Grateful for Miles – Gratitude Challenge

Today I had a totally badass run.

I know, not the most eloquent way to put it.

This weekend was scheduled to be my 19-miler to prepare for the Quad Cities Marathon next month. Being your typical Type-A runner, with lofty goals, I decided why would I wimp out at 19 – might as well go for the big 20. (That was a little dumb, given that I had just done a 17-miler on Tuesday, but who needs recovery anyway?!)

Now let me tell you about this run.

I started out strong, clocking an 8:54 mile, which I initially thought was foolishly fast. As miles two and three passed and I continued to keep the pace I thought, OK – let’s get to mile five and reevaluate then. If anything, it will help lower my overall pace as I slack off toward the end, I thought. At mile five I focused on keeping sub 9:10 miles, setting the next benchmark of the 10 mile point.

Well, lucky for me, the first 10 miles were all uphill. No seriously, the whole first half was a gradual uphill slope. OK, so what’s my excuse to not keep the pace, or exceed it, during the second half?

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Now I can be criminal of zoning out on these long runs, but today I was totally in-tune with every movement and every breath. (Ok – I hate it when people say that. However, I was definitely in a zen state.)

But what I noticed more than anything was how grateful I was to even be out there on this 20 mile run. Each passing mile, attaining one more micro-goal, I felt so blessed. I was running, my body is strong, my surroundings are beautiful, and I am on the doorstep of an amazing new opportunity with grad school.

So as each mile ticked away, my pace still holding strong, I thought of something new to be grateful for.

I never eased off and I finished my run as strong as I started. 3:00:53 at a 9:02 pace. SO close to breaking 3:00. SO close to breaking the 9:00 pace. (But hey – I did average a sub 4:00 marathon pace for 20 miles, and that is pretty damn impressive if I say so myself.)

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Maybe I’m especially effected by endorphins, but I always get a serious runner’s high. Always. ALWAYS. Like literally every time I run.

Afterwards, while resting in bed (for four hours) I kept thinking about all that gratitude. I just finished the book “The Year of Living Biblically” where the author A.J. Jacobs tries to follow all the rules in the bible, literally.

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I’m not religious and I honestly didn’t think the book was actually that good. But, he did talk about being thankful and how he became quite a bit more thankful the more he was actively praying about it. I think that consciousness is a pretty good thing.

So I’ve decided to start my own challenge that I’m going to call being Grateful for Miles. I’ll only post once a week, probably Mondays, but each day I plan on writing down what I’m grateful for – one entry for each mile I run that day. Some days there will be just a few, other days more or even a lot, and some days there will be none. I think challenges are good things, but breaks are even better, so rest days from running will serve as rest days for this challenge as well.

I put a lot of stock in being cognizant of all the good fortune and positivity in my life. I’m looking forward to this personal goal, and sharing it with you all as well.

I invite you to join me on Monday with your own Grateful for Miles Monday post!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

Race Report: Go! St. Louis Half Marathon

What’s this… two half marathons in two weeks?! Have I finally emerged from winter hibernation? It appears so.

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This Sunday I completed half marathon #9 – the Go! St. Louis Half Marathon. It was impromptu and last minute, but turned out to be a blast! I had secretly been hoping something would work out that would allow me to run it and it did!

Midway through last week I was looking at our schedule and noticed that St. Louis just so happened to be on the way from Louisville to Denver, our route for the weekend. While we weren’t supposed to start the drive until Sunday, I managed to talk my awesome bosses into letting us get a few hours of a head start Saturday night so we could end up in St. Louis. How convenient, right? I just happen to be in St. Louis the morning of the Go! Half Marathon!

Since I received the good news only days before the race I was unable to register online. Luckily, everyone I know who runs in the Midwest just happened to be running the race. My girlfriend from freshman year of college, Annica, was a doll and agreed to register me at the expo on Saturday, since I would be missing that as well.

Freshman year football game at Mizzou. Aww. Throwback.

Freshman year football game at Mizzou. Aww. Throwback.

Annica and I started running about the same time and have always talked about doing a race together. Over the last two years we have both grown as runners (and bloggers – you can read her phenomenal and much more interesting blog at AnnicaNicole.com) Finally, we got our chance to spend some quality race time together!

Before the race.

Before the race.

Eliot and I got into St. Louis fairly late Saturday evening to our hotel at the Residence Inn downtown. I’ve talked about this hotel before and how much I absolutely adore it, especially the staff. They were phenomenal and managed to squeeze us in, even though the whole city was packed for the race that weekend. That is, until we showed up and the desk clerk, “regretfully had to inform us that there was an error in reservations and they accidentally gave our rooms away.” WWHHAATT??? He said they didn’t have my number to call so they had no way of letting us know sooner. WWHHAATT?? He said he would do what he could and headed into the back office.

Instead, Nikkita (one of the fellow desk clerks who we know quite well) comes out. JUUUUUSSTT KIIIDDDIIINNGG. They have rooms – no problem! April Fools! I think my heart rate was the higher during those five minutes than during the actual half marathon. I had already started planning my contingency plan for which sofa I would be sleeping on, knowing there was no chance of getting rooms in downtown St. Louis at that hour. Those tricksters!

Sunday morning I woke up at the crack of dawn and Annica and her boyfriend Amer picked me up. Annica had warned him that I would be quite cheerful and sure enough, I was filled with my usual pre-race enthusiasm! Amer dropped us off at the race start and Annica and I made our way through the throngs of people.

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The half marathon portion of Go! boasts around 12,000 runners, so it’s huge. The marathon has far less runners, approximately 3,000. I mentioned I knew a few runners in the race and before the gun I tried to find a few of them. I managed to spot Tim, but was unable to find the others.

Tim and I at the race start - he was doing the full marathon on his own quest for marathons in all 50 states.

Tim and I at the race start – he was doing the full marathon on his own quest for marathons in all 50 states.

The race itself went really well. The first few miles smelled of carbs, carbs, and more carbs! Through mile 5 the course led up to and through the Anheuser-Busch Brewery and you could smell all of the yeast and hops. That was just a prelude to the beer to come…

Around mile 4 I stumbled across a few more running pals. I saw a group of Marathon Maniacs ahead of me, with signs saying one of them was running their 100th marathon. ONE HUNDRED MARATHONS. Yep – that’s a maniac if I’ve ever heard of one. Being the peppy runner I am, of course I had to yell out a congratulations. Who turned around but none other than Peter, one of my roommates from the Mississippi Blues Marathon in January.

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Ahead of him was Danielle, from the T-Rex Runner blog that I’m a huge fan of!

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The rest of the race was ups and downs. Mile 7 boasted the “Holy Hill!” Honestly, after last week’s Run the Bluegrass, it didn’t phase me too much. I imagine if I had not done the Bluegrass it would be a much different story. Right around there I saw the best sign of the course.

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Of course, that sign was closely followed by this one. As a fan of internet memes, I found it hilarious. Since my name is Kelly, I found it beyond awesome.

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There were a few other good race signs along the way, especially at the hill…

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Sorry mom! :-/

While there were a few friends I didn’t get to see, there was one I did get to hear from. Ashely, who was one of my students when I was a TA in undergrad was running. Before the race she had sent me a text that read “Call if you’re bored.” Yes, I am one of those people that runs with their phone AND uses it. Shamelessly, I might add. We chatted for a bit, compared notes, and then wished each other a happy run!

Mile 10 was were the half and full marathon split. At that point there was a DJ playing the song, “I would walk 500 miles and then walk 500 more.” The pacer nearby sung merrily along, but changed the lyrics to more accurately sing, “I will run three more miles and then run no more!”

Annica, on her way to a course PR!

Annica, on her way to a course PR!

Annica was getting comments on her butt all race. Thank goodness her boyfriend Amer wasn't running with us!

Annica was getting comments on her butt all race. Thank goodness her boyfriend Amer wasn’t running with us! I was starting to get a little jealous by mile 9.

The last mile was brutal and uphill. I said to Annica as we neared the top of one hill, “We just have to get over this!” to which she responded, “It’s like this the rest of the way!” She was right! Those final uphills always get me. I don’t feel victorious coming into the finish off of those, which may be the intended purpose. But my butt probably looks good, so that’s great!

The first place marathoner finished before us. No big deal.

The first place marathoner finished before us. No big deal.

Of course, along the way we had to do some fueling. My race favorite appeared in the hands of spectators around mile 9 – Twizzlers! Yum. Nothing hits the spot for me more during a race than those. Friends – take note! There was also beer, beer, and more beer! This is St. Louis after all. Those are carbs, right?

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Annica and I crossed the finish in that adorable, holding hands up high cute finishers photo kind of way. (I’ll post those cheesily whenever they show up online.) After that I embarked on my favorite post-race ritual, grabbing as much food as my arms will carry.

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A loaf-sized pretzel – Check!
An ice cream sandwich from the infamous St. Louis Ted Drewes creamery – Check!
Toasted ravioli – Check!

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After the race I had to speed off back to the hotel since it was still technically a work day. 15 minutes and a shower later, we were on the road – Denver bound!

The Tale of the Terrible 20-Miler

It looks like I’m headed to the Mississippi Blues Marathon for the full 26.2!

After 10 days off last week I was pretty worried about being ready for the race. I told myself if I could get a 20-miler in this week then I would commit to the full marathon, and not switch down to the half. Well one absolutely brutal and miserable morning of running later, I knocked out all 20 miles. It wasn’t pretty, but I made it!

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Normally the first three miles of a long run are the hardest for me. After that, I’m warmed up and in the zone. Today, I just couldn’t get my mind off of all the miles ahead of me. The run just dragged on and all I could pay attention to was nagging muscle pain. By the end, I was verbally giving myself pep-talks every mile just to make it to the finish.

Yeesh! Look at those splits. The only 'negative' thing about them was how I felt with each mile!

Yeesh! Look at those splits. The only ‘negative’ thing about them was how I felt with each mile!

So what went wrong? I have a few guesses:

1. The obvious. My fitness slipped with the extended vacation from running. 10 days is a lot of time to be absent.

2. Fatigue. I ran 5 miles Monday and then 10 miles yesterday. That 10 miler was definitely silly to do right before a long run, but I needed to do it then based on my work schedule this week. It was a nice run with Abe though!

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3. Dehydration. I only had about 48 oz of water yesterday – nowhere near enough for me. An easily correctable mistake that I knew better to avoid!

4. Boredom. This is happening more and more for me lately. While I absolutely deplore running with music (for me it takes away from the introspection that I love and is also just pretty distracting) I think I need a change and this might be it. I need to get pumped up about running again!

Everyone complains about Bakersfield, but it's gorgeous!

Everyone complains about Bakersfield, but it’s gorgeous!

But 20 miles is 20 miles! My goal is to get in every single run in these 3.5 weeks before the marathon. Realistically I’m not going to PR. I’d love to break past 4:10 and maybe even through the 4:00 mark, but right now I just don’t see that happening. However, I’m still starting in the 4:15 corral and going to feel it out on race day just to see what type of fire I have within me just waiting for the big day to come out!

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