Touristy Tuesday: The Tale of Seven Cities in Seven Days

During the month of April Eliot and I were moving around. A LOT. This coming from someone who packs and unpacks their suitcase weekly, logs at least 700 miles on the road in a seven day period, and never has a zip code to call home for more than a few days. April was such a crazy month that at one point I was in seven different cities, over seven days. This is that story.

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City #1: Denver, Colorado
After our time in Louisville, KY Eliot and I criss-crossed the entire Midwest Region on our drive to Denver, CO. From our farthest East destination to our furthest destination to the West. The trip took two very long days of driving, which were more eventful than our actual two days off in Denver.

After the Go! St. Louis Half Marathon Eliot and I were Westward bound. There was just one highway separating us from Denver, I-70 and about 800 miles of it. Our first drive day was broken up by two fun visits. The first was at my Dad and Step Mom’s house in Kansas City. They live just two miles off of the interstate and every time Eliot and I drive through KC we stop to say hello. Although we couldn’t stay long, it was nice to get some quality time in with my parents. As we pulled the Wienermobile out of their driveway I said to Eliot, “It’s great – my parents are literally on the way to every city we go to in the Midwest!”

Home Sweet Hot Dog Home

Home Sweet Hot Dog Home

Three hours later I called my Dad and he tells me that in the time it took us to drive 180 miles that: a neighbor had told a friend my parents were interested in selling their house, the friends had come by to check it out, and that they wanted to buy it. That means that they’re officially retiring, they’re moving, and they better find the next place to live! (More on that later!) Maybe I jinxed it when I made that comment to Eliot – so much for home being on the way now!

As I let that news sink in Eliot and I made a quick detour in Topeka, Kansas to pay a surprise visit. We had an enthusiastic Wienermobile fan who blew up social media trying to see the 27′ long hot dog and since she was on our drive anyway we figured it would be fun stop and to take her around the block. Kate proved that even big kids can get excited about the Wienermobile, that’s for sure!

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By the time we made it to our hotel in Junction City, KS for the night we were wiped out. As we were waiting to check into our hotel rooms I started chatting up some of the other guests, one of whom turned out to be an amateur storm chaser! He was traveling over 1,000 miles in an attempt to catch tornados that were headed to SW Kansas – right where we were driving to the next day.

It turned out he would just be the first storm chaser of many we would see. The next day we saw a number of storm chasing vehicles pass us, with crazy gizmos attached to their cars and stickers proudly proclaiming their boldness.

Because we had been seeing storm chasers pass us the entire drive across Kansas I wasn’t exactly surprised when I saw a minivan pass us with a camera mounted to the top. I was surprised though when I looked in the side mirror to see the next vehicle, which looked like an armored tank approaching.

“Eliot – what the hell is that, a UFO?! Quick! Take a picture!” We knew it had to be some kind of storm chasing vehicle, but didn’t know what and quickly forgot about it.

That is, until I checked my phone later to see this:

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While we were taking their picture, they were taking ours! Turns out it was the crew from the actual show Storm Chasers from the Discovery Channel! A celebrity sighting and we didn’t even know it!

Even with the impending storms, Eliot and I wanted to stop at one roadside attraction. I feel bad even calling it that – it isn’t like the World’s Biggest Ball of Yarn or anything. It was the Eisenhower Presidential Library. If you follow this blog regularly you know that I’m REALLY into these Presidential Libraries, and am trying to see them all. I think I’ve gotten Eliot equally excited about them as well at this point.

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The Eisenhower Presidential Library is located two miles off of the interstate in Abilene, KS. As we drove down the main drag we noticed signs decorating downtown welcoming marathoners for the Eisenhower Marathon which was the day before. Shucks! Even though I did my own half marathon that weekend I still felt pangs of race envy swell up.

By the time we made it the two miles to the library the whole town of Abilene must have known the Wienermobile was in town, and before we even purchased tickets there was a local newspaper reporter there to interview us!

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The library itself was certainly a relic and honestly lacked the grandeur of some of the other libraries, like Nixon’s. It delivered on content though, with some really great timelines and displays of Eisenhower’s military experience. If anything, it was more than worth it to go to the museum because the volunteers told me if you become a member of any library you get into the other ones for free. WHAT?! This was the fifth library I had been to in the last year alone. I should have joined JFK’s from the start. Oh well. I am now a proud member of the Eisenhower Presidential Library. I also get a +1 to any of the libraries, so it looks like I’ll get to drag a friend to Carter’s when I’m down in Georgia.

After two long days on the road we finally pulled into Denver, only to be met with the absolute worst traffic. Worn out from the road and exhausted, I was getting squirmish – something that happens in traffic that both Abe and Eliot can attest to. In an attempt to placate me, Eliot tried to appeal to my two favorite things: running and frozen yogurt. “There are some nice trails around here!” he cheerfully pointed out as we crawled past a park. “I. NOTICED.” I probably growled back, staring at the miles left to our destination on the GPS. “I’ve been looking for some froyo – maybe we’ll pass a place on the way,” he tried to perk me up with next. “I’ve been looking too. There aren’t any. They’re miles away on Yelp. Let’s just get there.” And finally, after what seemed like eternity, we pulled into the hotel just as it started to snow. We made it! (And Eliot was still friends with me by the time we parked, so that was cool too.)

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Our days in Denver were substantially less exciting than our drive to Denver. The blizzard had us snowed in and we didn’t do much besides laundry and catch up on work. We decided to save our adventure for the weekend, when we made a trip to see a former Hotdogger, Tracy.

City #2: Boulder, Colorado
Friday night that week Eliot and I drove out to Boulder, where Tracy – a Hotdogger from last year – lives. We went out for Thai food with her and her boyfriend Sam in downtown. Eliot and I had won the Perfect Month Challenge at work and had $60 to spend on dinner. We thought this would be the perfect opportunity to use it and figured it would be nice to treat Tracy and Sam to dinner since they would graciously be putting us up on their couch and air mattress for the night.

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After dinner we headed to the Pearl Street pedestrian mall to a basement bar called the Sundown Salloon, where we met some of Tracy’s new coworkers, played some darts, and had a great time all around. It was fun to talk to Tracy now, when I was about 10 months into the job, and compare notes from when I talked to her in September, when I was just four months in.

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The next morning I crawled out of bed, slightly dehydrated and slightly hungover – so basically in the best condition for a long run! I did 10 miles on the Boulder Creek Trail, enjoying the beautiful view of the mountains.

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City #3: Estes Park, Colorado
After our night in Boulder on Friday, Eliot and I returned to Denver on Saturday to work during the day. After we handed out that last whistle I didn’t stick around too long, and instead headed up into the mountains of Estes Park, to see my aunt and grandma. I was exhausted and honestly slept most of the drive into town, but it was fun to get to have dinner and (surprise surprise) frozen yogurt with them.

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In the morning we had breakfast in quaint little place in downtown Estes. There had been more snow and there were plenty of elk out to be seen on our way. That’s one thing I love about Estes – the wildlife might as well be town residents!

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It was great to spend some quality time, however brief, with family. That was been one big advantage of the Midwest – I’m always seeing friends or relatives!

City #4: Lexington, Nebraska
Sunday it was back to Denver for one more day of work. Typically we have dedicated drive days, where we just wake up and drive, but this day we actually had to log a few hours that night. Because of some last minute schedule changes Eliot and I just had a day and a half to make it to Chicago.

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This drive was substantially less exciting and marked mostly by bursts of song when the Pandora station came up with a karaoke-friendly selection.

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City #5: Chicago, Illinois
Monday we woke up and drove. And drove some more. And some more. Or rather, Eliot drove. This was Monday, April 15th – the day of the Boston Marathon bombings. It was a rough day for me and Eliot was a champ, tackling most of the miles. If I-70 was our best friend on the way out to Denver, I-80 was our best friend on the way back.

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In Chicago we were doing a video shoot for Kraft, Oscar Mayer’s parent company. We didn’t have to do too much, other than being our usual corndog selves, but we did get the opportunity to meet the CEO of Kraft. Now that was a cool day! Not many people can say they’ve done that!

City #6: Madison, Wisconsin
Promptly after the final “cut” was shouted from the video crew, Eliot and I hauled buns out of town. We continued to rack up the miles for the week with a drive to Madison. Eliot is a University of Wisconsin grad and was very active in WASB – the Wisconsin Alumni Student Board. WASB puts on a series of programs called “Dinners on Wisconsin” where UW grads buy dinner for current students and talk about what they do.

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Eliot and a Hotdogger from last year, Tyler, put together a program for the Wienermobile and we stopped in Madison to have dinner at the Roman Candle, a pizza place, with about 7 current badgers. Not only was the pizza to die for, but the company was great! Since we are both so passionate about the job, it was fun to share that with other interested students. You can’t help but hope they get equally excited!

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While Eliot and Tyler picked up the students in the Wienermobile I waited at the restaurant to hold the tables. While I was reading a book filled with Pizza Poems, I glanced up to see a familiar face.

I wasn't kidding. Pizza Poems are a real thing.

I wasn’t kidding. Pizza Poems are a real thing.

In walked Louise (–SPELLING–), a girl I went to high school with. Even though we didn’t really know each other too well I had to say hello! Talk about a small world!

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City #7: Oshkosh, Wisconsin aka OshVegas
While my parents live (or rather, lived) on the way to pretty much every city Eliot and I have visited in the Midwest, Eliot’s parents most certainly do not. He is from Oshkosh, WI which is pretty far North, near the Greenbay area. Luckily, Oshkosh showed up on our schedule and Eliot got to bring the Wienermobile home.

Oshkosh was our last city of the seven in seven days. Although we had two days off in town, it didn’t quite feel like it. Our first day off we had to drive from Madison to Oshkosh. Eliot’s family greeted us with a home-cooked meal, which hit the spot after the drive-thru diet that week. The next day the entire city of Oshkosh came over to Eliot’s house to see the Wienermobile. Ok, that may be an exaggeration, believe it or not. They did have a lot of friends over though, which was fun to meet every person who has ever met Eliot ever.

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To prepare for that event Eliot’s mom, Carol, and I created a Wienermobile centerpiece – a rice crispy masterpiece.

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The Wienermobile is made out of rice crispies, licorice, thin mint tires, and some marshmallow headlights. In case you’re wondering, it was just as much fun to eat as it was to make!

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Seven days later, we had covered quite a bit of ground. Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. It was a long stretch, but worth it because of all the diverse experiences we had along the way – from friends and family, to future Hotdoggers and the CEO of Kraft!

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To finish up our travels in April, I’m just going to mention a few of our other stops along the way.

Once we made it out of Oshkosh, we headed to Milwaukee. We might as well have been in Eliot’s hometown still. He has more than 30 first cousins, so we continued to meet people left and right at work.

I was headed back to Kansas City on our off days that week to see my folks. Why would I fly back to KC after just seeing them just a few weeks prior? Well remember how I mentioned they decided to up and sell their house? Just as rapidly as they made that decision, they had to move out! By the time I would be back in KC in May, they would have to be out of the house. Luckily I had packed most of my belongings before I left to drive the Wienermobile, so I didn’t have too much work to do.

Once I packed up my few remaining boxes we went on a road trip to check out their new house, down at the Lake of the Ozarks. Let me first admit I was pretty leery at first. It is in the middle of nowhere. I don’t mean it’s kind of isolated. I mean, literally the middle of nowhere. As in 22 miles to the nearest grocery store. As in no cell phone service and dial up internet. Why would they want to move out to Edwards, MO!?

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Then I saw the view. HOLY. MOLY. You are greeted by floor-to-ceiling windows when you walk into the house, which overlook the lake and beautiful foliage. The house is spectacular and they have a ton of land to garden on. Since my parents don’t mind the whole living-in-the-boonies thing, this is perfect for them! I left KC very happy for them to start their new adventure, and slightly bitter that they wouldn’t be just two miles off the interstate any more for me to visit them.

After seeing my parents, I then got to see my sister in Milwaukee. She drove in from Madison one night and we did a little bit of bridal gown shopping and a little bit of celebrating for her birthday. In one month I got to see my aunt, grandma, dad, step mom, and sister. With the exception of my mom, who lives in Europe, that’s pretty much everyone! (A big shift from the SW region where I never saw anyone I knew!)

She didn't get this dress so I'm allowed to post this picture, right?

She didn’t get this dress so I’m allowed to post this picture, right?

We ended our time in Wisconsin the right way. First by working this event called Stein and Dine, which is a beer, sausage, and cheese sampling event in Milwaukee. Naturally I had to get my picture taken with the Brewer’s Racing Sausages after work.

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Our final stop was at the Cheese Castle, right before the Illinois border.

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After copious amounts of cheese sampling, I felt it was only fitting to get a good cheese head photo to mark the occasion.

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And that was pretty much all of April. I know I crammed it into one Touristy Tuesday post, but it seemed to move so fast that you could barely distinguish one week from the next. April, probably more so than any other month on the road yet, was when I felt the most like a road-warrior. I’m glad I had friends and family to see along the way, because that helped make it as enjoyable as it was. Packing and unpacking was almost fun, knowing we would get to see familiar faces at the each new destination!

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A Not So Touristy Tuesday: HOME!

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This week’s Touristy Tuesday comes from back home in Kansas City, Missouri! Home sweet home. Don’t get me wrong, I love Hotdogging and all the adventures that come with, but after six months living out of a suitcase in hotels I was more than ready to go back home to the Midwest.

I dropped Abe off at the airport, handed off the keys to the Wienermobile (more on that mistake later) and then boarded my own flight the next morning.

When Abe and I have flown before I never had to worry about my checked bags. He has a military ID so we just check everything free and don’t have to worry about weight limits. On this trip home I had stealthily distracted the American Airlines desk attendant with Wiener Whistles while he grabbed my bag, which I saw weighed in at 58 lbs. This came back to bite me on the return trip though when that woman had a much sharper eye. Whoops!

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My dad picked me up at the KC airport and then we stopped by to pick up my step mom Maggie from work. After hugs all around we headed home where I met the latest addition to our family: Jake – a 4 month old golden retriever puppy!

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My sister came down for the Thanksgiving holiday the next day and brought her own new dog with her. As tradition in our family dictates, Thanksgiving always means a trip to the dog park!

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The first few days of break were strictly filled with family and food, two things I’ve missed quite a bit on the road. It was so nice to have a fridge to peruse and have multiple home-cooked meals!

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Friday morning I headed over to Sean’s house. Like everyone else it seems, Sean also got a new dog while I was away. He just adopted Checker’s so we took our own trip to the dog park to catch up on life, running, and school.

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Was he always this cute or did the dog make him cuter?

In my house the Friday after Thanksgiving means only one thing: Christmas Decorating! We have never done Black Friday and always swap the good deals for putting up the lights and garland.

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Another tradition that has been in our house throughout these recent college years is that I always bring my international friends home for the holidays.

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Naturally, they are always suckered into sharing the lights duties with me. This year was no exception! Zahra, one of my dearest college friends, came into Kansas City stopped by for the annual tradition.

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Once our house reached “best on the block” status, Zahra and I headed down to the Kansas City Country Club Plaza to meet up with some of her friends for dinner.

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And by dinner, of course I mean a little shopping too! We ended up eating at this vegetarian place that was simply divine! Zahra has the most hilarious friends and it was so fun to hang out with them. (Sorry Abe, but it was nice to hang out with new people and not eat Mexican rice and beans for a night!)

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Kevin, a fellow Mizzou J-Schooler, adopted a new nickname for me: Hot Dog. While normally I deplore all wiener-related nicknames while on the job, there was something about his French accent that made this absolutely endearing.

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After dinner we went over to Crown Center Plaza for ice skating. If you are ever in Kansas City for the holidays you have to do these two things: see the Plaza Christmas lights and go ice skating at Crown Center.

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It’s like going to NYC and seeing the Rockefeller Christmas tree! You just have to do it.

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With only two days left to see friends, I was determined to squeeze in as many friend dates as possible. Saturday I met up with Lauren, another college friend. We had LOTS to talk about: new jobs in the advertising industry, weddings, and more.

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Lauren is getting married to her fiance Anthony this summer and I’m one of the bridesmaids. This is actually going to be the first wedding I’ve ever been in! They’re a cute couple and I had to get the scoop on the engagement, the planning process, and their new dog! (Are we noticing a trend with the new fur children everyone seems to be adopting!)

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On Sunday I made the familiar trip back to Columbia to see my friends still finishing up at Mizzou. I popped in to see Zahra at 103 Belvedere, my old apartment. It was fun to go back and see what it is like now. Good news; the slumlords have now installed a front door to the building and Zahra hasn’t had any squirrels fall down the chimney like I did. I’m a little jealous because the night club next door was also torn down. Lucky girl, she’s living high class!

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Afterwards I did lunch (read: cupcakes) with Katie, Emily, and Brittany in downtown Columbia. A cupcakery opened right before I graduated that none of us had tried out, so we tested out all of the flavors: tiaramisu, red velvet, cranberry, and sweet potato. Yum!

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While we had swapped the cocktails for mini cakes, it was a moment right out of Sex and the City. Having not seen them in six months there was a quite a bit of catching up to do – some conversations you just can’t have over the phone!

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I forced the three of them to wander campus with me for a bit. I’ll admit, I miss walking by the columns every day and just being in school! Coming back to Mizzou really made me confident and excited about going to Georgia in June.

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We also went on a scavenger hunt over at the Mizzou Alumni Association in search of my brick. For graduation, my mom got me a lifetime membership to the alumni association and that included a brick in the final installment in the Legacy Walk. I vaguely remember what I had put on it, so with four sets of eyes we scoured the sidewalk looking for it.

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Surprisingly, it took less than a minute – Brittany found it in no time!

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My diploma was waiting for me at home too! I'm very excited about this because I had put "Magna Cum Laude" on my graduation announcements and I knew it would be printed in the program that I achieved Magna Cum Laude because they go off of the previous semester. Well let's just say second semester senior year I had a bit of senioritus and was afraid I may have blown it. Nope! Magna Cum Laude it is! Whoo!

My diploma was waiting for me at home too! I’m very excited about this because I had put “Magna Cum Laude” on my graduation announcements and I knew it would be printed in the program that I achieved Magna Cum Laude because they go off of the previous semester. Well let’s just say second semester senior year I had a bit of senioritus and was afraid I may have blown it. Nope! Magna Cum Laude it is! Whoo!

Home24Before leaving CoMO I had time to see one more friend. (Sadly there were many more who I missed because they were still out of town or I had to go!)

Tarah and I met on the crew team but are now both avid runners. We did our first half marathons together last yea and she just did the Chicago marathon. While I spent most of the weekend just catching up with friends, it was great to hear what they’re all up to these days!

With that I headed back to Kansas City for the night and was off to the Southwest the next day. Sadly, when I arrived I realized that I had left the WRONG set of Wienermobile keys! Whoops! My lesson was learned… sitting, alone, in the smoky filthy Penske break room, I waited for the Wienermobile to finish getting maintenance done. Buy hey, that’s just one more adventure for the week!

Hospital Hill Half Marathon – It had its Ups and Downs

But like the Hill Monster it was, Hospital Hill was mostly filled with UP moments!

The Company:
A few weeks ago I roped my friend Sean into doing this half marathon with me. He’s the kind of guy who is equally as spontaneous as I am and really is down for almost anything! (I couldn’t quite convince him to drive to Kentucky for a triathlon, but sometimes you have to pick your battles.) This is the guy who agreed the very same day I met him, to skip the 100th Mizzou Homecoming to do the Warrior Dash and camp out in the middle of nowhere Missouri. (Mizzou is the birthplace of homecoming – according to both Jeopardy AND Trivial Pursuit – so that’s kind of a big deal!) Equally as persuasive as myself, Sean convinced his girlfriend Charity to join us.

This is what a running velociraptor looks like if you’re curious. :)

Now like I’ve said before, I’m not usually a fan of running with people I know. Actually, I’ve refused to ever do it! I just feel pressured and know that I’ll be worried about the pace and not looking like a velociraptor while I run – you know, typical teenage girl concerns – even though I. am. not. a. teenage. girl! Turns out, I’ve been missing out and it can be really fun!

Kansas City – City of Fountains – Crown Center

The Start:
Getting to the race was a breeze. Sean’s family was coming to cheer us on, so we all met up at his house and they drove us into Crown Center in downtown Kansas City. We timed it perfectly – walk to the race start, wait in line for the bathrooms (not long!), stretch, and then be in our corrals with a few minutes to spare.

I have to say, they were a little disorganized at the start line though. I believe it was the first year corrals were used for this and they were still working out the kinks. Not a big deal, but that is probably the only aspect of the race that could have gone smoother.

The First Third:
I love that old saying “Run the first third with your head, the middle third with your personality, and the final third with your heart.” That’s so true and that really is how I break up my races.

Remember – YOU signed up for this!

The first third of the race was no doubt the hardest. Hello Hills! Right off the bat, the hills came fast and furious – well we weren’t exactly fast and the only fury was self-directed for signing up for the Hospital Hill half marathon. All things considered though, there were great crowds, it was perfect running weather (how’d we get lucky with such a beautiful sixty degree morning), and somehow 75% of the race was in the shade! Charity and Sean also are strong starters, where I usually am more conservative, and they really kick-started me.

The Middle:
With the beginning hills over and done with, the course smoothed out a lot. I was really impressed with the route – it went through absolutely gorgeous neighborhoods, by the Country Club Plaza, through the UMKC campus, and back downtown. The course director did an incredible job with the water stations. Perfectly placed at the top of the hardest hills, they were exactly where I wanted them and just the right frequency. I really couldn’t have been happier with the volunteers and the organization on the course!

The view of Liberty Memorial on one of the final hills of the race

The Home Stretch:
Sean, Charity, and I really didn’t set any goals at the beginning of the race, but with my GPS giving me updates with our pace each mile I could tell a sub 2:00 was potentially in our grasp. I didn’t let them know, but I tried to push us to keep the pace. That is, until we hit the big hill. Suddenly we went from an 8:45 mile to 9:53! Talk about a toughie!

Once we “conquered the hill” (I know where the t-shirt slogan comes from now) we resigned ourselves to accepting that, while we weren’t going to break 2:00 today, we still had done damn good considering all the hills! We enjoyed orange slices at the top along with red vines – my absolute favorite race food!

Re-energized, we tackled the last two miles with all we had. As we gained  speed, breaking 2:00 had begun to seem like a possibility again. We were booking it, that is until we turned into, what else, but one final hill. What??? A short, very steep climb popped up with less than a mile to go. With the promise of a gorgeous view of the KC skyline from some encouraging spectators, we made it to the top, maintaining our gusto.

We had scouted out one girl who we wanted to pass around mile 5 (you know how that goes, you see someone you just have to beat or keep pace with) but she had lost us shortly after. With less than one mile left, I spotted her again and pointed her out to Sean and Charity. Now, I’d like to point out that it was all about motivation, that we weren’t trying to beat her necessarily, but rather just beat that pace! With a last ditch sprint, we bolted past her purple shirt and headed down the final stretch.

That final hill had gotten us though and I could tell we would end up being seconds from our goal. Sean had fallen back just a bit (Red Vines clearly weren’t his favorite race food) and Charity and I decided to hold back so we could all cross the finish line together, which we did – hand-in-hand, raised high, in cheesy victory.

Final time: 2:00:41.

The Post-Race Party:
Hello medals, flip-flops, beer, and BBQ! The snack bag was fantastic and while I’m not normally a BBQ fan, I could appreciate how good it was! The excitement was contagious and people stuck around, which I really like. They also had a live feed on the big screen of the finish line, which was a blast to watch.

This race was AWESOME! Great course, great crowds, and it was big! I would definitely do it again and would do another race with Sean and Charity in a heartbeat.

Hospital Hill in the a.m.

Tomorrow morning I’m doing the Hospital Hill half marathon. This is pretty exciting because  it will officially qualify me for Half Fanatics if I want to join! I’m still debating, but it does sound awesome. One of these days I’ll make it to Marathon Maniacs status as well. 

I’ll be honest, I’m feeling pretty anxious about tomorrow’s race. I’ve spent the last month eating WAY WAY WAY too much junk and running WAY WAY WAY less than I should be. I guess after four years of college I was just a little burnt out. After spending four weeks indulging myself, I’m looking forward to getting back to a routine and shedding some of this graduation beer/cookies/cake poundage that I’ve managed to pack on recently. Hopefully with a few 30 mpw+ weeks and some mindful eating that won’t take too long! 

I was excited to see that the Hospital Hill packet pick-up and expo was far superior to the last one I was at in Rockford. Lots of free swag to be had! However, I did manage to get roped into a 15 minute long conversation with a lady trying to recruit me to sell some “eco-friendly healthy healthy makeup/protein powder/it does everything” scam. She lured me in with homemade protein bars and then I maintained the eye contact for a few seconds longer than I should have in order to make a quick escape!

Well, wish me luck on this half marathon tomorrow. There certainly won’t be any PRs with all the hills in this course, but I’m looking forward to a good time!