26.2 – Here Goes Nothing!

I’m writing this blog on my phone from my car at the start of the Heart of America Marathon in Columbia, MO. My brain did that typical ‘freak out about oversleeping and wake up too early’ thing this morning.

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I signed up for this race on a whim and I think it has me more nervous than races I’ve spent months preparing and training for. I guess that makes sense, since, ya know, I haven’t spent months preparing for this one.

This race is considered by some to be in the top 10 toughest road race marathons in the country because of the six major climbs along the way. Plus, temps average around 80-90, with humidity just as high. (Today’s high: 83)

I am approaching the race as just a long training run and not trying to set any records. That’s hard, because lately that is what I have been doing! This course has very limited course support, which I’m not used to for this distance. I like to be able to count on my precut bananas and m&ms along the way. Today it will just be me and about 200 others, with a handful of aid stations speckling the 26 mile course.

I did convince a few friends to come out along the way, including my girlfriend Lauren who will be at Mile 21 to help me through the last of the hills. At the finish I’ve talked my other friend Zahra into running across the finish with me too!

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It finishes in Downtown Columbia, which is where I did my undergrad. I have exactly enough time to enjoy a few slices of Shakespeare’s Pizza, shower, and then be Madison bound. I think the 8 hour drive home will honestly be the hardest part of the day!

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Well, I have killed enough time that it is finally time to go mingle with the other runners before the gun goes off. Wish me luck!

Signed Up for a Marathon in SIX (6) Days!!!

I think it is widely accepted that marathoners are pretty nuts. You have to be more than a little crazy to run 26.2 miles, for fun, and pay for it!

That being said, I don’t think it should be too surprising  that this morning I did something pretty insane and signed up for a marathon just six days away. Not just any marathon either. It’s the Heart of America Marathon in Columbia, MO – one of the most difficult, non-mountain road races in the country.

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This is all because this morning I impromptu decided to visit friends and family in Missouri over this upcoming Labor Day weekend. My training plan for the Quad Cities Marathon later in September called for one final long run this weekend, 23 miles, and I was a little worried about not getting it in while visiting everyone. Naturally, the practical solution was just to say “to hell with it, let’s go all the way!”

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I was already driving through Columbia on Monday and the race was only $40. How could I say no to a planned route, water and aid stops, camaraderie, AND a medal?! Once I thought about it like that it just seemed way more fun than running 23 miles solo. Plus, I might wrangle some friends into joining me for a few miles along the way.

So now I’m registered. Committed. Locked in.

Of course, it was after I paid my entry fee that I thought to look up the weather. 90 degrees.

Bring on the heat wave and the hills I guess!

Now let’s talk goals. I have absolutely none other than to finish this race. It’s so hilly that I don’t expect any PRs, and it is longer than I had planned to go. It will definitely just be a training run. BUT, it will help me achieve one other goal I made at the beginning of the year – to become a Marathon Maniac. If I finish Heart of America, Quad Cities, and the Madison Marathon I will meet the criteria to get my first star and become a Bronze Level Marathon Maniac. Whoo!

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Look for a race report soon and wish me luck!

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!

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!