Touristy Tuesday: San Francisco, CA – New Years Eve 2013

Happy New Years! What…? it’s April already, you say? Oh, I guess I’m a little late to the party on that one.

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Even though I’m more than a few months overdue on this blog, I wanted to make sure I documented Abe and I’s second San Francisco adventure. Better late than never right? This was really the last city for Abe and I before the big switch of regions and partners, so to say we made the most of it is an understatement. Here’s a preview, or a TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) for you.

  • Bars.
  • Dancing in bars.
  • Falling while dancing in bars.
  • Tourist traps.
  • Touristy adventure with the musician from the aforementioned bar.
  • Airport bars.
  • Football.
  • Book of Mormon – The Musical.
  • New Years Eve.
  • The morning after New Years Eve.

So if that table of contents gives you any indications for what is to come you should be able to deduce two things: First, that it’s going to be a long post. (Sorry I’m not actually sorry!) And second, that it was quite the couple of weeks.

Abe and I rolled into San Francisco after a week in Bakersfield. If you’ve ever been to, or even heard of Bakersfield, you know it isn’t exactly the most glamorous of California destinations and we were eager for a change of pace. San Fran delivered on that immediately when our dynamic duo turned into a trio for a few days, with the arrival of Hotdogger Ron. Abe and I met Ron at the Hotdogger Reunion in Madison back in October and hit it off immediately, especially since Ron and I are both Mizzou J-School/Geology grads. We all just happened to be in San Fran at the same time, so it was inevitable that we would meat up again!

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Once we got to the city we stopped by the hotel just long enough to change, sip some wine (the buzz helps with that BART ride in) and hit the road. San Francisco greeted us with spectacular Christmas displays and after wandering around Union Square for a bit we settled for a Thai place for dinner. After that is when the bar hopping began. I should have known from the get-go that trying to keep up with not one, but TWO Hotdoggers would spell trouble. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite have that foresight.

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We started at Lefty O’Doul’s Piano Bar, and then headed down the street to another pub. The second bar we went to also promised to be a piano bar but it turned out to just be a singer and his guitar. We were anything but disappointed because he delivered on our request for Sweet Caroline and then kept the hits coming after that. When there is live music involved it’s usually not long until Abe starts calling for shots, and sure enough a round quickly appeared.

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Let me pause and set the scene up here. Up until this moment there had been lively music going on in the background thanks to our friend. The guitarist was doing an excellent job and the make-shift dance floor had one stand-out couple doing their best to keep up with the music. It was picture perfect, right? Of course, with shots in hand, that is when the guitarist decides to take a break! Now, I’m the kind of girl that if I’m taking a shot it’s gotta be fun. A silent bar isn’t exactly my style, so with some cajoling I managed to convince the guitarist for one more song. He warily glanced at the couple on the dance floor, who were more shuffling than dancing at this point, but my enthusiasm must have been convincing because he gave in and started up another tune.

Now that’s where it gets a little fuzzy. It must have been a good song because I decided this was the perfect opportunity to dance with this guy on the dance floor, who’s partner had suddenly vanished. It started out as a fun, innocent dance, but ended in a train wreck. Initially things were going well, with some nice high school prom moves. Then he went in to twirl me, only for both of us to realize a little too late that neither of us were ready for that elaborate of a move. Like two asteroids colliding in space, we crashed into each other. He went down first, and then accidentally brought me down with him. (Abe claims I went first, but I beg to differ, perhaps in an effort to salvage some dignity.) Even this is making it sound far more graceful that it really was. We ate it. BIG time. In front of everyone.

Meanwhile, Abe and Ron were enjoying the spectacle from the sidelines laughing hysterically. Abe, who knows my dance moves all too well, looked neither shocked nor surprised at the calamity. The guitarist, who had warned me when I got up to dance that I would be better off going solo, gave me a knowing I-told-you-so grin. With all the charm and grace I could muster, I quickly regained my step, curtseyed, and left joe-shmo to recover on his own.

Embarrassed? Definitely. Regretful? Only slightly. Everyone has to have an experience of being mortified in public at least once, right?

That story might be one of those you-had-to-be-there moments, but rest assured it was a sight to see! When consulting Abe about this blog post he made sure to tell me repeatedly that this was the single funniest moment from our seven months together.

Anyway, the guitarist later came over to introduce himself. I was honestly expecting a lecture on how to adequately select a dance partner (I’m sticking with Abe from now on) but he ended up just chatting us up. He had a strong accent that I hadn’t noticed while he was singing, which turned out to be Croatian, and introduced himself as Demir. Now believe it or not, but I happen to know just enough Serbian, a sister language of Croatian, to get through introductions. Somehow I think it was my ability to stutter out “Good evening” in his native tongue, rather than my dance skills, that kicked off the friendship. Although Ron, Abe, and I piled into a cab and headed back to the hotel we were all staying at, we made plans for Demir to show us all around San Francisco later in the week.

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The next day was a true Touristy Tuesday, and this one actually fell on a Tuesday! We started off with a trip to the Golden Gate Bridge. Although Abe and I had seen it on our first trip to San Francisco we hadn’t actually been there in the Wienermobile, a photo op we couldn’t exactly pass up.

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The second time around the weather was absolutely beautiful, with totally clear skies this time, and we had much better parking having charmed the bike cops with Wiener Whistles.

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From the Golden Gate Bridge we headed to Fisherman’s Wharf for the first clam fest of many to be had in San Francisco.

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The smell of sourdough captured our senses and we were drawn into the famous Boudin’s Bakery.

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We scored a table overlooking the water and while we waited there were plenty of pretty incredible creatures made out of dough to marvel at. I love bread and I love cool stuff made out of food, so I adored this place! (Send me an Edible Arrangement over flowers almost any day.)

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Between the clam chowder and the clam pizza, it was a true San Francisco adventure.

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After Boudin’s, we headed through the Castro district for some sight-seeing and then went over to see the Painted Ladies Victorian houses. This was another picture-perfect moment. The only thing missing were bread baguettes to sword fight with! (Next time I suppose!)

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For the short time Ron got to spend with us he really assimilated well with the SW team – drink a lot, eat a lot, and do a bunch of touristy things in as short amount of time as possible. I think Abe would agree that would sum up our approach to adventure pretty well over the seven months we were together.

The next day Demir from the bar called. Dobro utro! (That’s “good morning” for all of you non-Croatian speakers out there.) Neither Abe or I really expected to get the local’s perspective, but it worked out wonderfully. After lunch in an artsy-fartsy area of town that I’ve now forgotten the name of, Demir showed off everything from the fanciest of houses to some of the prettiest views.

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We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and went driving through the Marin Headlands. Talk about spectacular! Not only did I come out of the afternoon with some beautiful photos, but I landed another passport stamp! I’ve still been avidly collecting stamps for my National Park Passport, opportunities for which have been strikingly less frequent in the Midwest, and we stopped by the visitors center to get one for the Headlands. Success! (Every time I get one of those stamps I think how proud my Grandma should be, having started me on the whole passport craze from an early age.)

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That evening we went to The Trident in Saulsalito for wine and more clam chowder, while overlooking the bay and the city. It had to have been the best view of the city in the area! That was it for the day, but it proved again how much fun this job is – exploring new places with new people!

Sadly, Abe and I did have to actually work some of those days in San Francisco. Between retail events and a stop at the Ronald McDonald house in town we didn’t have much more time for exploring, and soon enough we were headed home for Christmas.

I was flying out Friday evening on what I thought was a red-eye from San Francisco to Kansas City. Guess I should have read that ticket a little closer…. Yes – I left at 7 p.m. and yes – I got in at 8 a.m. But no – that was not all time spent in flight! Turned out I was actually spending the night in Denver’s finest sleeping accommodations – the United Airlines terminal.

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This wasn’t my first time spending the night in a terminal, having previously been stranded in Newark on my 19th birthday, and Denver lacked the charm of terminal life that Tom Hanks had portrayed so nicely. Oh well, six hours later I was in a slightly comfier, albeit more squished seat headed home.

Even with the headache of overnight travel, it was still a fun trip back. My flight out of San Francisco had actually been delayed numerous times and practically every passenger was camped out at the airport bar. The plane was pretty much filled entirely with 20-something Coloradans going home for Christmas and we had a great time swapping stories from our first years out on our own. If they hadn’t finally called for boarding, I think we would have ended up ordering a bottle of champagne to kick off the winter holidays! We even swapped numbers to meet up on New Years, although that never really panned out.

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Christmas back home was low key and mostly just filled with puppies and good books.

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I feel the need to bring this up specifically given the amount of going out I mention in this blog post. I have to reassert my wholesomeness, ya know?

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In all seriousness, I spent most of my time back in Kansas City curled up by the fire working my way through Pride & Prejudice. That kicked off the classic novel spree that lasted throughout the month of January. (I’ll come clean and admit that it even started impacting my vocabulary!) After Pride & Prejudice I started Jane Eyre and it just continued from there.

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While I was home we also celebrated my step mom’s birthday. With it being so close to Christmas she has had the unfortunate luck of being lumped in with the holidays each year growing up, so I try to always be over-the-top with her birthday now.

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After a few days home, I was due back to San Francisco. Although we get two weeks off for the winter holidays, Abe and I were on a special assignment that was breaking up our off days. For the last three years Kraft has been sponsoring the Kraft Fight Hunger bowl and this year Navy was playing Arizona State at AT&T park. (Yes, AT&T Park is a baseball stadium. Apparently you can play football at it too – who knew?!)

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Abe and I had the tough job of attending the pre-game pep rally in Union Square, staying at Hotel Nikko (which was also on the square) and watching the game from the Kraft box suite. I know – working over the holidays is really rough.

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While the game was a bit of a wash, with Navy losing pretty horribly, one great thing came out of it: this picture.Hotdogger photo bomb

(My friend from high school, Kalah, goes to ASU and saw this in one of her friends’ Facebook albums. Not sure what exactly I’m doing back there, but it was the perfect photo bomb. Probably just being my usual over-enthusiastic self.)

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After our work with the Kraft Bowl was done Abe and I decided to stick around for New Years Eve in San Francisco. I had two goals: have an awesome time on New Years Eve and then check California off the Race for 50 States by doing a half marathon in the morning on New Years Day. Clearly there was some dissonance between those two goals and it was either one or the other. You can probably guess which one I achieved. (Or maybe not, I really do love running.) Spoiler alert: it was the first at the expense of the second.

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Our boss Ed had told us that the Union Square Westin always has a really elaborate and over-the-top New Years Eve party each year, the biggest in San Francisco. The theme was Passport to the World, with 10+ rooms with different international themes, an open bar, and tons of live entertainment. Although the shock value associated with the ticket price would be good content, I’m too embarrassed to admit how much the tickets actually were. Regardless, it was completely worth it.

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Each room had a separate theme, from Asian to 80’s. We were a little confused on the 80’s theme, since that’s not really a country, but hey – why question it because that was one of the best rooms in the place. We used the night as an excuse to pull out the formal wear we had been lugging around for months and actually put our fancy pants on!

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We wandered from room to room, bar to bar, enjoying the ample amounts of people watching. That was probably my favorite part. Everyone was dressed to the nines and I felt like I had stepped into a C-list version of People Magazine! All the dancing we did that night went well and there were no repeat collision incidents to be had.

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After a few hours and more than a few drinks, the countdown to 2013 started. Then, at the stroke of midnight, it happened. Abe and I kissed. Or rather, according to Abe, I kissed him. It may not have been reciprocal. While I certainly believe that story, the combination of it being two hours after my typical bedtime and more than two drinks past my usual limit, I don’t totally remember all the details. It was certainly our first, last, and only kiss that we will ever share. But hey – it’s NYE and it was in the spirit of Auld Lang Syne!

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The trip home was equally adventurous. Trying to figure out CalTrain vs. the BART after midnight on New Years is something you only need to do once in your life. Luckily some kind fellow travelers pointed us in the right direction and we eventually made it back to the hotel.

  • Formal wear – Check!
  • Champagne toast – Check!
  • Midnight kiss – Check!

I’d call that a successful New Years Eve!

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The next morning was less of a success. I actually woke up a couple hours later, at 6 a.m. for the half marathon, and promptly turned over, hit the snooze button, and decided to wake up when 2013 was a few more hours old.

The rest of our time in San Francisco was spent mostly in recovery mode. Partly from New Years Eve and partly from being sick. Abe had the flu and decided to spend most of his time in bed, while I was still determined to get out and about.

We did have one good brunch at this psuedo-southern restaurant called Farmer Brown’s, which had a spectacular buffet featuring chicken and waffles, grits, and bottomless mimosas. At this point we were really only interested in the first two options, and decided to save the mimosas for next time. This was an unexpected treat, which I wouldn’t have expected in trendy, hip San Francisco. It was the perfect post-NYE menu though, that’s for sure!

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If San Francisco is known for anything besides the bridge, it’s known for the gay community and I needed to experience a little bit of that before I left. Since doing anything on Castro Street beyond just driving it is a little too adventurous for me, I decided to take a different route.

As a big fan of musicals I have been dying to see The Book of Mormon since I first heard about it. (Trust me – there is definitely a bit of fab-u-lous in it.) Having been to Salt Lake City, gotten my own copy of the Book of Mormon while there, and been to both the Temple Square and Tabernacle Choir, seeing the musical seemed like a natural next step! (Maybe more of a leap, from serious to nonsensical, but it holds with the Mormon theme at least.)

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Abe and I had looked into tickets, but since it would have been a week’s salary for each of us we just wrote it off. Then, while out on my own grabbing dinner one night, I saw a huge crowd around a theater. I didn’t realize it until then, but I was right by the venue the musical was at! It was about 7:40 and I assumed the curtain call was probably 8 p.m. – talk about the perfect time for cheap, last minute tickets! I figured I would at least see what tickets were going for, just in case it wasn’t astronomical.

I went up to a scalper who said face value was $300. Gulp
Me – “Thanks but no thanks! Have a good one!”
Him – “Well, how much did you want to pay…?”
Me – “I don’t know that I even want to pay three digits for a ticket, much less $300!”
Him – “Oh, no way is that happening. I just sold a pair for $750.”
Me – “BBYYEE.”

By the time I had picked up a quick bite and started walking back to the hotel it was 7:55 and the scalper still had the same number of tickets in his hands. I knew I was golden at that point.

Me – “So are they $100 yet?”
Him – “Hey now! Don’t count my money just yet.”
Me – “Alright, well when will they be $100?” (Figuring I could easily just wait it out at this point.)

And just like that, at the 8:00 curtain call, I ended up with a center orchestra seat to one of the hottest shows in town. I was talking to the couple next to me and they just happened to mention that they had paid $900 for their two tickets! This was probably one of the prouder moments of negotiating I’ve had on the road, that’s for sure!

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The show itself was absolutely hysterical. It was a little too over-the-top, even for my taste, at times, but that is probably to be expected when the writers are the same guys who put together South Park.

And that was it for San Francisco! The day after New Years I was on a flight back to the Midwest to start the Southern road trip portion of break, for the Mississippi Blues Marathon.

Even though Abe and I had one hell of a good time in San Francisco, it is still a city I need to eventually make it back to. There are still a few things to do there on my bucket list, mainly running across the Golden Gate Bridge! I know – how did I not do that?! I also want to see Alcatraz and go out to John Muir Woods to get another stamp for the good old National Park Passport. Since I bailed on my race for California I have to make it back to the Golden State sometime anyway! Till next time San Francisco!

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Touristy Tuesday: Columbia, MO Edition

The way I would describe our time in Columbia would be like a week long speed dating session, but with friends. Columbia is home to Mizzou and I still have a lot of friends still in town. In our seven days in town I crammed as many friend dates in as possible! I didn’t get to see everyone, but I did have a blast seeing everyone I did get to hang out with.

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In addition to meeting absolutely everyone I know, I also dragged Eliot all around Columbia. First I had to show him campus, the quad, the columns, and all the highlights of Mizzou.

My first night in town I met up with Zahra. Those familiar with Columbia would probably say go to Shakespeare’s Pizza, Harpos, or the Burg as soon as you get back in town. For me, it’s India House. It is just down the street from my old apartment (home sweet home for Zahra now) and is one of my favorite places to go with Zahra. I mean, she obviously knows the best choices on the menu too!

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We had some much needed girl talk and then Kevin joined us for dinner. Remember him? He’s the one who called me Hot Dog the whole time we hung out over Thanksgiving break. Not much has changed there!

After dinner we walked down the street (another reason to love CoMO – everything is in walking distance) to Ragtag, which is an independent movie theater/cafe/bar. It gets to be a lot of different things because it is just that cool. I mean, they have couches for seats in the theater! We were going to see all the short films nominated for Oscars this year. I had a great time, but don’t remember much. I managed to stay awake to finish a glass of wine, but was knocked out almost as soon as I put the glass down! Big surprise, but I slept through the whole thing. (Here’s a fun fact about me: I need my movies to END by 9 p.m. – this one started at 9 p.m. so there wasn’t even a glimmer of hope I would make it through without falling asleep.)

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Eliot and I were actually in town for recruiting at Mizzou, looking for the next class of Hotdoggers. As we were walking around campus on Friday putting up fliers we stumbled across a show setting up in Jesse Hall. It turned out to be the traveling broadway production of Shrek the Musical. Both being big Disney fans and having limited amounts of shame, we joined a hundreds of small children and went to see it that night.

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I’ll be honest, Mike Myers did such a great job with the film Shrek that I was leery of how it would translate to the stage. It was pretty good. I’m not going to say it blew me away, but it was definitely fun to see and the set was great. Of course, that final number with I’m a Believer is always the best. Even before the show, that was the official theme song for Eliot and I anyway.

Saturday night Eliot and I went to another show as Jesse Hall, but of a much different kind. There were absolutely no children in a theater this time!

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As part of the 1 Billion Rising campaign, we went to go see the Vagina Monologues.

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Eliot had never seen them and I love them, so I felt we just had to go! Let me tell you something, going to see the Vagina Monologues with a co-worker you’ve only worked with for a month is something that will definitely test a partnership. But we both survived, probably due to never speaking about it or uttering the word vagina again after the curtain closed.

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Luckily, Zahra and Kevin joined us along with one of their friends and their infusion of goofiness dropped the awkwardness level down a bit too.

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After the Vagina Monologues Eliot and I headed downtown to meet up with a bunch of my friends. It was Emily’s birthday and she always has the very best birthdays. Last year she had a bucket of champagne with sparklers coming out for goodness sake!

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It worked out great that it was her birthday weekend because a lot of people were in town to celebrate! There was another added bonus that the journalism career fair was also this week and so a lot of grads were back in town as well.

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Talk about a great night. We started at Room 38 and let’s be honest, since it is one of the classiest places in town the night could inevitably only go downhill – in a good way anyway!

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From Room 38 we headed to Shot Bar, which is a relatively new place. Take a shot and leave. (“It’s SOOOO European,” said all the undergrads fresh from their study abroad experiences that left them feeling like the epitome of cultured.) Really it’s just a chance to charge insane amounts for a drink and get quick turnover.

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At Quintons, my favorite bar back in college, Eliot and I were getting drinks when I looked down the bar and recognized a familiar face. Sure enough, it was Adam Hickey, another Hotdogger and Mizzou grad who we had met up with in Chicago a month before. Talk about a small world!

The night ended with quite a lot of dancing and quite a lot of tacos. Isn’t that how it always goes in college though?

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Along the way, I introduced Eliot to some other Columbia staples including $1 Burgers on Sundays at Big 12. I made sure he got the waffle fries so I could eat them! We also tried somewhere new for me – Main Squeeze, a local vegetarian place. I had a sunflower burger (?!) and it was deeee-licious!

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We did make one final reappearance in Columbia, driving through for lunch this past week, where we remembered to bring cash to try the sliders at Booches and I got to catch up with Emily and Tyler one more time as well!

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I had done my best to show Eliot the best Columbia had to offer in our one week in town. He saw the classy side of things on campus and the fun side downtown. Sadly, he never got to really experience the sports side, but I think I might have gotten Mizzou to be his SEC team of choice now!

Being back on campus was a blast, but I’m even more eager to get to grad school now. I’m ready to have my nose in books, coffee cups, and pint glasses again!

Touristy Tuesday: Chicago, IL

This should really be called Touristy Tuesday: Ferris Bueller edition! Last week Eliot and I hit the hot dog highways and headed to Chicago, Illinois, where the Windy City greeted us with zero degree weather and good times.

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Before I really got into tourist mode though, I set out to catch up with friends in the area.

The first night in town I headed over to Deerfield to have dinner with David. He was my first friend at Mizzou. In fact – we were friends even before we made it to campus in August. The summer after high school a few of us from the area met up downtown and bonded over bleeding black and gold for the next four years. Of course, we instantly became closer when I showed up at his dorm room door crying, looking for a friendly face after hell week … err sorority rush week. Four years later I showed up at his door again, but this time in a giant hot dog!

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We went to this cool Korean place in the area, where David took on the role of Grill Master, cooking our dinner right at the table-top grill. Having taught in Korea last summer, where this style of dining is common, David was a pro at grilling everything – well, except the broccoli!

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I also met up with Maggie, a girlfriend all the way back from middle and high school. (Speaking of the Chicagoland Mizzou Meet-up, she had also been there that summer.)

This was some old football game back in the day, but I thought it was too cute a photo of David and Maggie not to include!

This was some old football game back in the day, but I thought it was too cute a photo of David and Maggie not to include!

We did two things you have to do when you’re in Chicago: shop and eat pizza! Even though it was a chilly nine degrees, I still ended up buying three dresses that evening! (I guess I just can’t accept that I am back living in the Midwest!) We also had dinner at Lou Malnati’s. I’m not sure it beats Gino’s East for Chicago Deep Dish Pizza in my book, but it was close!

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Friday night was a reunion of a different kind – a Hotdogger Reunion! Now if I had been up on my blogging you might recognize one character – Ron, who is a fellow Hotdogger and Mizzou Grad. He picked the Chicago Brauhause on Lincoln Square. Perfect for Hotdoggers because they serve beer in boots, and if there is one thing these people like in large sizes it seems to be hot dogs and alcohol.

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Adam (Class XXII), Allison (Class XXI), and Taylor (Class XXIV) all joined as well. As Allison so eloquently put it, when Hotdoggers get together it becomes a shouting match of intoxicated Type-As one-upping each other with stories from the road. Let me tell you – that’s fun!

Honestly, at this point we probably looked better in black & white.

Honestly, at this point we probably looked better in black & white.

A three digit bar bill, two boots of beer, and one lost iPhone later, we called it a night.

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After adventures in Germantown and even a stop in Boystown, I had to get a taste of the Chicago Jazz Scene as well. This is Chicago after all – you can’t skip a night of live jazz music for the itinerary! Saturday night proved to be a fancy night out at Andy’s Jazz Club, putting to use at least one of the dresses I so foolishly purchased with Maggie earlier in the week.

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As much fun as I had with the Hotdoggers, this jazz place was much more my scene. The accordion from the Brauhaus had been swapped with a grand piano. Instead of schnitzel, I had an absolutely divine tuna steak. And the two boots of beer were exchanged with two bottles of wine.

Both nights were a total blast though and I couldn’t have had better company either evening.

The second half of the Chicago stint was where I went into tourist overdrive. I think I was just lacking the fanny pack. I wasn’t kidding when I said it was a Ferris Bueller kind of weekend. If Baseball was in season and I could have gone to Wrigley Field, I would have hit all the hotspots. Sears Tower – Check! Deep dish pizza – Check! The Art Institute – Check! I even added a few that weren’t around back in the 80’s, including Millennium Park, the Bean, and The Second City.

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Sunday started with a trip to the Skydeck at the top of the Wilils Tower. Yep, over the course of a 110 story elevator ride, I must have been brainwashed to refer to it by the Willis Tower instead of the Sears Tower. Maybe it was all those fun facts. Did you know there are 25,000 miles of electrical cable in the building? There are also 992 toilets and 16,100 windows, to be exact.

They measured in the tower in Obamas, Orpahs, and Michael Jordans. Now THOSE are some fun facts!

They measured in the tower in Obamas, Orpahs, and Michael Jordans. Now THOSE are some fun facts!

The Skydeck itself was pretty cool. After skydiving, I feel like an old pro at heights! You can fit about 10 people on the ledge at once. No one was amused when I tried to get us all to jump at the same time. I wonder why…

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Unlike all those squares on the Skydeck who didn’t want to test the weight limits, I didn’t lose my appetite up there and instead was ready for some food. Just down the street was a Giordano’s. Just to be contrary, I didn’t order deep dish pizza (maybe once that week was enough for me) and instead went with a light and refreshing order of bruschetta. Turns out it was anything but light – it was massive!

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Once the waiter brought it out and I recovered from gasping, I had to ask him just how many tomatoes went into it. There were six. Six whole tomatoes! In case you’re wondering, there are only four pieces of toast under all of that!

The rest of the afternoon was spent at the Shedd Aquarium. For $9 you get into the aquarium, but they charge you an extra $20 if you want to see the sharks, dolphins, or whales – and let’s be honest, isn’t that the whole reason anyone goes to the aquarium? Frustrated by the bait and switch (pun intended) I decided to make the most of the $9 ticket, which proved to be well worth it!

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I had goose bumps the whole time (for some reason fish, eels, and everything else in there just give me the willies) but it was a lot of fun! I decided that out of all the exhibits the animal that best represented me was probably the otter. Those guys are fun, cuddly, and just a little bit mischievous.

Having been a nerd most of the day it was time to do something a little more adult. Back in May I had gone to a performance at The Second City and had so much fun I wanted to go back. A lot of it is improv, so you’re bound to get something new every time. This was no exception – it was absolutely hilarious!

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It might have been even funnier because of the wine tasting across the street at Dinotto’s right before the show! If I ever go back to a show at The Second City, I would definitely go back to Dinotto’s – their staff was just as charming as the restaurant itself.

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On my last day in Chicago I had to do a few things that would make my mom happy: mainly see the Chicago Art Institute and the Bean. We had a spectacular time together when we went to the grand opening of Millennium Park in 2004, and she had previously taken me and my sister to the Art Institute when Toulouse-Lautrec was on exhibit.

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I was a little reluctant to go back to the Chicago Art Institute because I’m not really artsy fartsy and I figured I had seen it all before. Was I wrong! The three hours there were not long enough. I mean, half an hour was probably devoted to the miniature rooms exhibit alone! (The Paperweight exhibit only took about five minutes to get through though.)

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As much as I think I lack creative disposition, going back to the Art Institute, exploring the contemporary wing, and thinking about how much fun I had at the ICA in Boston, I’ve realized I might actually really enjoy these art museums! There is a Picasso exhibit coming to Chicago this month that I might go back to see when we come back in March.

After the museum, it was also necessary to get a few photo ops with Cloud Gate, the bean-shaped sculpture in Millennium Park.

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And just like that, I was on the train back to the hotel. After a week of sightseeing, drinking, and playing tourist, it had come to an end in a uniquely Chicagoan way – surrounded by bums all trying to stay warm and out of the winter wind.

Race Recap: Marine Corps Marathon

(Warning: Much like the Marine Corps Marathon, this post requires quite a bit of endurance. It’s long and detailed and maybe not ‘blog’ material, but really it’s a personal race recap for me! Just giving you a heads up before you get started.) 

Remember how my big concern with the Marine Corps Marathon weekend was rushing in and out of town? Thanks to Hurricane Sandy it might have been a whirlwind of a weekend, but it was anything but rushed!

Before the Race:
Going into race weekend I was a mix of excited, nervous, and back to excited again. I had changed my flights to extend my time in D.C. and was eagerly looking forward to seeing the sites, kicking ass at the race, and enjoying the close company of the running community. However, that excitement was followed by feelings of nervousness about the impending hurricane and the possibility of bonking during the race.

I knew my training had set me up for success. I had amped up one of Hal Higdon’s intermediate training programs and run more than 500 miles leading up to the race. Sure, I had missed a dozen or so workouts over the training cycle (OK – so that’s kind of a lot!) but given the amount of travel and inconsistency in my life I was happy with the 18 weeks overall. I had nailed the long runs, knew my fueling needs, and felt confident I could at least finish.

On the flip side though, my pace had slowed in the last month, I had begun to feel burned out, and serious self doubts had begun to pop up.

So what does a nervous runner do? Carbo-load of course! I do this totally guilt free, even if it goes beyond carbo-loading and into self indulgence, because it serves two great purposes. First is functionality. You need those carbs! The second reason is carbs are delicious and seem to do a great job at reducing nerves!

Before the Flying Pig Marathon in May I bought an Italian baguette with the intentions of making bruschetta and just ended up eating the entire thing by itself! And you know what, I killed that marathon and didn’t hit the wall once. So this time around, partly out of nutritional planning and partly because of the tradition, I bought a loaf of italian bread and had that for dinner Friday night. (Advice for runners always says don’t change your race strategy, right? If it works, it works!)

Friday night Abe dropped me off in the Wienermobile at the Phoenix airport. What a trip that was! I would say that’s better than begin dropped off in a towncar if I didn’t know better now! I was catching the red eye from Phoenix to Boston – what a mistake that was. They say get as much sleep as possible two nights before the race because you won’t sleep at all the night before. Well, I learned my lesson never to book a red eye for that night because I couldn’t sleep a wink the whole flight!

We pulled into Boston and I haggardly made my way to the airport bathroom to transform into a decent looking human being again. If you haven’t been lucky enough to do this at some point in your life you’re missing out. There is an incredible sense of camaraderie among women applying mascara and eyeliner in those cramped quarters, as we silently acknowledge our mutual embarrassment and frustration with the situation.

From there, I made my way to the gate, which was boarding a flight to Aruba. For a split second I thought about trying to stowaway and spend the weekend on a beach instead of pounding the pavement for 26.2 miles. Instead, I curled up and pretended to sleep until I woke to the sound of three Boston cops discussing their marathon plans.

Talk about straight out of the movies – these guys had accents that would have been Oscar-worthy! One of the cops was talking about how his kid punched his friend at school for flicking a pencil at him. “I told him I was proud of him, but next time punch the other boy harder.” It was like I was eavesdropping on a screen test for a stereotypical Boston cop.

(This was the first of many times during the weekend I had to pinch myself to make sure I hadn’t walked onto a Hollywood film set!)

After confirming they were indeed running the Marine Corps Marathon, I chatted up the Irish Catholic cops until we boarded. They were entirely unfazed by the hurricane that promised to join us for the run and honestly I appreciated their irreverence. I also had a great conversation with Heather, a music theory PhD student at Boston University, who had done the Baltimore marathon the prior year. Those talks really got me in the marathon spirit. Finally – a whole weekend I could talk running non-stop and not feel bad once!

Before we even landed I was giddy with excitement. FALL! Gorgeous green, red, and yellow leaves were welcoming us into Baltimore. Being in the Southwest I’ve totally missed the entire fall season, which is my favorite time of the year. And those colors were just one more reason I was clamoring to get off the plane and into D.C. My Capitol adventure was just about to start!

The Expo:

Eventually, after a thrilling trip into the city, I made it to packet pickup. Talk about military precision at the Marine Corps Marathon expo! There were two sections – packet pickup and the health and fitness expo. This was really nice and streamlined it so that if you wanted to avoid all of the vendors, you could. I was able to walk right into the packet pickup tent, go to my booth, and grab my bib – 24146!

At the expo I got my Marine Corps Marathon patch (so cool but I need to figure out what to do with it) and the turtleneck. I’m actually really excited this ISN’T a tech t-shirt. I have plenty of those. Going into winter, I’d rather have something warmer. The Marine who handed me my shirt was a total sweetheart too. I was debating between a small and a medium and he said, “You definitely look like a small to me!” and handed me my shirt. A girl just has to love any comment like that.

Just by chance the very first booth I happened upon at the expo was the one booth I was on a mission to find. It was the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, who had given me about $10,000 in scholarships during college. I was thrilled to be able to stop by and tell them how much that scholarship meant to me and how it allowed me to graduate college debt free and with honors.

I could tell the girls were equally pleased to see me as well, as a successful recipient and to see their work in action.

The rest of the expo was a whirlwind energy supplements, running gear, and race promotions. One of my favorite things was seeing those who just came to support MCM runners sign up for their own races at the expo! I was genuinely excited for their excitement. And, honestly, a little jealous – there is nothing like that first marathon experience.

After I had loaded up with fliers, samples, and new gear I decided it was probably time to move on from the expo and actually see D.C. I knew I would be running through it the next day, but I still wanted to check out the National Mall and take in some of the monuments. (Of course I forgot my National Park Passport and didn’t get stamps for any of them. Oops!) The original plan was to pop back over to the hotel, change into running clothes, and then do a warmup jog before the pasta dinner. Running short on time, I opted to go straight to the mall.

It was an absolutely stunning day to be sightseeing. I love touristy destinations too because you can always find someone willing to take your picture so you will take theirs.

Washington Monument

Lincoln Memorial

World War II Memorial with the Washington Monument in the background

For me, the most incredible monument was the Vietnam War Memorial. Every time I see that it takes my breath away and I get teary eyed. Seeing all of those names is one hell of an eyeopener. It was a somber reminder of what I would be running for the next day.

Once I regained composure it was off to the pasta dinner at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill. As overpriced as these things can be, I really enjoy pre-race pasta dinners.

They are just a great way to meet people and get inspired! I mean, I met one woman who was doing a marathon each weekend for a year in honor of her dad. While I think that’s a little bit crazy, I was beyond impressed with her dedication.

The evening started with the Marine bagpipes band and an appearance by Miles, the official Marine Corps Marathon mascot.

During dinner the USO girls provided entertainment, along with a speaker from Runner’s World.

The best part of the evening though was easily when the drill sergeants came out. Bursting through the doors, screaming, they demanded excellence, perseverance, and commitment during the race in the morning. I was a mix of excited and terrified and when one of the drill sergeants got close to me, I did the whole “look away, look away” thing to avoid being called out!

I left the Pasta Dinner a little early just to make sure I got into bed on time. After the redeye flight the night before I knew I couldn’t sacrifice a good night of sleep. Like a good runner, I diligently laid out my entire outfit for the next day, plugged in my Garmin, and crawled under the covers…

Race Day:
Seven hours later, at 4:45 a.m., I emerged well rested and ready to run! And while I was ready for 26.2 miles that morning, I was deeply disappointed to find that my Garmin 210 had decided not to wake up. I think for most runners that’s a nightmare but probably not the end of the world. However, I had used my Garmin for every training run I went on! I’m one of those data junkies that looks at it every mile for my split time and adjusts accordingly. I am NOT a runner who just runs. I know, I know – I’m well aware that I get caught up in those numbers, but I love it. So when my Garmin 210 greeted me with a blank screen and wouldn’t reset, I freaked.

It was like I went through all five of the the Kubler-Ross stages of grief.

  • First I denied that this could even be happening – I’ve never had this problem! My faithful watch always works so this must be wrong.
  • Denial turned to frustration and anger when I realized that it was indeed not working.
  • Then bargaining set in. Can I fix it? Google – give me some answers! I promise to PR if it will just work!
  • When the internet produced no viable solutions the depression set in. How would I pace myself? How would I PR? How could I even run at all?!
  • Then I realized I was being a nut job; it’s just a watch, and it wasn’t like my legs were broken. I was going to go out and run like any marathoner before the Garmin era, by trusting and listening to my body. With that, acceptance set it in and I threw the watch to the side and headed out the door.

Hundreds of bagel eating, banana munching, water guzzling runners greeted me on the streets of D.C. I arrived at the starting line around 6:30, plenty early for a 7:55 a.m. start time. One of the women at the pasta dinner said she was going to be there two hours early because it gets so packed, so I had anxiously followed her lead and arrived as early as possible.

There were two benefits to that. First – clean port-a-potties! There is nothing like knowing you’re the first one in one of those things. Second – I was able to sit in on services provided by a Marine Chaplain. While I’m not religious, a lot of what he said was still comforting and inspiring to hear.

As the Runner’s Village began to fill up, I realized it was time to make my way to the start line. Even though I flew in by myself, at this point I knew I was not running this marathon alone, as 25,000+ other runners headed toward the arch. Collectively, we all stopped in our tracks as the National Anthem came over the speakers. It was followed by a flyover by two helicopters. After that I joked with the other 4:15 crowd that I had found myself with that the (commercial) jet that flew over was actually Air Force One and President Obama came to say good luck.

Kind of perfect!

And with that, we were off!

The first half of the race was all about taking in the crowds, the fellow runners, and the scenery. As my legs warmed up I met a few other runners who I would see throughout the race: Ben (who was doing his first minimalist shoe marathon) Angela (a stay at home mom who had gotten back into running) and Sue (a fit and feisty older woman). Ben and I ran the first four miles or so together, but I lost him along the way. We would later meet up and run three more miles around the 20 mile mark. By that point his Vibrams would be really hurting him and I would lose him again.

I had hoped to take photos along the way as I had done in my first marathon. I know it slows me down, but I really enjoy having all those memories. I also like to be able to call/text while I run. Absurdity, I know, but there is nothing like hearing a pep talk from my dad somewhere around miles 17-23! So I was a little peeved when my phone followed in the way of my watch and died almost immediately after crossing the start line. Come on technology – cut me a break! I wish I had thrown my phone to the side along with my watch. At least then I wouldn’t have had to carry it the whole race!

As we passed by Georgetown and continued through the streets of D.C. I had the pleasure of seeing two very inspiring sights. First was a blind runner, who was tethered to a partner that would be guiding him the entire way. The second were a group of service members who were each holding the flag of their respective branch. Leading up to the marathon I had read about these individuals, who carry the flag all 26.2 miles. I saw them about a quarter mile ahead of me and slowly moved my way forward to run with them until ultimately passing a few of them. It was incredible to see these individuals, overcoming these challenges and burdens, accomplishing something so monumental that most people never do.

My pacing plan for the first five miles was to stay with the 4:15 group. Since I was running blind (metaphorically – not literally as the individual mentioned above!) without a watch, I initially decided to stick with the pace group as long as I could, assuming I would eventually fall behind to finish somewhere between 4:15 and 4:30. I was delighted to find that while chasing the flag bearers I had creeped ahead of the pace group and eventually lost sight of them altogether. Aware I might be pushing it perhaps too much, I listened to my body as much as I could, but felt great.

The crowds were incredible throughout the race. It was like I had someone there for me throughout the entire race, popping up at different points! What I love about marathons is that they are long enough you actually feel like you get to know the spectators. Even though they’re not there for you, it begins to feel like they are. At the corner of a big hill, on a bridge, by a water stop – I found inspiration at just the right points along the way.

Having the custom Kelly! t-shirt also paid off. It cost about $50 for the shirt and to have it printed, but I would have paid three times as much! Hearing people call my name all 26.2 miles gave me that extra burst of motivation. At some points I was so excited and enthusiastic about the race I felt like I could just jump up and kiss them for coming out!

The worst miles of the race were easily 12-15, running through the East Potomac Golf Course. There were no spectators and the scenery was limited. Thank goodness for the water stop midway through that section of the race – at least there were some Marines there to break up the monotony.

There was one thing did keep me going through this section of the race. A local running club had set up signs literally every 30-50′ with encouraging sayings. Some were for their runners, such as “Go Tammy Go!” Some of these signs were speckled with inside jokes which were actually provided some entertainment, trying to think of the back story that went with the jokes.

Other signs were more generalized. With Hurricane Sandy threatening to take over the race, there were plenty of “Beat Sandy” signs along the way. My favorite signs through this section though were the ones like, “Compliment another runner” or “Say HI to the person next to you!” Being Midwestern, I love anything that makes something inherently a little competitive more friendly.

This section also had signs with celebrity marathon times on them. I can now tell you the finishing time of Al Rocker, Katie Holmes, Oprah, Will Ferrel, and a handful of other celebrities. That was also surprisingly inspiring! The big challenge with the Marine Corps Marathon is to beat Oprah’s time of 4:29 and I repeatedly told myself this was something I had to do during this race!

There were some other great signs along the course, such as one I saw at the steps of Capitol Hill that read “You are now in a binder full of marathoners!” poking fun at the Mitt Romney debate quote.

However, one of the best signs had to be the one I saw around Mile 22 though. At this point running was no longer just mechanical, but more and more heart was needed for each additional footstep. I looked toward the crowd and saw a sign that said “YAY KELLY”. Since my name was clearly written on my shirt I bounded over there for a high-five to thank them for inadvertently cheering me on. That’s when I got closer and saw the sign said YAY KELLY GOLDTHORPE! “Holy Shit!” I thought, “That’s ME!!” I mentioned earlier that my mom had a friend Shani who said she would cheer me on – THIS WAS HER! I couldn’t believe it. With 20,000+ runners and 50,000+ spectators I had run into her. It was just the moment of inspiration I needed.

This is the face of total disbelief and excitement!

By this point in the race I had held my pace pretty well. While I had managed to stay ahead of the 4:15 pace group, during the loop around the National Mall I heard the pacers voice behind me. I couldn’t believe it – she had caught up! Then the 4:15 group actually passed me at a water stop. I didn’t let them get too far ahead and made sure I kept them in sight.

Frustrated by being passed, I began to develop a race strategy to finish. I didn’t really have much of one until that point, just slow and steady. But with the 4:15 group ahead of me, I knew I would have to be strategic to stick with them. I decided I would linger behind them through miles 20-23. Miles 24-25 I would work on catching up with them and by mile 26 I would just haul buns and give it everything I had.

This turned out to be a great strategy that I stuck to perfectly. There was one moment of wavering when I thought to myself, “Just let them go on ahead. You’re clearly on your way to a PR now. It’s not the end of the world to not hit 4:15.” Luckily I pulled myself out of that crazy talk and kept trucking along.

At Mile 23 I expected a pleasant pick-me-up. The course map had promised Dunkin Donut Munchkins at the water stop. As exciting as that sounded during the carbo-load, in practice it was the exact opposite of what I would ever want during a marathon.

Of course I had to try them (who can resist mini-donuts?!) but as all of us who were dumb enough to indulge soon discovered, it was a dry-mouthed recipe for choking, hacking, and gagging. Most of us struggled to finish the bite-sized snacks. That being said, it may have actually provided a burst for many of us as we sprinted to the water station to get the donuts down! Lesson learned: donuts at mile 23 just don’t work for me! (That doesn’t eliminate the Krispy Kreme Challenge from my race bucketlist though, since that involves eating a dozen donuts but at only 2.5 miles into the race.)

The last mile of the Marine Corps Marathon was incredible. My training had involved trying to always sprint the last mile, so I was ready to give it my all. The race ends with a final uphill, barely an incline but after 26 miles it feels like a mountain, and I put literally all I had into getting up it.

4 hours, 13 minutes, and 48 seconds after crossing the starting line of my second marathon, I threw my arms up in victory as I crossed the finish line at the base of the Iowa Jima Marine Memorial. I had done it – I had run and PR’ed in my second marathon!

After crossing the finish line I continued to stumble toward the Finisher’s Village. At the end of the MCM a line of Marines are there to greet you, bestow your medal, and congratulate you on finishing. While they say you’re allowed to kiss the Marine who gives you your medal (warn him first though because they have guns) I was too exhausted to muster up the energy – that should tell you just how tired I was!

This was actually at the start, but imagine this x500 additional Marines at the finish!

The finishers medal was incredible. You don’t get to see it until you reach the finish and the surprise was worth the wait! Once I had my medal and my finisher’s photo taken I went down the line thanking, hugging, and high-fiving every service person I saw.

Partially delusional from running 26.2 miles I didn’t really process it when I heard someone yell out, “Kelly!” I heard it again, but assumed it was a spectator who read my shirt simply congratulating me. The third time I heard my name yelled I turned around and there before me was a classmate from high school. Pierce Torrance I went to school together for six years back in Rockford, IL and while we were never close I knew he had gone on to the Naval Academy in Annapolis. Now here he was, six years later, at the finisher line of the Marine Corps Marathon. I could barely believe it! First the friend of my mom who was cheering me on, now a friend from high school! What a small world!

Of course it was only after finishing that my phone decided to work again. While I missed taking pictures the entire route (which admittedly contributed to my PR) I was able to call my dad from the finish line. Since I ran the race for him, in honor of his service in the Marines during Vietnam, I was so happy to be able to share that moment with him.

I actually didn’t know my official time until I talked to him either. Without the watch, I only had a vague idea of where I might have finished. Somewhere sub 4:15. I had signed him up for the track-a-runner service and he had gotten my pace updates along the way. 4:13:48 – I couldn’t believe it! I BEAT OPRAH! I more than beat Oprah! (I had beat Hurricane Sandy too!)I had far surpassed my goal and it felt great doing it!

After the Race:
Once I hung up with him I quickly found my way out of the Finisher’s Village cluster and in line for the Metro, which wrapped around three blocks! Hurricane Sandy may have held off for the race, but it was clear she was going to make an appearance by the end of the day. I made it on the Metro and headed for my hotel, only to be greeted by a marathoner’s nightmare – stairs! The escalators were broken and while it was just one flight, it was kind of ironic as all the runners collectively groaned as we saw the next challenge before us. Thankfully, the hotel made up for it with a recovery buffet of protein bars and other snacks for the guests!

By the time I was back in the hotel and out of the longest (and best) shower of my life it was evident that while Mother Nature had been kind in the morning and she was going to make up for it starting that night. Now remember how I said I extended my flight by an extra day? Concerned that all the flights would be cancelled the next day when Hurricane Sandy was really going to be in full force I quickly checked to see if I could catch a flight out of D.C. that Sunday night as originally planned. Nope – they were already cancelled! Sure enough, so was my flight for Monday!

Exhausted from the race and well aware that there wasn’t much I could do about it at that point, I spent the night blissfully in the hotel bed relaxing.

My quick weekend getaway to D.C. turned into an extended vacation as flights were cancelled for Monday and Tuesday. The hotel was great though, providing emergency kits and hurricane-themed entertainment. There were speciality cocktails (include the Dark & Stormy) for the adults and a room with games and movies for kids in hotel. Since all of the guests were in the same boat, stranded, we all commiserated together, bonded by the unfortunate circumstances.

Eventually I was able to make it out of D.C! By this time the Wienermobile was forced to move on from Phoenix without me, and I was now flying into Albuquerque by way of St. Louis. That’s when I had yet another small-world moment while the plane was boarding. I look up from my seat and who do I see but Barbara Ifshin, a professor and mentor from college.

This was the professor wrote me a letter of recommendation for graduate school and also spurred my interest in Account Planning. I couldn’t believe it! As it turns out, she had been on her yearly trip to D.C. and had been stranded as well.

Finally, Wednesday evening, five days after starting my Marine Corps Marathon journey, I landed in Albuquerque. It was the end of an incredible, heart-warming, and unbelievably meaningful weekend. I had gotten to honor my dad, run an amazing race, and spend a few extra magical days stranded in the Nation’s Capitol!