggest moose we've ever seen driving in right next to the road). There aren't a TON of camping options by this race course (which was a disappointment) and all of the hotels were pretty expensive (given it's held over Labor Day weekend), so camping was definitely a good option (just remember to give yourself plenty of drive-time before the last shuttle leaves). Plus, the views from our tent the night before the race was amazing. 

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The start area was pretty small and they didn't even blow a gun when it was time just announced it over a microphone. It was REALLY chilly at the start (temperatures in mid-30's), but we were able to stay on the heated bus until 15 minutes before start time which was super amazing. 

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After the first few miles were VERY chilly, I started to warm-up and got to enjoy all of the natural beauty that this race has to offer. You have sweeping views of the farmlands, cows, and Grand Tetons almost the entire time. It's a really great race to just ENJOY running- I know I most certainly did! It was also really nice to never have to worry about getting elbowed by crowded courses because this one was pretty small. It's very well-marked (I turned off my auto mile alerts on my Garmin) and I only glanced at my watch twice. One thing to remember for this course is that it is a CUPLESS event, so you'll have to bring your own hydration (which is fine if you train on long runs with something, just bring that). They had several stations lined up with jugs full of water and Gatorade, so you could always fill up if needed. I ended up just drinking from my already full water bottle of Nuun & took 2 Honey Stinger Gels (one at mile 6 and one at mile 10). 

There wasn't a lot of fan-fare along the course, so if you want a lot of cheerleaders this race may not be for you. I truly enjoyed the quietness of the race and just having that time to 'zone-out' to my music and focus on keeping my breathing nice and easy. It never got super warm-out along the course (it starts at 7am) and by the time I finished at 9, the temperature was perfect! 

The last .1 of the race finishes on a grassy area up a hill, but I'm so glad that I left a lot in the gas tank for that kick! I also had 2 runners close behind me saying 'ok give it a final kick', so I knew I didn't want them to pass me! I live for that kind of adrenaline. 

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The medals were SO pretty and they also had a bunch of race swag to purchase (if you're into that). I already have so much race swag that I decided to save my money. 

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Alex had to finish packing up the tent after he dropped me off at the shuttle, so he wasn't able to make it back in time to see me finish (which is fine), but that did give me enough time to just relax and enjoy the base area of their Ski Mountain. We also grabbed the most amazing breakfast sandwich (bacon, egg, cheese) at the local coffee shop that is at the finish, which was SO perfect. 

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The race also finishes right where the Tram is, so that was SO fun to watch. It's SO giant and carries you up to almost the top of the ski mountain. 

I ended up finishing 4th in my age group and honestly felt like I could've gone out and run another 10 miles easy! I didn't 'race' it like I had originally planned (probably could've gotten 3rd in my AG) and felt amazing after I finished, but since I was still dealing with a nasty head cold and major congestion I knew not pushing myself to exhaustion was key to recovering and getting 100% healthy. Plus, I have some pretty major goals coming up this Fall!  

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Revel Rockies Marathon 2017

This was my 4th marathon and 2nd time participating in the Revel Rockies! It's a primarily downhill course and it loses almost 5,000 ft of elevation from the beginning to the end. Last year I stayed at the Hampton Inn (one of their discounted hotels), but opted to stay at the Sheraton West this year. They allow dogs for a small fee and it was only a few $ more than the Hampton Inn. I always look for two things when I book a room when running a marathon destination race: 1. comfy beds 2. the best shower ever and the Sheraton did not disappoint! I previously recapped the race expo over at on my blog , so make sure to check that out!

The race starts at 6AM, so shuttle buses leave to take you to the start line anywhere from 3:30-4:15. Alex wasn't looking forward to waking up at 3:15 on a Sunday to drop me off, so luckily the Sheraton had a bus that I could get from there and it would take us all the way to the start line! This was honestly 100% worth it (even though we both thought the Hampton Inn was nicer overall)! I woke up at 3:15, had some oatmeal, put sunscreen & body glide on, and was out the door at 3:40! When I got down to the lobby, there was a race volunteer there helping everyone get on the right bus and it just happens that our transportation to the start line was a LIMO!

It was complete with a stripper pole inside and everything. First time ever being in one of these and it was really spacious!

This helped calm my nerves for a bit and after about an hour drive, we were at the start line. It was beginning to get light out and I headed to the porta potty line right away (it took me almost a half an hour to get inside one). I then proceeded to eat 1/2 banana, drink some Nuun Active (mango orange is my favorite flavor), check my bag at the bag drop, and then head back to the porta potty line one more time! After I did my business, I stretched for a few minutes then it was time for the National Anthem (they had a fellow runner sing it and he was amazing)! We began heading to the start line after it concluded. 

It was chilly to start (around mid 40's), but I knew it would start to heat up pretty quickly once we started to go below treeline again. I put myself right around the 3:55 pacer (my goal was to try to stay with the pace group as long as I could) and we were off! The first 6 miles of this race is pretty downhill and the scenery is spectacular! It went by really quickly and I could already feel my need to go faster than the pace group, so I left them really early on (and paced the 3:45 pace group too)! I decided to go by feel until mile 11 (where we hit some of the hills) and maintained a pace around 8:30 min/mi. Once we crossed onto Evergreen Parkway on mile 11, I knew this was going to be the tougher section.

My stomach had been feeling funky all day before the race and the morning it was still pretty off (probably nerves). I was really worried about the heat on race day (predicted to be in the mid-90s), as I really don't do well when it's hot out. I tried to stay conservative on the hills and maintained a pace 9:50 min/mi through miles 13-19.5. It was after this point where the race takes a turn onto Bear Creek Canyon and while it is slightly downhill in sections, it is entirely exposed to the sun and zero spectators. It was definitely where most runners struggle and I really wish there was some shaded areas along the remaining 7 miles. I tried to keep my pace up at an easy clip, but it was HARD!

I honestly met so many fantastic runners and at mile 25, when one more mile feels SO FAR, a runner that I remember seeing on-and-off throughout the course yelled to me: "we've been playing cat and mouse the whole time", "let's finish this TOGETHER" and that is really exactly what I needed to hear! She ran by me, but I forced myself to catch up to her and then she started to slow down and I got my second wind. I ran past her and didn't see her again! I actually ended up looking at a few of my race photos and just before the finish, she is directly behind me! Runners are amazing humans and the community is just awesome. 

While I didn't get the sub 4 that I trained for originally (I made it my goal to get under sub 4 in 2017), I am SO confident going into the Las Vegas Marathon training cycle that sub 4 is really doable! I ended up finishing in 4:03 and got a shiny new PR that was 11 minutes FASTER than my previous PR (set last year at this same race). I'm super proud of myself and all that I accomplished on this course and feeling confident going into my next training cycle!

This race is put together really well and they have fantastic mile markers (and encouraging signs along the course). The medals are AMAZING and t-shirt swag awesome too. One thing that I think really helped on this course was knowing that there was an aid station every 2 miles and I would check off each aid station that I came to (I lost focus towards the end of the race), but I think this mental game was a great way to motivate myself. In my next race, I'm going to try to focus on it the entire time and see how it works. 

 

Run For the Zoo Half Marathon 2017

This race marked my 15th half marathon, 9th state, 2nd half of 2017, and first half marathon that I completed in under 2 hours! I am still in awe that I finished this race at a pace (9:08 min/mi) that in High School I considered 'impossible' to hold for a 5k! 

We drove down to Albuquerque (stayed in Placitas) on Friday morning & the race was slated for 7am start on Sunday, May 7th. Check over on my blog for pre-race weekend activities (including quick recap of the expo!). Since I'm still in the midst of training for my Revel Rockies Marathon (35 days away) and I had originally had 18-20 miles on my schedule for Sunday, I decided that I would play the extra mileage by ear and not stress about it too much (I have already done one 20 miler that felt fantastic and have one more left in this training cycle). I woke-up at 5, got dressed, had some oatmeal with cinnamon and a banana, and we were off! Alex dropped me off about a mile from the start/finish area (which was right in front of the zoo!) and I got my mile warm-up in at a super easy pace. I still had 40 minutes to kill once I arrived there and it was SO quiet. I actually questioned whether I was there at the right time/ location because there were so few runners. I walked around for a few minutes to get a lay of the land and then walked RIGHT UP to the porta-potty line. I'm still in shock that there was no one around them 30 minutes prior to the start!

It was already pretty hot out (60 degrees), so I knew that my PR may not be a possibility depending on how hot it got (I don't do well in the heat). I had my nuun performance hydration blueberry strawberry mix with coconut water in my Nathan speedshot portable waterbottle, so I knew that I could take in as much electrolytes as I needed!

It was about 15 minutes to start and still a super small crowd. I wasn't nervous, but pretty excited! I LOVE RACING! I headed to the start line and got in some dynamic stretching prior to lining up. 

We all lined up and this was by-far the smallest half I've ever done. There were very few spectators (kinda a bummer), but so thankful for all the volunteers that were there! We were less than 45 seconds to start and then they said that we would have a delay of 10 minutes due to a course malfunction? After a minute passed, they said it would just be a 5 minute delay and for us to line BACK up! Well, after that craziness, I restarted my garmin and we were off! I was so thankful that I had both my sunglasses and visor because it was already sunny and hot. The first mile traveled behind the zoo on a dirt path and then hooked onto their bike path (which we stayed on until mile 11). The bike path was nice and there were water stops every 2-2.5 miles, however they never once offered anything besides water. I am still in shock that on a hot day like today, they couldn't scrounge up a bit of Gatorade or something with electrolytes for us. Definitely a huge negative for this race and I was super thankful I decided to bring along my own waterbottle with some electrolytes (although could've used way more). 

I felt really good up until mile 9 (when the shade was gone and the sun/ heat really started to wear on me). I started out at a conservative pace, picked it up after mile 4 and tried to hang onto that pace until mile 10 (this was my race strategy), and depending on my time either pull-back a bit (which I did due to I would definitely meet my 2 hour mark and the heat was taking its toll) or kick it up. I took one honey stinger gel at mile 5.5 and the second at mile 9.75. 

At mile 11, we were joined by the 10k runners which was OK, but by the point I joined them I had to dodge a lot of walkers and that took quite a bit of energy. I really liked that a little past mile 12, you could see the finish area the entire time. I kicked it up and really just kept my focus on the finish. This part took a lot of grit! There were a few more spectators along this section and I was still feeling really good. I crossed the finish line at 1:59.37 and seriously felt like I could've run another 10+ miles. I was never super sore afterwards and although would've liked to really push myself and see how big of a PR I could get, I'm glad that I kept that drive and will use it towards my Marathon next month! I shaved 2 minutes off my PR in November and am so proud to be chipping away in the under 2 category. 

Afterwards, we headed out pretty quickly as we wanted to get on the road. We did a pit-stop at Dunkin Donuts (like the true New Englanders that we are) and ofcourse I had to get a DONUT! I did a short rolling session with my R8 and stretching before getting in the car for our 8 hour drive back home. 

Overall, if I wasn't trying to complete a half marathon in every state I probably wouldn't have participated in this race. The organization was OK (again, I'm used to larger races with spectacular organization), the lack of Gatorade/Powderade on the course was disappointing, the only check-in point that they had on the course for our chip was at the end (not even at the beginning) so I really had to rely on my Garmin, and they had NO mile markers on the course (also disappointing). I had a runner in front of me ask a volunteer if we were at the halfway point (it seemed like this could've been his first half) and the volunteer said yes- we were only at mile marker 5.5 (I didn't have the heart to tell the runner that he still had another mile to go before we hit halfway)... 

Here's to chasing the next race and the next PR! Cheers!

 

Goofy Challenge 2017

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Marathon Recap

This was my second RunDisney race and I had signed-up for the Goofy Challenge thinking that I would be considered a 'real runner' if I could do both a half-marathon AND a full! RunDisney races will always hold a special place in my heart and I am a forever Disney fan- it always makes me feel like a kid whenever I arrive at Magic Kingdom and this race was way more than I could have expected! 

The race started out SO cold (and of-course I didn't bring any warm-weather gear from Colorado with me), luckily I had a throw-away sweatshirt, mittens, and hat that I purchased from Target. It was also slightly windy, which made me (a person who normally runs cold anyways) even more chilled. It started in Epcot, then we weaved out and made our way to Magic Kingdom, which was way more magical than an expectation I had! Seeing the castle sparkle in the still dark sky was amazing and I began to warm-up, so I dropped off my sweatshirt and hat off to the sidelines.

Once leaving the Kingdom, we headed to Animal Kingdom and I was so excited to see my mom and grandmother along the course (they planned to see my around mile 14). This is one of my favorite parks and it did NOT disappoint! It is so magical to run through the parks when they are quiet and it helps keep me distracted from my already tired legs and body. 

From here, we weaved our way onward towards ESPN's Wide World of Sports. While we were on a small path for what seemed like a million years, I thought Disney did a great job of spacing out characters and keeping runners distracted from the fact that we are running a marathon!

Once hitting the Wide World of Sports (the most boring part of the race, in my opinion), terrain started to get more difficult (sometimes we were on a track or dirt-paths) and mileage was starting to hit me (although it was still only mid-30s and windy). 

We left Wide World of Sports and headed back onto the interstate for a bit, which wasn't terrible as you knew you were headed to Hollywood Studios! This stretch had my absolute FAVORITE part of any race I have ever participated in- one of Toy Story's soldiers shouting and encouraging runners up and over a hill. It was amazing and exactly what I needed!

Hollywood Studios didn't disappoint and it is so cool to be able to run through sections and have so many great spectators cheering us along! They were even handing out candy along this section- hello chocolate at mile 22ish!

It was here that we left our 3rd park and headed back to Epcot and the finish line! How can the board walk around Epcot seem so short when you are walking it, but when you are running a marathon it seems like it never ends?!? Spectators were sparse along the beginning parts of the Boardwalk of Epcot, but when I began to hear the cheers from the finish line it was every bit as magical as I dreamed of! I was SO proud of this accomplishment that I didn't think I could do, that (happy) tears started filling my eyes! 

While the half marathon was cancelled due to the threat of severe thunderstorms, I still got my 39.3 magical miles in and truly felt like a "runner" after completing the Goofy Challenge. I had no expectations going into these races, besides 1. to finish and 2. have fun. It was SO much fun and I have already signed up for the Dopey Challenge 2018 and CAN'T WAIT. While the races are pricey and travel in January from Colorado isn't ideal, the magical memories (and amount of Mickey Waffles consumed) are worth it!

 Day after marathon breakfast with my favorite cheerleaders, my grandmother and mom!

Day after marathon breakfast with my favorite cheerleaders, my grandmother and mom!

 

Las Vegas Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon 2016

This was possibly one of my top favorite races of all time! If you haven't run it, you need to. Go sign-up right now and then come say hi because I will be back there this year for the full marathon! The race doesn't start until Sunday afternoon, so you have a lot of time to kill for most of the day. I normally try to do at least one run a week later in the day to be prepared for afternoon races like this one, but it's much easier to do when you're stuck at work at a desk and not surrounded by so many fun things to do in a great city like Vegas! I met my mom (who ran the 10k) in Las Vegas on Friday night (I got in super late that night) and we headed to the Expo first thing Saturday morning. The Expo was everything a runner girl could dream of and more! BUT it's also exhausting! Runners tip- wear comfy shoes and try to make a plan of what you'd like to see before going there, as it's very easy to get "sucked-in" and spend 4-5+ hours seeing it all. 

After the Expo, we did some shopping, gambling, and sight-seeing before heading to a fantastic dinner to carbo-load and got to see Cirque Du Soleil's Beatles LOVE which was incredible before turning in a relatively decent hour (10 pm). We tried to sleep-in the best we could on Sunday morning (race day) and had a plan to take a cab to the outlet shops that morning and limited the amount of walking we did by choosing the shops we wanted to visit. During our shopping, my father's girlfriend called to tell me that my Dad was being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance because he had slurred speech and was vomiting. It was possibly the most terrifying phone call I have ever had. It wouldn't be until after the race that I learned that he had a stroke and was doing OK (I was able to text with him the next morning). So needless to say, my race-day jitters were entirely focused on his health (which also was a great motivator for me as I was hoping to PR this race).

My mom ventured off to the 10k around 2:30, but I still had over an hour to kill before I needed to head towards the race start for the half, so I created a fun new playlist for my race! This turned out to be a great idea and I highly recommend runners to do that just prior to your race. I was able to walk to the start (we stayed at the Excalibur, which isn't the nicest hotel, but walking to the start line is a FANTASTIC perk and it's only a 1.3 mile walk from the finish- a great way to keep your legs moving and decrease "stiffness") around 3:30pm. I was in the green corral and honestly didn't have to wait a ton before it was time to start lining up! I did make the mistake of not going to the bathroom one more time prior to lining up and that definitely was a bad decision!

Once the race began, the sun was starting to go down and the weather was perfect. I LOVE running with no sun- it's basically the same as running when it's overcast and cooler...perfect conditions. The race had so many great stops and musicians (KISS was my favorite) that the miles really flew by. The course was really flat and there was so much to look at along the strip. The lights were beautiful and it was neat to run through Downtown Las Vegas- it was also really exhilarating leaving the strip to go through downtown because you were almost 'rushing' to get back to it! 

I never really felt tired or defeated during the race, but my mind was mentally tired (from worrying about my fathers' health and receiving countless update texts). My watch somehow was around .5 miles farther than what the course markers were and when I finally realized that I still had a mile and half left, instead of a mile. I felt pretty defeated and even stopped for a second. But then I remembered that I was running for my dad and I kicked it into gear for the last bit of the race. I had PR'd my half by over 4 minutes (from my half just a month before this one)! I felt amazing and on top of the world. 

After the race, I met my mom and we headed out to find a restaurant close-by to rejuvenate ourselves and enjoy our last night in Vegas. We actually had to buy finishers long-sleeved shirts because it was so chilly out! I would recommend either doing a bag-check or having a friend bring a few light coats if you plan on going out immediately after the race. Also check out that medal- it spins AND glows in the dark!

All around, while the circumstances with my dads' stroke were not planned, I'm really happy that I had my race to blow off some stress and run for him. The race was absolutely fantastic and I can't wait to run the marathon there this year!

2016 Rock 'n Roll Denver 1/2 Marathon

This was the second time I participated in this race and it was so much fun! I didn't have any huge expectations going into this race as I had just done the Emerald Bay Half Marathon the weekend before, but just wanted to complete the challenge and enjoy it! I stayed at the Sheraton downtown and that was a GREAT decision! Last time I did this race (2014), I carpooled into the city with a friend that morning and we must've walked at least a 1.5 mile + to get to the start line...not the best way to start your race. My hotel was within a half mile of the race start and finish, so I didn't need to stress about waking up super early or dealing with the headache of traffic! Totally recommend. 

The course is relatively flat for the most part and while it's in a city, I feel like they do a really great job of highlighting Denver's best views of the landscape and mountains in the backdrop. The spectators on the course had a ton of energy and I remembering seeing so many enjoying their coffee and that pushed me to go even faster to the finish- I had a donut waiting for me when I was done! It was definitely going to be a hot day there, but luckily the race was finished before the heat could really affect me. There was one out-and-back part of the course that I really remember feeling pretty defeated on (around mile 11 or so- my weakness!) because you could see the runners who had already done the turn-around, but couldn't even see where the turn-around was! After this point, it's a fun finish to the park and the spectators along this section are the best. I was able to pull out a PR, but I definitely felt like I could've given it even more (but was tired from my race the weekend before and vacation blues). Rock 'n Roll does a great job of keeping the energy up and while this race (or expo) is nowhere near as exciting as Las Vegas is, it is still a lot of fun that's much closer to home!

 

2016 Emerald Bay Half Marathon

Since I'm trying to complete a half marathon in every state, I had planned on doing this race as part of a road trip vacation to California! We took a week off and drove through Death Valley Nat'l Park and headed up to Sequoia Nat'l Park where we camped for a night. We then continued our trip through Kings Canyon Nat'l Park and then headed north to spend a few nights camping in Yosemite! Our final destination (and end of the trip) was South Lake Tahoe, where I would run the Emerald Bay Half Marathon (as part of the Lake Tahoe Marathon Race Series Weekend in October) prior to beginning our drive back to Colorado. The expo for this race was really great! They had some awesome (and pretty inexpensive logo gear)- I ended up getting a hat & 1/4 zip tech shirt for under $50. It was pretty small, but very well organized and had everything I would have wanted (without too much walking). The shirts that we got were SO beautiful, but they were white (which isn't my favorite color) and mine started to unravel a few weeks after I got it... :( After the expo, we got dinner and went to bed pretty early to prep for race day!

I had trained for a PR in this race and knew that it was almost all downhill (spoiler alert: I did end up PR'ing, but more on that later), but I made the mistake of planning for a vacation prior to my race (rather than race then vacation). I will never make this mistake ever again! While I was able to fit in a few runs throughout the week, my nutrition wasn't the best, and sleep was all over the place (hey, a girls' gotta splurge right?). Needless to say, that while we were being bused up to the start of the race (at the Emerald Bay State Park) I didn't have many expectations and just wanted it to be done! 

We had to walk for about a half mile to the start of the race and it was extremely casual- maybe this is how everything is done on the west coast (or maybe they were just super relaxed as this was the last race of their busy race series weekend)? After walking too far to the start (it was also pretty cold up at the higher elevation- we were supposed to camp this weekend, but 30 degrees in a tent was too cold for us and we ended up booking a hotel instead), we were off and the beginning is SUPER downhill. It was really hard to not go out too fast on this part (which I ended up doing). By the time the race flattened out, the sun was starting to beat down on us (the race didn't start until mid-morning) and I was already feeling pretty defeated. My legs were shot and I was exhausted. I basically felt like I shuffled/ sprinted in portions for the last 5-6 miles of the race just so I could be done. 

At the finish line, we got some really cute medals & license plate holders- bonus! I ended up PR'ing by :50 seconds (and 13th in my age group), but I had trained for a PR by several minutes. Overall, I feel like I could've done really well at this race had it not been at the end of my vacation and we didn't drive over 1,000 miles prior to the race! The scenery was unmatched (possibly the most scenic race I've ever done) and I loved finishing on the South Shore beach. We stayed at a hotel within a 1/2 mile of the finish line and was totally worth it. However, if you do this race note that many hotels don't allow late check-outs (which is a bummer when the race doesn't start until 10am and you finish at noon). We actually had to pay $20 for us to check-out at 1pm instead- we were driving in a car for over 8 hours that afternoon and I did NOT want to be sweaty and smelly for that long. 

Definitely recommend the race and make sure to prep for the downhills/ later race start. Enjoy! :)