Guest Post: My First Marathon – Space Coast Marathon

About this time last year I got a text from my friend and running buddy that said “I think I’m going run a marathon”. My response was probably something like “Nah” to which she graciously told me I didn’t have to run it, but it was something that she wanted to do. I was fully prepared to cheer her on and be a supportive friend. I’m good at that.

In all honesty, thinking about running a marathon is pretty exciting and scary. I did think a lot about it before it was time for sign ups. Then, in February of this year, my stepfather unexpectedly passed away. He was the type of man who was always supportive of me, no matter what I did: running, school, career-wise…everything. So, I wanted to do a thing that he would be proud of.

We both signed up, had our initial adrenaline rushes and, well…then we forgot about it, to be honest. Being teachers, we do end up with some free time over the summer to plan and train. Of course, it doesn’t always work that way, does it? We would exchange texts telling each other to get into gear but it didn’t always work out. Once school started in August training became a distant thought.

Then it was October.

At first we debated whether we should even go or not. We thought about taking “The Wormhole” out and completing the half marathon instead. A couple of times we ran together after school and tried to stay accountable with our own long runs over the weekend. Eventually we just kind of decided we were going for it, training or not.

A few days before the race I was talking to my co-worker, Ali, who ran Space Coast and she mentioned that the volunteers dressed up as space-inspired groups, so I hopped on Amazon and bought a Star Trek pin, searched the stores for a yellow shirt, and put together a simple-but-nerdy outfit.

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We left for Cocoa Beach Saturday morning to make it to the expo and packet pickup. Most of our conversations were jokes about dying and hoping we didn’t injure ourselves because, you know, our training was limited.

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The expo was crazy busy, so we only really stayed long enough to pick up our packets and a couple of little things. (Snacks and headbands, of course.) After a dinner of beer and pizza (yes, really) we tucked ourselves in at 7PM.

By 3:30AM I was wide awake and kind of ready to get the show on the road. We got up, got ready, and with the help of Michelle’s husband and son made it to the start point… after a quick stop for coffee. We spent about forty-five minutes before the race started getting things prepped. I finished my bagel and peanut butter, tried to drink some coffee to wake me up, and took a couple of trips to the bathroom.

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By 6:20AM we were lined up at the starting point, listening for announcements and trying not to freak out. Michelle and I have run a lot of races together. All of our “first” races have been together, so this one was pretty big for us. Three years ago this time we were running our first 5K together. We’ve come a long way.

After the pledge and a short countdown video we were off! Since we hadn’t properly trained Michelle and I decided to focus on 2:1 intervals. There were a few Galloway pace groups in the race but we didn’t want to commit to a group that we might not have been able to keep up with. The intervals started out fairly well and we were both feeling pretty good at the start of the race. It helped that the Space Coast Marathon’s course is absolutely beautiful!

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Beautiful scenery!

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At mile six!

As we came into mile thirteen Michelle’s husband and son met us at the halfway point. They complimented us and said we were looking strong, then gave us snacks. They’re okay in my book! Truthfully, by the halfway point I was starving! I had a salted caramel GU at about mile eight, but was super glad I picked up some Stinger waffles at the expo. They really helped!

We passed “The Wormhole” as we came around mile thirteen and joked about taking, but we knew we were in it for the long haul. The course continued to stay beautiful and we got to see some of the half marathoners coming in on their way to the finish. Okay, there were also some marathoners getting ready to finish also. Michelle and I thoroughly believe in “slow and steady”.

At each mile marker after thirteen I said something like “this is the longest we’ve been” because it was true and it felt great! My body was protesting a little, but my mind was fully in the game. I was counting the miles and calculating the time as we ran on, but I didn’t get discouraged about anything. I was feeling good, not too sore, and was staying hydrated with the help of some great volunteers.

By mile twenty I was kind of starting to feel it, however. We had kept up our intervals and were doing great. Neither one of us had a real issue with taking a few extra minutes of walking every mile or so, just to take a breather. I could tell that we were both feeling it as we rounded to come back after mile twenty. Usually we can keep a conversation going, but it was getting tough!

As we headed toward the homestretch the wind picked up and kept us cool for the last six miles. The volunteers were still out, cheering us on and giving us snacks (M&Ms!) and water. Since the course was through a neighborhood a few of the residents were out in their yards also. Some had posted signs and left them there but a few were actually giving out candy, snacks, and, in one instance, shots and beer. It was tempting, but I don’t think drinking at mile twenty-two would have been in my best interest.

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I did find the greatest sign for my Captain Kirk inspired shirt at about mile twenty-four and we stopped moving long enough to snap a picture of it:

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Run long and prosper.

As we came into our last mile Michelle’s family joined us again and stayed with us until the end. Around us there were other people coming to walk or run in the last little bit with their friends or family. It was all very moving and a great reminder of how awesome the running community is. I know that it would have been a lot more difficult if I hadn’t had Mer cheering me on and other friends sending me their well-wishes.

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Rounding the last quarter mile was such a great feeling! Knowing that you’d made it nearly 26.2 miles is kind of mind blowing. When I started running three and a half years ago I never envisioned myself running a marathon. As we ran by people and heard them say “Way to go, marathoners!”, it just kind of hits you in the feels.

Crossing the finish line I felt equal parts of relief and exhilaration. I was hungry and tired, but also kind of hyped up because, you know, I just ran a marathon. After we grabbed out bags, changed our shoes, and loaded up with pancakes and eggs, I sat down and replied to a bunch of texts. To my best friends “Are you alive?” and my mother’s “Are you done yet?”. There were all kinds of notifications from friends online and the outpouring of support from everyone was amazing.

It was just as tough as we knew it was going to be, but still so very rewarding. It’s more than a medal and shirt, though those things are nice. It’s the fact that your body can do amazing things. That you can do amazing things! And that there are always people who you can inspire and who can inspire you.

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Now, I don’t know if another marathon is in my future…but I’m not counting it out just yet.

Happy running!

You can find me on Instagram and Twitter with @thisgirlash_ if you like to talk about books, cats, and running (sometimes). I also blog at Ash Does Stuff.

I’m a BibRave Pro!

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Agggh, you guys! I am so stoked! It’s official (there’s my badge!); I’m pleased to announce that I’ve been selected as a BibRave Pro!

BibRave is a great site where runners from all over can post their reviews of races and connect with other runners, both locally or in an area you’re looking to run a race.

I love reading what people have to say about all aspects of a race and I especially like reading what locals have to say if I’m traveling for a race. Their knowledge is invaluable!

Don’t get me wrong, I am a blog reader through and through but it’s cool to have all the information centralized. If you click on the badge above, you can find my profile and then we can be friends over there, too.

Tuesday nights on Twitter at 8 pm CST (9 pm for us east coasters) they host #bibchat. I love Twitter chats because it’s another way to connect with like-minded individuals and get feedback/ideas that I might not have considered. I do my best to stay awake for it but I have definitely fallen asleep mid-chat only to wake up in the morning, cuddling my phone. Waking at 5 am can do that to a gal.

As a BibRave Pro I’ll have opportunities to try out products that are running/fitness related. Which is especially great for readers here because I’ll be sharing my thoughts on Scoot a Doot. Your own personal guinea pig, right here! You also might see BibRave Pros at races – you can spot them in their bright orange apparel.

Good things ahead!

Are you on BibRave? (If not, join me over there, it’s lots of fun!) If you are, share your profile link with me so I can add you!

#WeddingWednesday: DIY Wedding Day Music

I’m DJ-ing my own wedding.

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I wish DJ Roomba would play my wedding.

I thought this would be pretty easy – I’m a musician, Clay is really a musician, we love a wide variety of tune-age. Finding songs that we like should be no problem, right?

Well. Kind of.

As it turns out, we both have pretty strong criteria for our playlists and while we like many genres and styles of music, it’s hard to sift through that many songs! And, we don’t want any of our ceremony music to feel cliched – because as pretty as Pachelbel’s Canon is, I am not walking down the aisle to it. Nope. (Not judging anyone who has used that piece, I’ve just played it one too many times, and the cello part blows.)

It’s also tricky to pick all of your own music for not only the ceremony, but also for dinner and dancing. That’s a lot of moods and styles to figure out and balance. (And let’s be honest, I really just want to dance.)

Basically, the Bravermans are #goals

Basically, the Bravermans are #goals

Needless to say,  I have a large spreadsheet mapping out our current favorites and ideas. The dancing and dinner portions of the evening don’t seem to be giving me as much trouble as the ceremony part – which isn’t really surprising, as it is the most personal and is when people will be the most tuned-in to what the music says and how it makes them feel.

Consequently, that means that I am over-thinking this portion like whoa. Because I want to avoid cliche, and I want the ceremony to be true to our music style, I’m finding myself wading through all of my favorite music and getting seriously distracted. “Oooh, I like that!” “OH! I like that too.”  “Dave Matthews needs to be in here somewhere” “Also probably Paul Simon?” “HOW COULD I FORGET JOHN WILLIAMS?!”

You see my problem.

Fortunately, the lovely folks at Wedding Paper Divas have a super helpful tool to help with this kind of indecision. Their Wedding Song interactive is categorized by event within the wedding day, and then browse-able by genre and decade.

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I spent about twenty minutes poking through their selections for processionals, as that’s where most of my indecision has been, and I was pleased to find a song I didn’t know existed that now I want to use! Who knew that John Mayer covered Beyonce’s “XO”? Okay. Clay knew. But I didn’t, and I’m kind of obsessed with it.

I’m really looking forward to continuing to play around with this tool as we build our playlists for Wedding Day – there’s still a lot of fine-tuning to do and this will be a great resource to inspire us.

What are some of the most unique wedding songs you’ve heard? Best? Worst?

How To Cheer a Friend at Her First Marathon (991 Miles Away)

First step: Realize that your friend is running her first FULL MARATHON when she posts pictures of herself with an astronaut buddy on Instagram.

Immediately text her and demand to know all the details, including how to track her. Confirm she’s running for funsies and that it’s okay to send her texts throughout her race (yes and yes).

This was the picture that tipped me off. I don’t know where I’ve been but as soon as I realized Holy schnikes, she’s doing a the FULL marathon I was texting that adorable little hand holder.

Second step: Wake up at 6:30am on a Sunday morning. Stalk the Twitter feed to get all aflutter when you realize that they started the race at exactly 6:32.

Third step: Decide that not only are you going to send TEXTS but you’re going to make motivational signs and text/tweet/Facebook her at appropriate times. Why? Because when you do something, you like to do it BIG.

Lay in bed and create them on phone (thanks to A Beautiful Mess and Word Dream apps) while your husband asks, “What in the world are you doing over there?”

Fourth step: Proceed to drain her battery with cheering! #sorrynotsorry

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If you need help thinking of fun marathon signs, just search Google Images. I started there because it was early and my mind wasn’t fully engaged. As the day went on, I got more creative.

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I’m sure they really appreciated that “only” modifier in there!

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Yeah, they both have to work.

Yeah, they both have to work.

Got a text from Ash saying she was around mile 25, so I sent this one.

Got a text from Ash saying she was around mile 25, so I whipped up this one lickety split. The beauty of cheering via the internet!

And finally, the tweet I was waiting for… they FINISHED the Space Coast Marathon.

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I am so happy for Ashley and Michelle and their awesome accomplishment! Sure, I wasn’t there handing them shots or beers (um, and I hear that happens on this course) but it almost felt like I was right there along with them.

Ash has promised a play-by-play guest post for Scoot a Doot, so be sure to look for that… and if you see Ash and Michelle around the internet, make sure to congratulate the marathoners!

Who else was at Space Coast? I hear it is a heck of a lot of F-U-N!

Philadelphia Half Marathon 2016 Recap

I think I might need to break up with the Philadelphia half marathon race.

My heart hurts to feel it and it feels weird to even say it because I always told anyone who will listen just how much I adore the Philadelphia Marathon weekend. I’m not usually one to complain but I’m bummed. Even with a PR, I’m bummed.

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I have a deep love for the Philadelphia Marathon which roots back to watching Victoria completing her first full in 2010. There’s been 6 straight years of being involved with the race in some shape or form.

This year brought a lot of changes to the Philadelphia Marathon; I know that I can tend to be resistant to change but I tried really hard to go into it with an open mind.

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The train ride into the city at 5:40am. Chrissy participated in the 8k this year, which started at 10:45. She came in early with me so she could cheer for the half marathoners. The race began at 7:30.

The first change that was made was that the half and full marathons, which were usually both held at the same day and time were split. Which makes sense from a business standpoint. They added the Rocky Challenge, which is for those people who wanted to run both the half and the full races. Good on you, running all the miles folks!

The race weekend, once run by the City of Philadelphia, has been taken on by Philadelphia Parks and Rec (they manage the Broad Street Run as well). Communication prior to the race was a bit on the light side. People asked questions via email and Facebook, many went unanswered. I know there is a learning curve that comes along with these things but I was surprised that there wasn’t better communication, as this isn’t their first race rodeo.

The change that impacted me the most though was… they changed the half marathon course. I take issue with this because I know the old course and I really loved the old course.

I did not really love the new course. The old course is still run-able… as the first half of the marathon. It’s comprised of a nice mix of running through the city, through the streets near Drexel University, past the zoo, a small jaunt through Fairmount park, and finishing along the river in front of the art museum.

I knew the new course would be different but I wasn’t mentally prepared for just how different.

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New this year is that they had shuttle buses from hotels to the start area. I didn’t utilize this because I stayed at home and took the train into the city but I’m thinking that was a benefit to those who took advantage of it.

The security check points were set up through which we all slowly filtered. I appreciate the efforts to keep us safe but I don’t understand why the Philadelphia race weekend has it and something like Broad Street, which has 40,000+ runners does not. I suppose Broad Street’s start line doesn’t really lend itself well to having check points?

Chrissy stared at an empty street near Love Park (currently under construction), waiting for all the runners!

Chrissy stared at an empty street near Love Park (currently under construction), waiting for all the runners!

I was in the blue corral, AKA, the last corral. I had big plans. I’ve been consistently training and I wanted to PR in a major way. I found my pal Christina and we caught up on each other’s lives while we wanted for our corral to start. The wheelchair start was 7:25, the elites started at 7:30, and our corral toed the line at 8:03.

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The first mile was very congested but I was feeling great and happy to be running! I noticed there was a lot of construction within this mile, which didn’t help with the squeezed feeling. I looked for Chrissy at the spot we picked for her to cheer but missed her during the first mile. I knew we’d be coming back the street on the other side so I held out hope I would still be able to see her.

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No big surprised that it felt a little squished with so many people!

I bobbed and weaved in the first two miles but after that I found a good spot and we all spread out. As I circled back around City Hall I knew I’d have the chance to see Chrissy and I wasn’t going to miss it. I hugged the right side of the road and found her! We blew kisses as I ran past and headed back toward the Art Museum.

Miles 1-5 were fantastic! Seeing City Fit Girls around mile 4 gave me a boost like you wouldn’t believe and I’m pretty sure I lost my mind when I saw them.

Running along the river was gorgeous. Boathouse Row is always beautiful and the fall foliage was in its prime. I continued with my 2:1 intervals and was exactly where I wanted to be pace-wise.

I took a GU gel at mile 5 and then heard someone in the crowd yell SCOOT A DOOT! I didn’t know it then but it was Kim, one of our buddies on Facebook and Instagram! It made me smile and I was still smiling, despite turning the corner and facing the first hill. I am no stranger to this hill; I’ve run it quite a few times in the past during races. It’s not my favorite but I was prepared for it and did the best I could.

Plus there was a sweet downhill that I knew was coming ahead so I focused on cruising down.

After that, it was pretty much uncharted territory for me as far as the course was concerned. There was a nice stretch of road and we all continued happily along our way.

Around mile 8 we turned to go up a hill and then it felt like we never stopped going uphill. It was hill.

After hill.

After hill.

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From a race that was touted as a flat course in the past, it really wasn’t what I expected. I hustled up the hills as much as I could but I watched my time creep up on my miles and my expectation of a huge PR went down.

However, I did see Dimity McDowell from Another Mother Runner during one of those horrible hills and I was so happy to see her; I thought she might be a mirage. That interaction put a pep in my step for a short amount of time, because you know, I was on a steep hill.

Pretty sure you can tell EXACTLY where the hills were located, looking at this.

Pretty sure you can tell EXACTLY where the hills were located, looking at this.

I saw Christina a few times throughout the course and it helped to have a familiar face to look for in a sea of people. The last 3 miles were pure survival mode. I knew I wasn’t going to get the time goal I wanted, which was disheartening.

That said, as I was bopping along with my music and I realized that despite not getting the time that I wanted, I was still feeling really good. My legs didn’t hurt, I was still able to do my intervals, and I was grateful for a good day of running!

I finished a minute faster than my old PR (which was back at the 2014 Nike Women’s half) and while I know were it a different course, I might have gone faster, a PR IS A PR!

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The finish line area was sort of a mess. I got my medal and then immediately started looking around for water and food. I finally asked a few fellow runners where to find it and they pointed off to the side where a tent was set up.

They had a great assortment of food for us, including the soft pretzels and chicken broth that I’ve grown accustomed to having after the race but no bags to put everything in.

I found Christina again after the race and we made plans to meet up and run soon, which I’ll be holding her to (it’s in the blog post so it must happen!).

I got to cheer Chrissy as she came across the 8k finish line and she felt really good! It was awesome to be there for her finish and to see many familiar faces from #run856 as they crossed the finish line.

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Overall, this race wasn’t what I expected and that’s odd to say, coming from someone who has done the race multiple times. Even though there was a PR that was involved, the race wasn’t what I envisioned so I guess that’s why I’m a little whomp whomp regarding this race.

Maybe next year I’ll do the 8k again. Maybe I’ll get over my disappointment, train on hills, and try the half marathon again. Maybe I’ll get really crazy and run the full. I guess I’ll see where 2017 brings me!

Did you race this weekend? Have you ever had a good but disappointing race? I’m feeling really conflicted with my emotions.

What’s next? A local little fun run called The Light Run to look at holiday lights. My older child has agreed to do this one with me and I know we’ll be seeing a lot of friends there too. Yay!

We Found Love in a Hopeless Place

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When you’re alone and life is making you lonely
You can always go downtown
When you’ve got worries, all the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know, downtown

I think Petula Clark was on to something – because last weekend, when I was still deep in the dark place, the fiance and I took a quick little jaunt down to Charlottesville, VA (not exactly “downtown”) to spend some time together outside of our normal routine.

It was a short trip, but it was just what we needed.

Between crazy work schedules and travel and extracurricular commitments, finding time to be together and just enjoy each other’s company has been a challenge, because when we are together, we’re usually running errands, or cleaning the house, or hosting our friends for Sunday football, or collapsing on the couch after a long day and zoning out in front of Netflix. And trying to save money for the wedding has meant that we have been keeping things pretty low-key.

So, we planned a weekend away. But what was supposed to be a two-night stay became a “less-than-24-hour excursion” because, wouldn’t you know it, work happened and we needed to get back in time for that. That said, we managed to capitalize on all of our time there and it was just what we needed.

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Friday morning, we hopped in the car and drove back country roads to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s estate just outside of Charlottesville. We spend lunch and the early afternoon there exploring the grounds, enjoying the unseasonably warm sun, and touring Jefferson’s house. Consequently, I think we also managed to get Hamilton songs stuck in everyone’s heads if they were following us on social media.

Following Monticello, we had planned to visit a winery, but we were tired and hungry, and decided that checking in to our hotel sounded like a better plan. Because that involved stopping for snacks and then laying in bed watching tv and napping without any reason to move.

(I know. I vacation hardcore.)

One of the big reasons we wanted to visit Charlottesville is that it is the birthplace of the Dave Matthews Band. Dave was living and working as a bartender in Cville when he formed the group and there are a number of DMB landmarks there. Clay really wanted to see a few of them, so we spent the evening on a DMB mission.

It was important to Clay for us to stop at Leroi Moore’s gravesite – Moore, one of the founding members of the band, passed away in 2008. He, and the band, have meant a lot to Clay over the years, and getting to pay his respects was something Clay had wanted to do for a long time.

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Afterwards, we decided we needed a drink and some dinner – and we needed to pour one out for Leroi. Or shoot whiskey. Same thing, right? I thought so. So, we headed to Miller’s Downtown – the bar that Dave Matthews was tending at when he put the band together. Yes, there was fangirling. No, we’re not sorry. The burger and the wings were awesome and downtown Charlottesville is the cutest. They’ve taken a few blocks of the downtown area and closed them to vehicles, so it’s just a pedestrian mall. We walked up and down it after dinner and explored that little corner of the city before retiring to bed.

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When you try to get the Miller’s sign and your faces in one picture… with little success.

Saying goodbye to Charlottesville the next morning happened early and cold – but we left feeling rejuvenated and energized and, honestly, more connected. That sounds so sappy, but it’s true and I’m grateful that in the midst of what has been a very uncertain and emotional week, we were able to find time to focus on each other.