Chicago Marathon 2015: Running Christmas

Well hello there!

How have you been? It’s been awhile, eh?

I can think of no better time to hop back into the driver’s seat of IHABL than today. Why? Because yesterday I accomplished a goal of mine that six months ago seemed impossible. That’s right, I ran a marathon.

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I don’t even know where to begin. I started training in June with the Chicago Area Runners Association. I followed Hal Higdon’s training plan which usually involves running three days a week plus a long run on the weekends. I took training semi-seriously but most weeks I only ran three days a week total (two runs on my own + the long run on Saturday mornings). I’m lucky that I’m involved in other workouts because I think that’s what kept me in shape as well, so even though I technically wasn’t logging as many miles as I could be for optimal training, I felt like I was in great cardiovascular shape.

The excitement all began to feel real on Friday when I headed to the expo with Brigitte (my incredible running partner/twin). We arrived early around 11am and even though there were already thousands of people there, I bumped into running legend Susie (yeah I said it) and got a quick hug before heading in.

The expo was every ounce of wonderful that you’d expect. I spent an hour or so walking around and stress eating every free sample I could get my hands on. The highlight was of course all the customized Nike gear, and even though I’ll probably have to sell my blood to pay next month’s rent I had to get my hands on this bomb sweatshirt.

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I mean how badass do we look? (We look so legit, in fact, that Brigitte and I spent the next ten minutes taking pictures in front of this background for people because everyone assumed we worked for Nike. It was hilarious).

We  headed home with our gear and I ran to the grocery store to grab an eight pack of Gatorade to drink over the next two days. The next 24 hours before the marathon included eating the exact same foods I had before the 20-miler a few weeks ago (since that was such a good race) plus guzzling Gatorade diluted with water allllllllll day. I went to bed Saturday night feeling pretty good, but I definitely had a few stress dreams about not waking up for the race (which I’ve heard is expected). Before I knew it it was 4:55 and my alarm was buzzing.

I had packed my backpack the night before and filled it to the brim with all the essentials: bananas, magazines, a change of clothes, deodorant, phone charger, extra hair ties, etc. etc. I headed out the door around 5:30am and headed downtown to the CARA headquarters for the day at the Radisson Blu (just a few blocks from the start line!)

I met Brigitte at the Radisson and we started to get everything in order. We layered up with the clothes we planned on ditching at the start, put on sunscreen, and checked our bags. Now here comes the funny part: the plumbing at the hotel didn’t work. There we were, all  hundreds of us members of CARA, and we broke the hotel. But we’re runners, so we weren’t about to NOT use the restroom pre-race! So….we essentially got to use indoor portapotties. I was deliriously excited at that point so I just laughed about it, but man I feel bad for the staff that had to deal with that situation after all the runners left…

New marathoner mistake #1: I brought a short sleeved shirt instead of a long sleeved one to hang out in before we started, so I had to T-Rex my arms for awhile. At least it brought some more laughs!

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Once all our gear was checked in the hotel Brigitte and I headed to the starting line! It was still early and absolutely beautiful out so we got to bask in the excitement with all the other runners for a few minutes as we ventured to our corral.

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We took our sweet time to get to our corral and almost missed it! It was the most casual beginning to a race that I’ve ever had because we were in our corral and running all within ten minutes, so it didn’t even hit me that I was ABOUT TO RUN A MARATHON until we were just about to start. I can’t even begin to describe that feeling of excitement to you. It’s like nothing I’ve experienced before.

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And then we were off!

The race takes you all over the city. We ran through all my favorite spots: Wells Street in Old Town, Sedgwick in Lincoln Park, Broadway in Boystown, Clark Street in Lakeview, Hubbard in River North. I wish I had gotten more pictures but I was, you know, running a marathon. We ran through Greektown, past the United Center where the Bulls and the Blackhawks play, through Little Italy, Chinatown, Pilsen…it was all a blur. The moments I do remember? Seeing all my friends and family! I had friends at miles 8, 10, and 23 and I can’t even tell you how much of a burst of energy that brought me. Every time I saw someone I loved cheering me on it was like a breath of new life in me. The best part was seeing my family at mile 17 though! The minute I saw my mom, dad, and brother, I sprinted towards them and grabbed my mom in a big hug.

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Brigitte paced me so well up until mile 18 — we held a consistent 10:00-10:40 pace until that point, which I was astonished with. This was her second marathon and she wanted to really push herself so we split up at mile 18. That meant I ran the last eight miles alone — no music, nothing. The crowds were enough! It was such a magnificent experience to have people screaming and cheering for you for over four hours. I can’t think of a time when I’ve had more fun. So much so that I didn’t walk once. I was expecting to hit a wall and try a run-walk combo but aside from some tiny bumps along the way, I felt great consistently. I just kept running.

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The few miles after I saw my friends at mile 23 were the hardest, but once I turned onto the final stretch of Michigan Avenue I knew that I couldn’t start walking then. I felt like a machine! One foot in the front of the other. The last 800m are up a hill (how rude, right?) but even that didn’t phase me. A guy ran by me screaming “LET’S DO THIS!” and it was like I hadn’t run a mile. I watched as he sprinted for the finish line and I followed his lead with a huge smile on my face.

The minute I crossed the finish line and started to walk my legs turned to jello. I almost fell! Luckily I held it together and let the tears roll down my face. I am so proud of myself. I have never accomplished something so tough in my life. I trained for me, I sacrificed for me, I fueled for me, I ran for me, and I finished for me. No one else could help me for even a millisecond of this goal. That’s the best thing about running: it’s all about what YOU put into it.

I went into the marathon hoping to run it in less than 5 hours, and I crushed that goal with a time of 4:47. To say that I’m nervous to run another one (yes, I want to run another one!) is an understatement considering I set my PR bar pretty high! But now I know that I have the talent and drive to be a real runner, to keep shaving time off that goal. I know that I am capable of better and better times over the next few years and it makes me want to train even harder and smarter!

My family met me at the post-race party and led me (quite literally) to a chair they had set up for me. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stand back up, but I wasn’t about to pass up sitting after almost five hours of running. Seeing how excited they were for me was one of the highlights of my day, even though my brother kept Snapchatting my “laziness” 🙂

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After changing and saying goodbye to my family at the hotel Brigitte and I met up with my friends who were at mile 23 for some lunch and beer at Bub City. I hugged each and every one of them and thanked them from the bottom of my heart for being there for me. I have a pretty incredible group of friends! They stood outside for over an hour just to see me run by in ten seconds. You can’t find more loyal friends than that!

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Running a marathon truly takes over your life. For the past three weeks it was literally all I could think about. The time spent running, the nerves, the fueling questions and anxiety (What do I eat? Am I eating too much? Too little?) completely took over my brain. Today as I write this my knees hurt, my IT band is tight, my shoulders are tight, I’m one pint of Ben and Jerry’s deep, and headed out the door for a massage in a few hours. But I am now a marathoner. Oftentimes you have these high expectations of events in your life and then not much feels different afterwards and it’s a bit of a letdown. But let me tell you — life feels different today. I feel more capable as a person, more validated as a runner, more confident in myself, and more honored by the love of the people in my life. This year has been all about accomplishing the things I’ve always wished I could, and running the Chicago Marathon was my #1 goal for 2015. I can’t believe it’s over but it couldn’t have gone more perfectly.

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Congratulations to all the other runners yesterday! I’m looking forward to reading about everyone else’s experience!

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Bills and Bars: a time and a place

Why didn’t anyone tell me that being an adult is a full-time job? Remember when you were younger and you thought being an adult meant that people leave you the hell alone and you can do whatever you want? Turns out that when you’re an adult you are never left alone. Sallie Mae, Comcast, ComEd, they all knock on my door the same time every month, and every time I just want to crawl in a fort and yell “Go away! There isn’t an adult here right now! Come back later!”

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Like we talked about recently, it is really easy to get overwhelmed by all the tasks and responsibilities that come with living on your own. But if I chose to focus on all the bills I have to pay, I’d forget all the amazing opportunities I have by living in Chicago. So let’s just breeze past the bills and get to the meat of the weekend.

THE MARATHON IS ALMOST HERE!

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Ever since last weekend’s 20-miler my confidence has been at an all-time high. That’s probably a bad thing since I’ve once again been skipping runs in favor of other workouts but now that we’re in crunch time I’ll be sure to spend the next two weeks running short distances frequently to get my legs ready for the big 26.2. Speaking of training, I hosted an event on Saturday night to raise money for the charitable organization that I am running for, Girls On The Run. My Lulu crew showed up as well as all my close friends from college — I was so grateful to see such a wonderful turnout and am excited to see how much we raised!

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The rest of the weekend I spent making sure my fridge was stocked for the carb-loading week I know I have ahead of me. I’ve had lasagna on the brain for over a week now so I bit the bullet and threw it together.

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And of course the best part of any weekend is Saturday morning, when you have the whole weekend ahead of you. I spent the morning sitting on my back porch sipping pumpkin spice coffee and soaking up the sunshine before  heading to brunch with old friends from college. We ended up spending the day bar-hopping throughout Lakeview and even though I had grand, adult-like plans that I had put together, I quickly pushed those aside to spend the time with my friends. Because being an adult can wait until Monday.

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The Big 2-0 + Taco Fest 2.0

What the heck is up you guys?

Don’t mind me, I’m just riding the high from running a casual 20 MILER yesterday!

I know this kind of mileage is chump change to many marathoners but man…never in a million years did I think I would run three and a half hours straight and not want to die.

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Since the CARA 20 Miler is designed to simulate the actual race, the event didn’t start at 6:30 like it usually does. We were placed in waves and mine didn’t end up starting until 7:00 on the dot. Unfortunately my pre-race stretching occurred on Lake Shore Drive after being involved in a fender bender — but luckily everyone was okay, my friend driving was not at fault, and we still made it to the race on time. It definitely made for an entertaining beginning to the morning.

The run was a point-to-point route, so we started very far north and ran along the lake for 20 miles with little diversion from the path. I haven’t even driven that far along the lake.

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As you can see, we started in a huge pack — the 10:30 pace group — but by mile 17 (above) it was every man for himself. The weather was absolutely perfect for a run which is probably why I was flying until mile 16. Besides two 2-minute walking breaks + one trip to the bathroom, I crushed that 20 miler! I did find out that at mile 16 I become mean and cranky though. My friend was trying to make jokes to push me to the finish line and I was not having it haha. Sorry Jaeson!

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The thing I’m most proud of is how far I’ve come since my post a few weeks ago. Remember, the one where I was a blubbering idiot because I couldn’t overcome that wall at 13 miles? Well I made that wall my….well, you know.

Don’t think it was EASY though. I definitely wanted to collapse at the end. Which is exactly what I did.unnamed (23)unnamed (34)

Thank goodness the kind folks at NovaCare were there to stretch us out. I definitely took advantage of that treat — and Bethany found me! Sorry if I wasn’t forming full sentences at that point, lady 🙂unnamed (24)

It was almost 1pm by the time I got home and all I had eaten that day was half a banana pre-race and two Gus during, so I was cranky, grumpy, and in need of some serious food. Enter: the Chipotle burrito. I haven’t had an actual burrito from there since high school but I was not messing around with any burrito bowl nonsense. I needed that tortilla like a bee needs pollen.

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That thing was gone in five minutes.

I spent the next three hours jumping between icing my knees, showering, and sleeping. I honestly felt drunk for a few hours until Megan called me and reminded me that it was the last day of Taco Fest on the main street right by my apartment so even though I felt like a zombie, I threw on a decent outfit and was out the door.

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I remember going to Taco Fest last year like it was yesterday. Such a crazy thing to think about how far I’ve come. I was volunteering at last year’s CARA 20-miler before I met up Megan for the festival and now here I am, 365 days later, having run it. Can you say goal-crushing?

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I had a Grapefruit shandy (because I couldn’t find my beloved cider), a crispy chicken taco (definite favorite), and of course tried the lobster taco. They had so many cool creations there — fries topped with pulled pork and cheese was tempting me like whoa — but I wasn’t sure how my stomach would handle any craziness. So I stuck to the delicious basics.

And just because I wanted to end the night on a really nutritious note, we walked to Dairy Queen and got blizzards before watching the Keeping Up With The Kardashians season premiere. What a full day.

Question:

  • What’s the farthest you’ve ever run?
  • Do you have any street festivals near where you live?
  • Tacos: fish, chicken, beef?

The daily decision to be happy

unnamed (2)Aside from extreme circumstances, the way your day goes is directly related to how you approach it. If you don’t make time to do the little things that make you happy every day, if you don’t wake up appreciative of an exciting new day to live, if you don’t decide to be in a good mood, you won’t have a good day. That’s just science (Remember, I am not a scientist. I am a blogger. Which is like a writer, except I don’t get paid. So you really shouldn’t take what I say seriously).

I believe that you attract the kind of energy that you put out in the world (no I haven’t downed some kind of Kool Aid). So if you aren’t taking care of yourself on a day-to-day basis and are instead looking forward to that event, that vacation, that weekend, you’re going to waste a whole lot of time looking for happiness. Because happiness is right in front of you, today.

So what do I do to make myself happy, genuinely happy, every day?

I spend the first hour of my day making breakfast + stovetop coffee

I don’t mess around with breakfast. It’s my time to wake up slowly and enjoy an hour or so alone before I head out for the day. I have a small moka pot that is my little treasure and I use it every single day. I bought it at a market in France when I lived there and now every time I hear the bubbles of coffee squealing from the stove I’m transported back to that adventure. I always take the extra time to make my coffee that way because it starts my day off on the right foot. My coffee is almost always followed by a pretty big breakfast production of eggs, veggies, cheese, and toast. The extra time it takes me to make my first meal is one of my favorite parts of the day so I never compromise on that unless I’m out the door for a run. And if I don’t cook my own breakfast, you can bet I’m on a patio eating someone else’s.

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I never turn down an invitation to work out with my friends.

I work out a lot on my own, but lately I’ve been so focused on running that it would be easy to put group workouts on the back burner. Luckily I work with people who are always excited to get together and sweat so when I need a good yoga workout to stretch out my tree trunks, I know I have a crew right beside me.

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I call my Mom!

In college I used to see my Mom was calling and would usually put it aside until I “had time.” Nowadays we talk almost every day and I can’t imagine that not being part of my routine. The cool thing about talking so much is that you don’t even have to have anything specific to talk about…you get to a level where you’re just talking about nonsense and randomness, and who doesn’t need more of that in your day. Plus look how cute she is!

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When I’m home, I’m on the couch; remote in hand, reality TV blaring

Between running and working on my feet all day, when I’m home I am the definition of a sloth. I don’t hang out in my room because I like being around my roommates and socializing, so I’m always on the couch. While maintaining my horizontal position there is a 75% chance that either Chopped, Diners Drive Ins & Dives, or E! reality TV is on. WAGS is my current favorite. There’s just something about reality TV after a long day of, well, reality, that makes me so happy.

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The Food Network Snapchat Story

I always end my night watching the Discover section of Snapchat, specifically Food Network. It always gives me so many ideas for cooking!

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So there you have it: the key to my daily happiness is breakfast, socializing, reality TV, my mom, and food. This should come as a surprise to no one. And because I make time every day for these things, I’m almost always in a good mood. It’s like a weird math equation that many people have missed. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that people forget.

Have a great weekend!

Questions:

  • How do you make yourself happy on a daily basis?
  • Do you see the importance of every day or are you a “big picture” person?

I’m a victim to the keyboard (or lack thereof)

I have a very lame reason for why I don’t write on a regularly scheduled basis.

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A few months back my keyboard started acting funky (think, typing “L” instead of “P” and nonsense like that), and at one point it just completely stopped working. Since I’m an idiot and keep buying PCs (read: not taking good care of my PCs), this is my second laptop in two years. And since I’m not really an idiot, I’m not going to buy another one. So until I find someone willing to pay me two grand on the black market for either my kidney or my Crockpot skills, I have to save for a Mac. The temporary solution is that I have an old desktop keyboard plugged into my laptop. So I have a laptop, a dead keyboard, and a giant keyboard + cord that have to lay in front of said laptop. And while I know it seems like it wouldn’t have much effect on anything, it really makes doing anything on the laptop a chore. You don’t realize how much you move your laptop around until you’re forced to do any and all typing, googling, and social media stalking at your kitchen table. This must be what jail feels like.

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Since I used to do most of my blogging in bed at the end of the day, having to sit down at the kitchen table at 11pm is pretty torturous. So that, my friends, is why I have zero discipline and will probably continue to not follow any sort of schedule.

Anyway…..

Things have been pretty fun around these parts lately. Lots going on on the writing/running/eating front, and since those are all of my favorite things I’ve been a pretty happy camper.

The Laughing Cow hosted a phenomenal blogger event at River Roast downtown. I spent a few hours tasting wonderful appetizers, downing dessert shots, creating snack plates using The Laughing Cow cheeses, watching professional foodies take advantage of the Instagram “stages” and phone charging stations (only at a blogger event), and catching up with two of my favorites, Susie and Sara.

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I left with SO MUCH CHEESE. They really don’t have a cheese you can’t create snacks out of.

Over the weekend I organized a wine tasting hosted by Russ the Extraordinary (otherwise known as Dad). He came to the city and pulled out all the stops to teach us so many things about red wine now that the weather is (supposedly) getting chillier. It was one of the best nights I’ve had in a long time with ten of my closest friends and my biggest fan.

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Some of the cool things we learned?

  • Shiraz and Syrah are the same thing, just from different countries
  • The more “legs” you can see on the glass just after swirling the wine around, the more alcohol that wine contains
  • If you put champagne open in the fridge it will maintain the carbonation for longer
  • You should take the cover completely off the cork and bottle before you pour the wine. It contains lead!

As something that will come as a surprise to no one, I’ve been spending way too much money on restaurants and takeout and having zero regrets about it:

When you pass a donut truck you do NOT keep walking

When you pass a donut truck you do NOT keep walking — Pistachio donut from the Donut Vault truck

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Pad thai @ Aroy

Lobster guacamole @ Barcocina

Lobster guacamole @ Barcocina

Oh and running. Lots. Apparently I’m running a marathon in a month. Who knew?

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I’m still too embarrassed to ask how to change the TV at Equinox but luckily The Food Network is usually on one of them.

I have some big news on the “I’m finally becoming a professional adult” front that I can’t wait to share with you soon! Hopefully the keyboard situation doesn’t keep me away 🙂

Questions:

  • What’s your favorite channel to have on TV when you work out?
  • What’s the best restaurant dish you’ve had in the past two weeks?
  • Does your city have blogger events?

Mom’s Peach French Toast

French toast and I haven’t always had the best relationship. Once upon a time I refused sweet breakfasts, not because I don’t have a sweet tooth (catch me in the pantry at midnight every night for proof), but because eating something so sweet first thing in the morning always made me nauseas. Why swoon over Oreo pancakes or berry crepes when there are always Denver omelets and buttery hash browns on the menu?

The only exception to this rule is when my mom makes breakfast. The big hullabaloo-type family breakfasts don’t happen too often, but when they do, she knocks it out of the park. And nine out of ten times she’s coming up with a new, upgraded version of French toast.

Fast forward to this last weekend when the whole family was under one roof and we had a fridge full of in-season produce to kill before fall comes (we’re hoarders, but that’s another story for another time). In case you’ve been living under a rock, we are in the midst of peach season. Living so close to Michigan I’ve had a few incredible peaches over the past month and have been trying to incorporate them into tons of my food, especially breakfast. So my taste buds jumped for joy when my mom made an out-of-this-world peach french toast. So much so that I just had to share so you can get your peach fix in before it’s too late! I’m thoughtful like that.

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Mom’s French Toast (Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen)

  • 8 slices Italian bread, left out until dry
  • 6 tbl unsalted butter (3/4) stick
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tbl sugar (plus extra for the peaches)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp sea salt
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • Peaches (however many you want on top!)

Slice peaches and place in a bowl. Sprinkle with sugar, cover, and allow to sit in the fridge for a bit (preferably overnight) to get all syrupy and delicious (only the best technical terms for you folks).

When you’re ready for breakfast, melt two tablespoons of the butter and whisk it together with the milk, egg, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and salt. Slowly whisk in the flour until smooth.

Soak each side of the bread in the liquid for at least 30 seconds. Meanwhile, melt one tablespoon of the butter in a skillet on medium heat until melted and beginning to brown. Remove bread and put in pan. Cook until golden brown. Repeat with remaining bread and butter.

Eat it! Eat it now!

What to do about failure: a heavy dose of self-compassion + a sprinkle of commiseration

This weekend I had a setback.

Between a fitness project I’m working on (that I’ll share more about soon) in addition to marathon training, I haven’t been running as much as I could be. Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely running a lot, but I could have another short run day added in the mix if I really tried. It hasn’t been affecting me terribly, and even though it’s been tough as hell I figured that since I already ran 16 miles I was clearly on the right track. Fast forward to this past Saturday morning for our 18-miler and I was a wreck. An absolutely wreck.

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I felt like the Tin Man, in need of oil at my “hinges.” My hip flexors felt so tight that I was barely bending my legs with every step, and with each additional mile it felt worse and worse. I wasn’t sure whether I was just tired, going through typical running pains, hitting a wall, or if I was actually hurt, so I kept pushing. I could tell after the first four miles that it was going to be horrible. When we hit mile six I wanted to vomit thinking that we were only 1/3 of the way through. I even thought about stopping at mile 10 and running with a slower pace group, but I kept pushing. We finally hit a point where I was close to lululemon and I just knew I had to stop. I awkwardly slipped out of line with my running group at Oak Street Beach, ran under the bridge, and came up to my store. I had completed 13 miles instead of 18 and I felt like a complete and total failure. I knocked on the door of lululemon (the store wasn’t open yet) and the second my manager opened the door I just started crying. I was more frustrated than I’d been in years. I’m in the home stretch of training and I can’t even hit the marks? 18 miles shouldn’t be impossible. I know that 13 miles is where I hit my wall. WHY didn’t I push through it? Where was my discipline?

My coworker was quick to reframe my thinking: where was my compassion? Compassion for myself? Marathon training is hard. My body probably has no idea what I’m doing to it and what the end goal is. And while I could definitely take the short runs more seriously instead of pounding through the long ones and using those as my markers for success, I have to just move forward and not wallow in the fact that I ended my run a few miles early. So I didn’t spend another minute mad at myself this weekend. I got over it and celebrated the fact that 13 miles, a HALF MARATHON, is pretty common in my life these days. And that’s incredible.

So I spent the rest of the weekend doing what I do best: EATING.

Tuna melts with Mom at our favorite spot:

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A family BBQ in the suburbs complete with Billy Joel radio, pineapple margaritas, and every grilled vegetable on the planet:

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Late morning Sunday wake-up call with peach french toast on our deck:

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Roasted tomatoes from my mom’s garden:

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And a bit of quiet reflection on my porch swing as I enjoyed the 80+ temps we got this weekend:

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The verdict? There is nothing wrong with my life, even though I didn’t run 18 miles this weekend.

20 miler, I’m coming for ya. Just have to work on these Tin Man hinges first.

Question:

  • Did you struggle during training with your first marathon?
  • How do you stay disciplined with running with everything else you have going on?
  • How are you spending your Labor Day weekend?