Grateful for Miles – 20 Miles, 20 Things to be Grateful For

I have decided to start a program I am dubbing the Grateful for Miles challenge. You can read more about the origins here but essentially the idea is to write down one thing for which I am grateful for every mile that I run. This will probably turn into a weekly post (I’ll be doing them daily, but in a personal journal) but to kick-start the idea I am jumping in today, with twenty for my big twenty miler this week.

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I am grateful for:

Running Related:
1. The amazing pace I held today for 20 miles, which would translate to a sub 4:00 marathon.
2. That people were high-fiving left and right on the trail today.
3. Not having to stop at (almost) any intersections.
4. That my new friend Matt left me a tasty goodie bag of cold (!!) water, a banana and chocolate cranberries. (He lives right on my route and when I told him of my plans yesterday he said he would put out some treats. What a pal.)
5. No chafing!
6. A downhill second half.
7. Remembering to wear sunscreen. (I added this one just to make my mom proud.)

Life Related:
8. A new research project that I am excited to work on.
9. The incredible egg burrito wrap I made post-run.
10. The Madison Public Library and all the amazing books I’ve been enjoying this summer.
11. My friend Zahra coming back to the U.S. next week and her new adventures.
12. That my mom called from Turkey right as I finished my run and I got to share my adventures with her.
13. That my dad loves me enough to nag me when I screw stuff up.
14. Having a sister who lives nearby now.
15. Air conditioning.
16. Not having to go grocery shopping OR do laundry for a few more days.
17. That I remember at least some of my accounting class so studying for this grad school proficiency exam isn’t too terrible.
18. Skinny Taste – that website is amazing.
19. Having some pre-made meals in the fridge so I don’t have to move too much today.
20. This totally lazy afternoon.

Some of these are kind of ridiculous, like the egg burrito, and some are more serious, but I think we can be thankful for things big and small. (The egg burrito was a pretty big thing, by the way.)

Join in for Grateful for Miles Monday this week!

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Goals for Getting Faster – Making it Happen!

You know how on The Biggest Loser the contestants just get to work out all of the time? (Ok, maybe “get to” is the wrong word.) Well that is how my summer has been, except that I enjoy 100% of it. Now, I haven’t lost any weight because I’ve offset all my activity with avocados, but I have had an amazing time getting my heart rate up and endorphins flowing!

I run to eat avocado on everything. That and to eat frozen yogurt daily.

I run to eat avocado on everything. That and to eat frozen yogurt daily.

In Madison there is no reason not to be active every day. There are bike paths EVERYWHERE, I am a college student again and have access to a lap pool, and there are tons of opportunities for free workout activities – from yoga to walks in the arboretum.

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Since I have been on FUNemployment for the last six weeks I’ve decided to stay busy bettering my mind and body as much as possible. As I mentioned, I’ve made the move from strictly running to branching out a little more – including biking, swimming, yoga, and also as of recently – weight lifting.

And let me tell you something – it is paying off, big time.

I am getting stronger.

Just had this mind-blowingly kick ass run today! Maybe it was the pre-run coffee or the tunes, but whatever it was it worked!

Just had this mind-blowingly kick ass run today! Maybe it was the pre-run coffee or the tunes, but whatever it was it worked!

I’m getting faster. 

Best run of my life. I didn't even know this was possible.

Best run of my life. I didn’t even know this was possible.

Oh yeah, and I’m getting tanner: BONUS!

And I love it! I love having helmet hair or smelling faintly of chlorine. I love wanting to cry at the sight of stairs after leg day in the gym. (Ok, OK – I’ve done ONE leg day. I’m far from a regular yet.)

I’ve been noticing that my pace is getting quite a bit faster with running. I am not sure if the cross training is to attribute, or I am pushing myself mentally more. Either way, there are no excuses not to keep it up.

So I’m setting some goals.

Next weekend I am doing the Madison Mini-Marathon. My goal is to PR, which I don’t think should be too difficult given the success of my recent runs. My PR pace right now is 8:49/mi. I’d love to get into the 1:53’s with my half marathon time.

  • Goal #1 is to PR
  • Goal #2 is to break 1:54.

That’s a huge jump from the 1:56ish I ran at the Indy Mini-Marathon in May.

My next goal is for the Quad Cities Marathon in September. The last marathon I ran was the Mississippi Blues Marathon way back in January. (Has it been eight months already?!) but my PR was at the Marine Corps Marathon in October where I ran a 4:13:48 or a pace of 9:40/mi.

  • Goal #1 is to PR
  • Goal #2 is to break 4:10 – or roughly a 9:30 min/mi
  • Goal #3 is to break 4:00????!! (Probably wishful thinking for Quad Cities, but I’m writing it down anyway.)

I think goals 1 & 2 are definitely do-able. Again, it is going to be more mental strength than physical strength that will push me toward achieving any of them. I know I can physically handle it – I just need to not whimp out and psych myself out.

I am anxious to see what my workout life is going to be like when grad school starts (less than two weeks away) but until then it’s two-a-day workouts galore!

What has helped your pace improve?
Have you ever had a surprise kick-ass run?
Do you have any goals for the fall season?

Race Report: Mini-Marathon in Indianapolis, IN

WWWHHHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

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Let me just start off and say that on the list of things I’m not good at, one of the top is containing my excitement. As you might have guessed, the Mini-Marathon this weekend turned out to be an absolutely awesome race and a total blast to run. I’m not going to add a spoiler alert, but by now you can PRobably guess how it turned out.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.

The Mini-Marathon was a last-minute add to my race calendar. Just a few weeks prior I found out that the Top Dogs in the department were sending us to Indy. I was thrilled about this for a few reasons. First, I have a couple friends in the area who I was really hoping I would get to see while on the road. Second, was obviously because I could check off one more state on the Race for 50 States, especially when the transportation and lodging is covered!

One of my friends in the area is Rachael, who I know from back in the dorm days at Mizzou. I’ll tell you more about Razzle Dazzle Rachael in the Indy Touristy Tuesday post, but I couldn’t wait to get to see her. I wasn’t the only one either. Our friend David, from Mizzou/Chicago, also wanted to pay her a visit. David is a runner and once I found out I was headed to Indianapolis it was an easy sell to convince him to come down for the Mini-Marathon as well! Luckily we both managed to score bib transfers off Craigslist and managed to get all signed up for the race.

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I was in the Mini-Marathon spirit the minute we got to Indianapolis and immediately set to work decorating the Wienermobile for the occasion. Naturally, I had to make a jumbo-sized 13.1 sticker for the back of the jumbo dog and added a few other embellishments to the bun as well.

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I’m not even going to play it cool. I’ll admit it. I even wore an Indy-500 themed dress to packet pickup on Friday.

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I picked David up at the bus stop and we headed over to the convention center. (This was round II of the expo for me – I couldn’t’ resist and went on Thursday for work anyway.) When David got to Indy the weather was terrible – it was pouring rain. Not a good sign for race day. He ran into the expo through the rain while I went to find parking, something easier said than done in the Wienermobile.

The expo and packet pickup was extremely well organized. With 35,000+ runners and their families in tow all headed to the convention center I was worried it would be a madhouse. The flow of people was probably really well managed because the pick-up was spread out over two days. Neither David or I knew our bib numbers and just showed up. Within five minutes they had looked us up, pointed us to the right registration table, and gotten us squared away with bibs, shirts, and even a swag Mini-Marathon hat!

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The rest of the expo was pretty typical for me. Wander around, sample a lot of protein bars, and make an impulse running purchase of some kind. This time it turned out to be a pretty big buy and I am now the proud owner of a Garmin Forerunner 910XT.

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Once I’m no longer living out of a hot dog I plan on doing quite a bit more cross-training and hope to diversify more into triathlons. The 910XT just seemed like the best option for that. Waterproof and with a long battery life, I figured this would be a good investment for races to come… like a half Ironman maybe? (Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself again!)

After the expo we were on a mission to eat as many carbs as possible. Eliot was joining us for dinner and we headed back to the hotel to pick him up. Traffic was a mess and we opted to look for a place nearby instead of heading back downtown. That turned out to be a great decision.

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By 7:30 the rain had totally stopped and the sun had started to creep out again. To make things even better, we stumbled onto this Italian restaurant which was situated overlooking an absolutely stunning lake. Hello outdoor patios! It’s been way too long since we’ve seen each other!

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Dinner was wonderful! Eliot and David both made more delicious decisions than me, but all around it was the perfect pre-race meal.

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In the morning we woke up to great news – it wasn’t raining! The skies were a little overcast, which I like to keep cool anyway, and there weren’t any any big rain clouds in sight. Hurray!

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David and I made an early exit and headed downtown right away to make sure we could finding parking, which we luckily were able to find fairly close to the race start.

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The start line was insane! So this is what 35,000 runners looks like?

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Similar to the expo, I was really impressed with how organized it was. There were two waves of corrals. The first set were seeded runners who submitted race results proving their speed. This made sure that they were lined up correctly and not running over people in strollers, for example. The second wave, which is what I was in because I registered late, was all self-submitted times. My friend Kathy, who I actually met up with earlier in the week, had warned me that being in the second set of corrals could make the start really difficult – weaving in and out of walkers. I’ll admit it, I was seeded in corral M and snuck up into L to try to get a little extra advantage – I know, I’m a rebel.

With the tragedy in Boston, I was pretty alert at the start line. It felt really safe and there were tons of volunteers, police, and quite a few men in uniform that I would guess were National Guardsmen.

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I slowly walked to the start line and eventually got a jogging start about 20 minutes after the gun went off. Sure enough, the first mile involved a lot of side stepping, trying to pass people. I’ll be honest, I might have been running a little bit like a jerk jumping around people to get through. At the half mile mark my watch said I was on pace for a 9:30 first mile. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but I had high hopes for this race.

The Mini-Marathon was going to be MY race. The climax of a month of running every day. The third half marathon in five weeks. The final race of my year Hotdogging. I wanted to go big. I wanted to PR and in a substantial way, breaking the 9:00 min/mile pace. That was the goal anyway.

Who doesn't love a big American flag?

Who doesn’t love a big American flag?

So when I saw 9:30 I knew I had to step on it. Even if it was just one mile, 30 seconds would be a lot to make up. I anticipated the first mile to be slower, with warming up and the course clearing out, but didn’t want to give it that much time. A few runners had left the pavement and hopped onto the sidewalk, which seemed like a good idea. The first mile I did in 9:06.

This was a pretty strategic race for me. Normally I tend to dilly-dally, taking pictures, sending texts along the way. Don’t get me wrong, I was still set on having fun (which is always priority #1) but had a little more pep in my step and determination in my stride. So no, I didn’t stop for a picture with the Lion mascot in front of the Indianapolis Zoo, but I did run zig-zags across the course to high five little kids and dance with the bands along the way. (Decisions and trade-offs, right?)

The first five miles went by fast. There was just so much to look at between the runners and the course. I was feeling really good and each mile kept coming in under my target 9:00/mi pace.

At mile 6 we turned into the speedway. The first thing you see going into the Speedway was the jumbotron. I had to laugh when I looked up at it and the news was interviewing the winner of the half marathon. Welp… guess there goes any hope I had at getting 1st place today!

I have a love/hate relationship with the Speedway section of that course. Let me first admit that I went in with the totally wrong mindset. Oh, it’s a track. That won’t be too bad. One loop – that’s like a half mile and it will be nice pavement. Well… It’s a car track though (duh silly!) and that’s much longer than I was expecting. It also got a little congested with runners in this portion of the track. Even so, it was really neat to do a lap in the Indy 500 arena! The only thing missing was a number and some sponsorship money!

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It was on the track that I met the two guys who pushed me the rest of the way through the race. Right at the start of the track portion I heard a cacophony of high school girls cheering on this guy Jesse. I figured he must be their coach or something like that and joked he was their hometown hero. Nope, he was just an excited runner and they were reading his name off their bib! Jesse then proceeded to get our group of runners pumped up with some Army cadences.

Jesse – “WHEN I SAY ONE, YOU SAY TWO. ONE.”
Us – “TWO!”

Jesse – “WHEN I SAY THREE, YOU SAY FOUR. THREE.”
Us – “FOUR!”

Jesse – “WHEN I SAY PT, YOU SAY SOME MORE. PT.”
Us – “SOME MORE!”

I knew instantly this guy had the type of energy that would keep me going, at least around the track. I assumed he’d be a short-term running friend and take off past me, but I was more than happy to feed off his energy while I could. We ended up as running buddies for the rest of the race. Jesse had also started running in the grass around the track, which proved to be another useful tactic. It was much cooler than the asphalt, and while probably more tiring, it was a nice change of pace.

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Toward the end of the track, mile 8, Jesse called out to CJ – another runner he had met. And just like that, we were as thick as thieves, three musketeers finishing out the race.

Both Jesse and CJ were faster than me. Jesse claimed to have calf cramps (having not really trained and instead just jumped into the race as a mental challenge – which he was deftly overcoming) but you couldn’t tell at all. This guy was a rockstar and so encouraging! CJ was doing his first half marathon and had that rookie enthusiasm that was also contagious. With them pushing me, the second half I clocked some serious negative splits! If I ever lagged behind at a water stop, they were calling for me to catch up and get back in step – exactly what I needed for a strong finish.

By mile 10 I knew the PR was in the bag. Even if I slowed down I could still make my goal, but those gentlemen weren’t about to let that happen. By mile 11 I was having that weird, emotional “I’m so proud, I love running, I love everyone!” moment that happens at least once during each race. That’s the runner’s high, right?

At 12.1 we decided it was time to sprint. CJ still had fuel in the tank and I told him he better haul it and finish way ahead of us. Even as he booked it to the finish, he was still waving us forward. Jesse and I stepped up the pace too and crossed the finish line together. Even that last mile, when we were both close to empty, he was still cheering. As soon as we passed the finish line and I hit stop on my watch I pretty much collapsed and he managed to catch me before I fell apart too much. Sorry Jesse – thanks for looking out!

I DID IT – 1:56:24!!! Mission Accomplished! My Garmin actually had me doing 13.27 miles, which meant an overall pace of 8:46. Whoo! That’s what I’m talking about. The pace for 13.1 would have been 8:54/mile though, which still shatters the sub 9:00 goal I was working toward. Whoo!!

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I also finished 181/1638 in the W20-24 division, which is top 11% for my division.

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You might have to click this to actually read it. Whoops

We met up with CJ at the finish and we all collected our well earned checker-print Mini-Marathon medals. At the end of a race I’m usually equally as excited about the food as the medals and we grabbed bananas, granolas, and one of the most delicious cookies I’ve had. (Maybe the secret ingredient in the chocolate chip treats were PRs and negative splits!) After exchanging hugs and well deserved high fives we split and I went to cheer on David.

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This was David’s second half marathon and I was eager to see how he was doing. With 35,000 participants, who all started at various times after the gun time it was darn near impossible to catch him and I ended up missing his finish. Drats! I was really bummed because David also PR’d by a whopping 5 minutes! Now that’s what I would call a successful race for the both of us!

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David had challenged me to meet my goal and we had even wished on PRs at the fountain in Monument Circle, so I was glad we both had things to celebrate!

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After the race we went to meet up with Tim and his friend at the Bourbon Street Running Club. Talk about VIP treatment! They were wonderful and offered us sandwiches, cupcakes and beer! I went for the first two but naturally had to politely decline the last. It was a blast to share running stories and hear how everyone’s race went. I didn’t know this until then, but this year Tim is trying to run 62 races for his 62nd birthday. Wow! Now that’s impressive! I love runners and their ambitious goals!

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David and I made the walk back to the Wienermobile, which seemed substantially longer after the race than it had been before, and headed back to change. Even though we had already run 13.1 miles that day, it was just beginning! it was time to celebrate! We still had to catch up with Razzle Dazzle Rachael, a story I will save for the next Touristy Tuesday post.

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Here’s a preview though: the rest of Saturday involved a road trip to Chicago, a margarita pitcher, and Rachael and I losing a beer drinking competition. I know… you’re on the edge of your seat already!

Mission Accomplished: Run Every Day in April

30 days, 157 miles, 9 cities, and 7 states later – I have officially completed my goal of running every day in April!

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When I set the goal my motivation was to just get back in the habit of running. January through March my training was pretty much nonexistent. Let’s just say, I made excuses much more often than I made an effort. I recently saw this post, which seemed to sum it up pretty well.

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They say it takes 21 days to break/form a habit and I committed April to getting back in the swing of things with training. My only rule was that I run every day by midnight and that I run at least 2 miles per day. (And for the sake of honestly, I’ll admit that sometimes those two miles were more of a trot.)

It actually went really well! The first week was easy peasy. I still had a runner’s high from the Run the Bluegrass half marathon and was leading into the Go! St. Louis half that weekend. “This will be no problem!” I thought.

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Annica and I finishing the half marathon in STL.

Week two was a little more difficult. Eliot and I were in Denver for the week and naturally the night we arrive 8″ of snow are dumped on the city. Let’s just say, I learned to love the dreadmill that week. It was actually a good opportunity to try out podcasts and it reaffirmed my school-girl crush on Ira Glass.

At the end of our week in Denver Eliot and I went to Boulder to visit Tracy, a former Hotdogger. I met up with Tracy when I was in the SW with Abe last September and it was great to get together with her again. She is also training for a half marathon, so she didn’t think I was totally delusional when I got up at 6:30 a.m. after a night out on the town to go run.

April1

Talk about a beautiful run! I’ve been throwing around the idea of either moving to Boulder, CO or Madison, WI after grad school, and that run just made me even more set on Boulder. Absolutely gorgeous and I was in good company – it is such an active city and so many people were out biking and running! I was worried about the altitude, but after a few days to acclimate it was totally fine.

April3

Around week two I encountered the first obstacle. There were some days where I wouldn’t run in the morning and by the end of the day I was just exhausted. With running an absolute impossibility because I was so tired, I did what any (in)sane Type-A runner would do – I set the alarm for 11:00 p.m. and then hit the sack. Yep, I did this last minute nonsense not once, but multiple times over the month.

This method was effective for getting the miles in, but was an absolutely terrible idea. Groggy, I was obviously slower. By the end of the runs however I would be wide awake, with a bit of a runner’s high, unable to fall asleep! For someone usually in bed by 10:00, seeing the clock read anything after midnight is not a welcome sight to see.

The roughest late night run though was after our drive from Denver to Lexington, Nebraska, which finally ended when we pulled into the hotel at 11 p.m. This was almost exactly halfway through the month and I knew it would be a tipping point. The hotel gym was pathetic too and my tired brain kept encouraging me not to waste my time. Finishing 15 minutes before the witching hour though, I got my two miles in!

I’m glad I did – the next day was April 15th – the day of the Boston Marathon. This was a very emotional day for me. When I heard the news I was instantly gripped with fear, for my friends running and those who live in the area. Once I was assured everyone I knew was safe the fear turned to paralyzing anger and sadness.

Boston

The tragedy at Boston was the first terrorist attack that truly resonated with me. I was a little young to fully comprehend the horror of 9/11 and many other attacks, while devastating, have felt abstract. I am a runner. I want to run Boston. I know people running Boston. These are my people. I couldn’t believe that there were people out there with so much hate that they would want to rob people of so much joy, on the most monumental day of many of their lives. Even now, I am still eager for answers.

After the tragedy there was no giving up on the goal. There are three people who will never get to run again, and countless others who will face unbelievable obstacles. The least I could do was reach the goals I set for myself and run for Boston.

The second half of the month was challenging, no question. Without the initial enthusiasm, the goal was a little harder to keep up with. My strategy on those days was to go into the workout promising to at least do two miles and usually I ended up doing more.

On a lighter note though, I found this goal had one other unexpected difficulty – laundry. Holy sports bras! My laundry pile doubled in size each week with all the athletic clothes that accumulated as a byproduct.

The running definitely paid off though. I’m a goal junkie because there are always measurable results. You either did it or you didn’t. With running there is the added bonus of being able to compare times, pacing, and distances, and over the month I noticed some serious improvement in my times.

The first mini-goal I achieved was running a half marathon on a treadmill in Milwaukee. Running long distances on the treadmill was something I never really thought I could actually hack, so in a burst of dedication, I decided to give it a whirl. Not only did I do it (Ira Glass and This American Life helped me through the first hour) but I did the 13.1 miles in under 2:00 hours!

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The second goal was actually a really huge deal to me. At the start of the year I set a goal to break the 9:00/mi pace for the half marathon. I knew I was capable of this, but with winter hibernation I figured it would have to wait until I was off the road. It was one of those things I was happy to be wrong about!

When I geared up for a long run last week I initially had only planned to do 12 miles at a 9:15 pace or so, but the run felt good. I’m talking about really good. Like wool socks in winter or a bratwurst at the ballpark good. I still turned back at 6 miles but knew full well that I would do a victory lap to make it a full half marathon at the end. I ended up finishing in 1:56:30, a training PR and an 8:54/mi pace. Whoo! While I would still like to break 9:00/mi in a race, I think it still counts as a goal attained!

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The last few days have simply been recovering from those runs and tapering for the Mini-Marathon in Indianapolis this weekend. (That’s right, that will be half marathon number three in five weeks!)

The month ended on a high note and I did my final run today in downtown Indianapolis with Tim. (We met up in St. Louis at the beginning of April and also did Mississippi back in January.) He had invited me to run with his Tuesday group, the Bourbon Street Running Club. It was a total blast!

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I ran with Tim, another Tim, Mike, and Dan – my friend Kathy’s husband. For four guys that are all roughly twice my age, they kicked my ass.

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We ran the canal and it was beautiful. Indianapolis is a lot like Louisville in my book, a hidden gem of the Midwest. It was 84 degrees out, a drastic change from blizzard conditions just weeks before, and path was packed.

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Running with people was a great change of pace, literally! I most likely would have lolly-gagged through a few miles today in the spirit of “tapering” but keeping a strong pace was no problem with these gentleman to chat with. After the run we headed back to the Bourbon Street Distillery to meet up with the rest of the group. It was a really fun afternoon, meeting all these other runners, and I’m even more excited now to join a running group when I get my bearings in Georgia.

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Now thirty days after starting this journey, I’ve reached another finish line. I DID IT! I’m 30/30 and at an average of 5 miles each day. It was a pretty arbitrary goal, but I’m definitely glad to have accomplished it.

Now who knows what May will bring…