Everything is Fine… A Ragnar DC Odyssey.

Hey there, fast and fabulous friends! It’s been a while since I wrote a race report for you guys. I have been doing little races here and there all along, and some of them even went pretty well, but nothing really seemed like Fast and Fabulous caliber… Until last weekend when 11 of my favorite running BFFs and I, armed with a lifetime supply of Shittens, made awesomeness and glory rain down on Ragnar DC all the way from Cumberland to National Harbor. Before we go any further, you should know that I had been looking forward to this race for as long as I can remember, and it was everything that I dreamed it would be and more. Pair that with my affinity for writing borderline inappropriately long, adjective-intensive blog posts, and you’ve got yourself one long-ass race report. So hold on to your plush turkey  hats. You’ve been warned.

Clearly our reign of awesomeness and glory began long before the starting gun went off.

Clearly our reign of awesomeness and glory began long before the starting gun went off.

Showing our esteemed sponsor a little love in front of the Shittens-mobile, plus the obligatory jumping pic. (Not my best work, I know.)

Showing our esteemed sponsor a little love in front of the Shittens-mobile, plus the obligatory jumping pic. (Not my best work, I know.)

There are many moving parts to our #TeamShittens Ragnar DC Odyssey, but we’ll start with the running…

 Leg #3: 7.8 miles, 4 Road Kills, 1 Sweet New Belt Buckle

Holy balls, guys. This was a tough one. When we arrived to check in at the start line  all the volunteers were like “Who has leg #3? Oh, bless your heart!” I wondered if I should be legitimately concerned by this. Leg 3 was definitely advertised as being the toughest one of the race. It was rated “You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me” on the Ragnar Relay scale of “Easy” to” You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me” but I wasn’t really sure what that meant. As it turned out, this leg  was, in fact pretty dang tough for a number of reasons.

Reason number one being that it was effing hot as balls. For reals. It was undoubtedly 85 degrees or warmer. And just to make it extra fun, the first 2.5 miles or so of “You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me” were on a most un-scenic, freshly re-blacktopped, shade-free road which was littered with cigarette-smoking construction workers. Awesome. I was very interested to notice that this road seemed to parallel an interstate, seeing as there was very little interstate to be found the day before on our drive from Durham to Maryland. I also noted that my impressions of Maryland so far were that it was hilly and reeked of cows and road kill (and I don’t mean the good Ragnar kind of road kill, although I did score a few of those on this leg) but I digress…

Anyway, just when I thought this leg couldn’t get any suckier, the blue Ragnar directional signs sent me onto a remote dirt road and so began the great dust bowl of 2013. The heat got hotter, the hills got hillier, and the splits got hella-slow. I channeled Sheryl Sandberg as I leaned in to the hills and repeated our team mantra in my head. (I will refrain from actually writing the team mantra, as it contains adult language, but I’ve included a photo below that might help you figure it out.) Just as I started to long for my fuel belt, despite its decided uncoolness according to the survey from my last blog post,  a nice team hanging out at a turn off at the base of particularly gnarly hill offered me a bottle of water. I gladly took it, but after drinking a few sips, I regretted having this extra accoutrement to lug around. I strongly considered ditching the bottle, but just as I was about to chuck it, I spotted a sign that read “Littering: $1,000 Fine”. I thought $1,000 seemed like an extremely high price to pay for empty-handed running, so I soldiered on with the bottle. Shortly after the littering sign and just as my Garmin chirped off a mile split that started with a 10 (*cringe*), I crested a particularly heinous and dusty hill to the glorious sight of our Shittens-themed van and my fabulous cheering teammates. I felt like utter hell, but I managed to muster up a hearty fist pump, a mile split update, and a that’s what she said joke (you know, something about it being really hard), so I guess things could have been going worse.

Our team motto... BTW, no Oiselle 50/50 tees were harmed in the making of this shirt.

Our team mantra… BTW, no Oiselle 50/50 tees were harmed in the making of this shirt.

Feeling rough, but rocking the fist pump and refusing to give in to the evils of littering.

Feeling rough, but rocking the fist pump and refusing to give in to the evils of littering.

After another mile of climbing, I finally found the downhill I was so desperately seeking. I tried with all my might to get those last couple of miles down into the lactate threshold pace zone, both to make up time lost on that big ass climb, and because my running guru, Coach Bigs had prescribed at least 10 minutes at LT pace (which is 6:45ish for me) per leg. I successfully made up some serious time, and even added a couple more road kills to my total for the leg, but it wasn’t until the final flat .8 into the exchange zone that I managed to get a split that started with 6 on the watch.

I knew I was way off my goal time based on the 10K pace I had submitted for time projection purposes, and I was feeling a little down on myself as I handed off to Brittany.  But my spirits were instantly lifted by the encouraging words of my teammates, who lovingly wiped the copious amounts of dust from my face and limbs with Shittens while showering me with compliments. (Let me tell you friends, it just doesn’t get much better than being showered with Shittens and compliments at the same time!) And then a nice volunteer presented me  with a delightfully tacky Ragnar DC belt buckle for completing the hardest leg of the race! #Winning! Legs 2 and 3 promised to be much easier, so this was a tremendous relief! Go Team Shittens!

The dustiness, and the soul soothing Shittens shower that followed.

The dustiness, and the soul-soothing Shittens shower that followed.

Sporting my sweet belt buckle swag with my fab Van 1 teammates.

Sporting my sweet belt buckle swag with my fab Van 1 teammates.

Just in case you didn't believe me when I said it was dusty out there, here's and amazing picture of Sarah's teeth post-1st leg to prove it.

Just in case you didn’t believe me when I said it was dusty out there, here is an amazing picture of Sarah’s teeth post-1st leg to prove it.

Leg #14: 4.8 Miles, 8 Road Kills, 1 Kankle-Inducing Ankle Roll.

Go time for Leg 2! After a little down time which included but was not limited to a hearty rural West Virginia dinning experience filled with fascinating/ horrifying people watching, an after-dark photo shoot, and a fun chance meet up with Oiselle Teammate Steph G., I was ready to rock and roll all over my 2nd leg. The description read that it was essentially flat and easy, so I set out to make up some of those lost minutes at LT pace from leg 1.

You know, just keeping it real while we wait around for round two.

You know, just keeping it real while we wait around for round two.

Looking hella #flystyle as I contemplate the ass that is about to be kicked and the names that are about to be taken. Let's do this, leg 2!

Looking hella #flystyle as I contemplate the ass that is about to be kicked and the names that are about to be taken. Let’s do this, 2nd leg!

I warmed up with a couple of 7:20-something splits and then settled into some close-enough-to-LT- pace-for-me miles for next 2.78 (6:49, 6:45, 6:46 for the last .78). There is no doubt that those tempo-ish miles felt like work, but whateves. They’re supposed to feel like work, not to mention the fact that I had run through an epic uphill dust bowl just a few hours earlier,  as well as the fact that this run started at 11:11 pm, which is a far cry from my typical run time. (I know a lot of you people out there get pretty excited about those kind of numbers, so #omgiheartnumbers to that!)

Anyhoo, despite my higher-than-ideal rate of perceived of exertion, I started to feel like an awesome badass for mentally keeping my shit together enough to maintain something akin to my goal pace despite the bizarre relay circumstances. As a runner who historically struggles with the mental game side of training and racing this felt like a big win for me. My ego continued to inflate as I opened up a sizable gap on this dude who was clearly bound and determined that he would not be chicked by me. We had been engaging in a little back and forth passing game for the better part of a mile or so when I finally wore him down, crushed his dreams, and broke his spirit as I added him to my growing list of road kills. I must have lost focus while I was high- fiving myself and signing Queen’s “We are the Champions” and that “All I Do is Win” rap song  simultaneously in my head, because shortly after leaving Mr. I-would-sooner-die-than-get-passed-by-a-girl in the dust I rolled the ever-loving crap out of my ankle on a rogue littered beer can. I couldn’t help but feel super-annoyed by this since I had gone to great lengths to maintain good anti-littering karma during my previous leg, but I suppose I was due for a great moment of humility. I’ve done enough rolling of the ankles while running to know that there are two types of ankle rolls: The standard kind that are like “Oh, no big deal. I’ll just take a few seconds to walk this off and it will be fine,” and the far less common “Yikes, my ankle is going to be the size of my face tomorrow!” variety. I knew right away that this was the latter, but there was no effing way in hell that I was going to let that guy reclaim my hard-fought road kill victory. You best believe that my freshly minted kankle and I continued hauling arse towards the exchange zone, maintaining our sub-7 pace like it was our job, because that’s just how we do here at Team Shittens.  In your face road kill dude!

That's the knakle finishing up our second leg like a boss, and then being a whiny little you-know-what after the race.

That’s the knakle finishing up our second leg like a boss, and then being a whiny little you-know-what after the race.

Please let my Ragnar DC second leg experience be a reminder to all of you that littering is bad for many reasons, one such reason being that it could contribute to the kankling of perfectly innocent, well-meaning nighttime  runners. Don’t do it!

Leg #26: 3.2 Miles, 4 Road Kills, 1 Frustrating Traffic Stop.

After a rest period that included all the ice packs, ibuprofen and compression socks,  a few hundred trips to the porta potty, a sleeping-turned-unintentional-spooning session in a wet sleeping bag with my college BFF , and some life changing photo booth shenanigans it was time for the 3rd and final leg of Ragnar DC. And you bet your Shittens I was ready for it.

Legendary 5 am photo booth shenanigans!

Legendary 5 am photo booth shenanigans!

My ankle was definitely swollen, but not to the point of severe alarm. Since it didn’t hurt to put weight on it, my plan was to take it easy and do only what I had to do to get through it so I could be done once and for all. When my spooning buddy Cat hauled into the exchange zone and handed off to me I took off and quickly decided that the kankle was not effecting my running game. Instantly my new goal became to get this over with as fast as humanly possible. I rolled through the 1st mile in just over 7, and mile 2 was my fastest of the entire Ragnar experience at 6:37. The final mile of my 3.2 mile leg was slightly uphill, which slowed me back down to 6:57. Then I very nearly threw a temper tantrum when I was stopped by a crossing guard at the last busy intersection separating  me from the final .2 of my leg and the exchange zone. I was made to stand still for several minutes in clear view of the finish  waiting for the light to change. (Seriously, whose brilliant idea was it to put the exchange zone on the far side of a busy intersection anyway?!) These were the longest several minutes of my life. I asked the crossing guard when the light would be changing and if I could go yet at least once every 5 seconds. (Very adult and rational of me, I know.) At long last that glorious little white stick figure guy popped up on the crosswalk sign and I bolted across the street and into the exchange, but not before  my average pace for the whole leg slipped from the 6s into the 7s. Thanks for nothing, DC area traffic. But it was oh-so-fabulous to be done, and the kankle didn’t seem to slow me down, so all is well that ends well.

Van 1 celebrates being done with hugs, jumping pics, and a rad new Speedo-wearing friend.

Van 1 celebrates being done with our share of the running with hugs, jumping pics, and a rad new Speedo-wearing friend.

An infinite number of laughs, photo shoots, pretzels, Swedish fish,Tums, Gatorade, Picky Bars, and Shittens later our final runner crossed the finished line at National Harbor with  24:41 on the clock and enough road kills to bring our team total to over 200! I take great pride and joy in reporting to you that this was good enough to clinch the win in the Regular Women’s Open division, and an 11th place finish overall! Victory, all the bragging rights, and those sweet golden Ragnar batons that they mail out to the winners are ours! In other exciting and possibly less surprising news, we also won the team spirit award thanks to all of that great social media hype that you surely enjoyed experiencing during the race, and of course, our hilariously novel yet highly functional miracle product sponsor, Shittens.

#TeamShittens crosses the finish line in yet another blaze of awesomeness and glory.

#TeamShittens crosses the finish line in yet another blaze of awesomeness and glory.

Celebrating all the road kills with all the pizza and beer.

Celebrating all the road kills and all the winning with all the pizza and beer.

Other Cool Ragnar DC Stuff Worth Mentioning…

A Shittens Shout-Out: Before I conclude this post, I would like to send out a big mitten-shaped wet wipe-clad high-five to the awesome people who created Shittens. Our our unbelievably organized and on-the-ball team captain, Kara discovered this little gem of a bathroom product on a hilarious celebrity gossip blog by the name of Dlisted. Our running group was so enamored by the concept of Shittens that we sent their customer service department a compelling email about our platform for promoting their product in the running community. And lo and behold, they sent us AN ENTIRE CASE to use and distribute to the masses at the race! Talk about awesome swag win of the millennium!

As it turns out, Shittens really are  well, you know… the shit. We found myriad uses for them on our Ragnar DC adventure from errrr, their intended purpose to shower substitutions to cleaning dust and marker off the van post-race. And their fresh, lemon-y scent is truly divine. Visit getshittens.com and checkout the fun little jingle below to learn more about this versatile, ingenious, hilarious product!

Showcasing Shittens' versatility and sharing the mitten-shaped wet wipe gospel with our fellow Ragnarians. Obviously everyone agreed that Shittens are the shit.

Showcasing Shittens’ versatility and sharing the mitten-shaped wet wipe gospel with our fellow Ragnarians. Obviously everyone agreed that Shittens are the shit.

If You Haven’t Done a Relay Race, You’re Doing it Wrong: Speaking of things that are the shit, I really just can’t say enough about how much freaking fun these overnight relay races are. For reals y’all, whether your are in the company of people who are already your BFFs or that of perfect strangers who you only previously knew from Twitter, nothing brings people together like the folly and animated discussions of bodily functions that happen when you put a bunch of runners in a van, feed them only bagels, bananas, and Immodium, and deprive them of sleep for two days. To quote the wise and profound Taylor Swift,” it’s miserable and magical.” But mostly magical. I honestly do not have the words to describe all the love I have for my fabulous, hilarious, witty, inspiring, beautiful Team Shittens teammates and how much epic fun we had together. All the hugs and high fives to you, Kara, Caren, Sarah, Cat, Brittany, Kate, Kim, Liz, Jennifer, Gretchen, and Kathryn!  We totally rocked the Shittens out of that race, and I can think of another group of people I would rather spend 24 + sweaty, shower-less hours in a van with! Let’s do this again as soon as possible!

Thanks for a most amazeballs weekend, Team Shittens! Xoxoxo!

Thanks for a most amazeballs weekend, Team Shittens! Xoxoxo!

Also, much love to all you Oiselle birds I ran into out there! It’s pretty cool when someone just walks up and hugs you because the two of you are wearing matching outfits, and that happened several times at Ragnar DC. It was such a treat meeting Steph G., Steph D., and Michelle, and I was super-bummed that I missed Nicole, but proud of her for nailing some serious finish line jumping pics in her fly pink tutu!

Feeling the Ragnar DC Oiselle love! (Photo Credit: StephD. and Michelle.)

Feeling the Ragnar DC Oiselle love! (Photo Credits: StephD. and Michelle.)

And mad props to the people at Ragnar for putting on a great race! I shutter to think about what a logistical nightmare it must be to coordinate an event like this, and this specific race was further complicated with last-minute route modifications thanks to the government shutdown. Through it all the Ragnar staff and race volunteers remained friendly, upbeat, organized, communicative. I have done several other relays races of this sort, and this was certainly one of the most organized and congenial I have ever encountered. Cheers to Ragnar DC’s party atmosphere, its baller bottle opener finishers medals (I think these may double as some sort of ninja weaponry?), and the fact that was there was plentiful pizza, beer, and general merriment for all at the finish line. If you have not yet checked the overnight relay race off your running bucket list you need to stop doing it wrong and sign up for one post-haste! You surely will not regret it! Only 2 weeks and counting until the next Ragnar adventure! Hold on to your Shittens, Team NUUNapalooza! Ragnar Tennessee is sure to be a wild ride!

To Fuel Belt or Not to Fuel Belt? That is the Question.

Howdy y’all! It’s that time of year again… Fall marathon training is in full swing, but the summer heat and humidity haven’t let up and (at least where I live) they most likely won’t for another month or so.  As your mileage creeps up, how are you going to stay hydrated? I think it’s high time we addressed the general fastness and fabulousness (or lack there of) the fuel belt in order keep you not only well-hydrated, but looking as cool as possible in those final long running of your fall training cycle.

My Personal Fuel Belt Story:

There  was a time not so long ago when I subscribed to the fuel belt doctrine. As a well-established part-time running store employee I am accustomed to having every possible running accessory under the sun at my disposal, and I honestly thought the fuel belt was just another legitimate essential of marathon training. I trained and raced with it regularly without giving it a second thought. I never considered my fuel belt to be particularly comfortable or stylish, but I did fancy it to be a means of liberation from utter dehydration, the dreaded “wall”, and congested race course water stations. After completing two marathons with what I felt to be two decently mediocre times, my fuel belt and I decided to take on qualifying for Boston. When I missed the qualifier in two consecutive attempts, my amazing, much-faster-than-me running friends  from near and far joined forces and cooked up a large-scale marathon intervention to make sure I got the BQ once and for all.  Needless to say, their master plan involved pacing me, which meant being seen running with me in public. And that is when they set me down and lovingly gave me what will forever be known as “The Fuel Belt Talk”.

That's me rocking the fuel belt in marathons gone by, and making it look damn good if I do say so myself.

That’s me rocking the fuel belt in marathons gone by, and making it look damn sexy if I do say so myself.

My goal for race day was not just to hit the BQ, but to beat it by 5 minutes in order to increase my odds of actually securing a spot at Boston with the 5 minute priority registration cushion. For me this meant running 3:30. On the eve of my third-time’s-the-charm BQ attempt, my dear friend and esteemed running mentor (who just so happens to be a total running bad-ass and 2012 Olympic Trials Marathon finisher) pulled me aside for a little pre-race debriefing. She put her hand on my shoulder, looked me square in the eye, and said to me in a gentle, yet firm voice “Ellen, people who run 3:30 marathons DO NOT wear fuel belts. And NO ONE was wearing a fuel belt in the Olympic Trials Marathon.” I recall looking at her wide-eyed with surprise and thinking to myself ” How the eff did the entire field of the Olympic Trials Marathon make it through 26.2 miles without withering into dehydration despair if they weren’t wearing fuel belts?”  Up until this moment I had honestly assumed that hydration belts were a universal truth of marathon training for everyone from the 6 hour marathoner all the way up to Kara and Shalene.

I know that in marathon training and in life, it is above all important to know thy self, and to avoid comparing yourself to others (especially when you run 3:30 marathons and “others” are people who competed in the Olympic Trials)”, but I am here to tell you that the moment those fateful words rolled off my wise and speedy running idol’s tongue I swore off racing with the fuel belt forever and never looked back.  To think that I had been running around for all this time looking like a total marathon newb! I still cringe a little when I think about it…

Bring home the BQ and a big, shiny new PR in my first marathon sans fuel belt!

Bring home the BQ and a big, shiny new PR in my first marathon sans fuel belt!

Since “The Fuel Belt Talk” I have belted up on a few particularly hot, humid, extra-long long runs here and there, but with time my once faithful hydration sidekick has faded into near obscurity in my training as well. This leads me to wonder how the general running public perceives and embraces the fuel belt, and what is thought to be the least lame/ most social acceptable means of long run hydration these days.

Survey Says…

And so I took it upon myself to poll my trusted running community. With help of a Survey Monkey savvy friend, I whipped up the  fun little “Feelings About Fuel Belts” survey below and mercilessly pestered the runners of my social media feeds and local run club email distribution list to complete it. As you review the results below, keep the following things in mind…

A Few Disclaimers First… 

  • This was an anonymous survey that did not define participants’ gender, running abilities or the duration of their long runs.
  • As I write this post, a whopping 61  people have completed this survey. (That might not sound like a lot to you, but I was actually pretty pumped about this response. I figured I might get 12 responses if I was lucky.)
  • I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty dang confident that the results below reflect the views of a cross-section of runners that includes 2 hour + half marathoners, sub-3 hour marathoners, ultra-marathoners, and plenty of paces and abilities in between.
  • In all likelihood, the majority of people who completed this survey live and run in the hot, humid Southeastern US.

The Findings:

Question 1:  Which of the statements below best describes your general feelings about fuel belts…
  •  6.78 of survey participants  answered (A) My fuel belt is my favorite training BFF! I almost never run without it!
  •   35.59% of survey participants answered (B) I appreciate my fuel belt’s functionality and the hydration liberation that it offers. I don’t take it on every run, but it is clutch for any and all of my longer distance stuff!
  • 25.42% of survey participants answered (C) My fuel belt is kind of drag, but every now and then I have to swallow my pride and bust it out for really super-long and/ or super-hot running activities.
  • 32.20% of survey participants answered  (D) Fuel belts are effing lame and I would sooner die of dehydration and shame than be caught wearing one.
 Question 2: If you do believe in fuel belts, what distance, temperature, or combination of the two warrants using one?
  • 38.71% of participants who answered this question would wear a fuel belt on runs as short as 5 miles IF the temperature was 90 degrees or greater.
  • 38.10% of participants who answered this question would rock their fuel belts on 10 + mile runs, regardless of the temperature.
  • 51.43% of participants agreed that the fuel belt is a must for runs longer 15 miles, no matter the temperature.
  • 66.67 % of participants who answered this question indicated that no distance was long enough to warrant the shame of the fuel belt.
  • 50% of participants who answered this question selected “I don’t care if I am running on the surface of the sun. I am NOT WEARING a damn fuel belt.”

*I got a little crazy with the Survey Monkey and made this question a multiple choice matrix something-or-other. It allowed people to choose more than one answer, which they clearly did and/or I got all confused in interpreting the results (understanding numbers has never be my strong suit), as all the percentages listed here obviously add up to something greater than 100%.

Question 3:  Would you wear a fuel belt in a race or only for training?
  • 33.90% of participants who answered this question chose (A) Both! Ain’t nobody got time for those crazy congested water stops at crowded races!
  • 42.37% chose (B) Only training! Racing in a fuel belt is so Busch League!
  • 23.73% chose (C) Neither! I already told you that fuel belts are lame!
Question 4: For all you hardcore fuel belt haters out there, how do you avoid utter dehydration sans belt and where do you stash all your other crap? (i.e. car keys, gels, etc.)
  • 63.16%  of participants use a handheld water bottle in lieu of the fuel belt.
  • 31.58% use a hydration pack. (Shocking! I always thought those were only for mountain biking and adventure racing!)
  • 47.37% plan routes with water stops/ water fountains so they can leave the fuel belt at home.
  • 10.53% stash gels and small personal items in their sports bras. (I think this percentage may be a little skewed because some people who completed this survey were most likely dudes.)
  • 5.26% pin gels to the inside waistband of their shorts for long runs and races.
I took the liberty of showcasing a few socially acceptable fuel belt alternative options just for you!

I took the liberty of showcasing a few socially acceptable fuel belt alternative options just for you!

In Conclusion…
I’m not gonna lie, I thought that most everyone who filled out the survey would be all like “Hell to the no, I don’t use a fuel belt! Those are for losers!”  And don’t get me wrong, this sentiment was certainly present in my findings, but as it turns out, despite the fact the fuel belts are shunned by elites per my Olympic Trials friend, the majority of my surveyed population agrees that they do have a place in one’s training program.
Furthermore, it seems safe to assume that fuel belts are generally considered to be more socially acceptable for training  as opposed to racing use, although use in races is not out of the question for particularly crowded races, particularly hot races, and/or runners with specific nutrition sensitivities.
The handheld water bottle seems to be embraced as a less dorky, more fashion forward, and less annoying hydration alternative to the fuel belt for longer, hotter runs and races. The hydration pack was also a surprisingly socially acceptable fuel belt alternative.
Also, Survey Monkey is the bomb, and surveying your friends is a great reminder of how smart, witty, thoughtful, and hilarious they are. I highly recommend it!
In the end, I suppose it all comes down to this: If you are doing any sort of long distance training you will eventually encounter some runs the require carrying some means of hydration. If you are down with the fit, feel, and fashion of the fuel belt, well then, get out there and rock that shit! The little cross-section of runners that I surveyed finds fuels belts to be marginally social acceptable! Not to mention the fact that hydration belts are becoming more fashionable all the time! Just look at this veritable cornucopia of styles and colors available at Bull City Running Co.!
Just look at all these fast, fabulous hydration belt options!

Just look at all these fast, fabulous hydration belt options!

  (However, you will most certainly face judgement  should you dare to wear a fuel belt in the Olympic Trials Marathon, and I personally recommend avoiding them for all distances shorter than the 1/2 marathon as well.)   On the other hand, if you think fuel belts are hideous, uncomfortable, and just all around sucky, you most certainly are not alone in this opinion either, and thanks to this little post, you are now privy to some great, simple fuel belt alternatives that are sure to keep you hydrated AND looking and feeling fast and fabulous!

As it turns out, my running community has plenty of room for both lovers and haters of fuel belts. After all, it takes all kinds!

As it turns out, my running community has plenty of room for both lovers and haters of fuel belts. After all, it takes all kinds!

A Few Words of Gratitude…
First and foremost, major thanks to all of you kind souls who filled out my little survey! You guys all rock, your comments were fantastic, and I loved hearing from you! I am sending out some serious love to my favorite blogging consultant and Survey Monkey mentor, Mixmaster J, and also to my lovely friend Sarah who saved me from a life of eternal newb-dom by giving me The Fuel Belt Talk. And kudos to my BFFs at Bull City Running Co. for permitting my use of the store’s entire hydration inventory in a large-scale iPhone photo shoot, even though they will probably never stopping making fun of me for doing this. Thanks to Bigs for being my loyal official iPhone photographer, and most importantly, thanks to all of you for reading!
Click here to take the “Feelings About Fuel Belts” survey for yourself!
What is your favorite hydration accessory and at what distance and/or temperature is it non-negotiable?

A Shorts Story: Comparing the Oiselle Flyte and Stride Shorts

So, as many of you know I am a brand ambassador for Oiselle, a fabulous women’s  apparel company that shares my passion for fashionable, functional running gear. And that is only one of the many things that makes this little company awesome. In addition, Oiselle is passionately committed to growing a vibrant, diverse sisterhood of women runners, and supporting and advocating for the sport of track and field and its athletes. I could probably gush all day about how great Oiselle is, how inspiring it is to be a part of the amazing community they have created, what an awesome job they have done of building a presence for themselves in the world of elite running, how their visions of combining style and sweat align perfectly with my personal zeal for fitness fashion and the concept for this blog, and  so on, but that is a post for another day. Instead, today’s post is intended to tell a shorts story. So here we go…

Once upon a time, just last week, actually, Oiselle released their new seamless Flyte series. Since that fateful day I have  noticed quite a bit of buzz on the interwebs questioning the differences between the Flyte Short and the tried and true go-to race day Stride Short.  Lucky for all you Oiselle fans out there (but to the great chagrin of my credit card) I have this habit of buying all the new Oiselle stuff as soon as it is available, so it took me no time at all to acquire and wear test the Flyte short. I will spend the next few paragraphs comparing and contrasting it with the Stride Shorts in hopes of giving you the education that you need to choose the Oiselle shorts that will best meet your personal race day needs!

We’ll start with a little comparison of the specs…

Stride Short vs. Flyte Short:

  • Inseam: 4″ for the Stride Short vs. 2″ for the Flyte Short
  • Pockets: 1 front zipper pocket for the Stride Short vs. no pockets for the Flyte Short.
  • Fabric: High compression 90% mircoploy/ 10% spandex blend for the Stride Short vs.  Seamless construction poly/nylon/spandex blend for the Flyte short. (Specific percentages for the Flyte Short blend are not listed on Oiselle’s website.)

*Additionally, Oiselle advertises the Flyte Short as being “wicking and antimicrobial” as well as “no-see-through” weight.

Now that you know a little about the physical differences between these two shorts, I will share with you my personal experiences with each of them, for what its worth. Let’s get this shorts party started with a closer look at the Stride Short…

Behold the no-nonsense full butt coverage sensibility of the Stride Short!

Behold the no-nonsense full butt coverage sensibility of the Stride Short!

What I LOVE About the Stride Short:

The Perfect Blend of No-nonsense Functionality and Optimal Butt Coverage

Perhaps the thing I find the most endearing about the Stride Short is its simplicity. It’s clean, flattering lines and compression-y, ride-up free fabric make it my go-to race day short for all distances from the mile to the marathon. I appreciate how it’s 4 inch inseam falls in a spot that feels short enough to be fast and sporty, but long enough to keep me believing that come what may, be it excessive southern sweatiness,  monsoons, tsunamis, etc, the Stride Short has always got me (and my butt in its entirety) covered. I’m also extra-pumped that the update to the Stride Short for Spring/ Summer 2013 includes a handy little front zipper pocket. It’s new ability to stash energy gels and/or car keys makes it more appealing than ever before for longer training runs and races.

My Personal Challenges with the Stride Short:

Sizing is Everything

It took me a couple of tries to get the sizing right on the Stride Short. As it turns out, even the most compression-y ride-up free fabric WILL ride up if your shorts are too big. Although I do technically fall within the measurements of a small according to Oiselle’s size chart, I must confess that I have a strange, irrational fear of ordering spandex garments in the small size.  At  5′ 6″ and roughly 130 lbs, I consider myself to be of “average” size, at least relative to most of the other female runners I know, and thus I tend to gravitate more towards size medium when it comes to spandex shopping. But when I took my medium Stride Shorts out on one of my final long runs of last fall’s marathon training cycle in hopes that they might win the title of my marathon race day short, I quickly found myself on the Ride-up Express, destination Chaffingville. Fortunately, this issue was resolved with a simple size switch.  As it turned out, my fall marathon got cancelled and I never got to take the Fall 2012 Stride Short out for a 26.2, but I have raced in them at pretty much all distances from 5K to half mary and they have not chaffed me one iota.

But that is not the end of my Stride Shorts saga. When spring marathon time rolled around I ordered myself a new pair of updated-with-zipper-pocket size small Stride Shorts for race day. Sure, I already owned a perfectly good pair of Fall 2012 Stride Shorts, but I felt like being able to stash a couple of extra raspberry Hammer Gels in that snazzy new zipper pocket warranted an upgrade. From what I had heard, I would probably be needing those extra gels to get me up and over those Newton hills anyway. I completely disregarded the widely acclaimed marathon race day adage “No new is good new” and kept my new Stride Shorts pristine for race day. Although I can’t find any confirmation of this anywhere on the all-knowing world-wide web, I swear on my Boston Marathon finisher’s medal that the size small Spring 2013 Stride Short is larger than the size small Fall 2012 Stride Short. The photographic evidence below proves this, and sadly, so did the chaffing on my inner thighs after Boston, despite liberal preemptive Body Gliding, just in case.

Obiviously, there is just a little more of the Spring 2013 Stride Short (black, bottom) than there is of the Fall 2012 model (Indigo, top).

Obviously, there is just a little more of the Spring 2013 Stride Short (black, bottom) than there is of the Fall 2012 model (indigo, top).

Despite these sizing struggles, I still think the Stride Short is pretty baller and I would highly recommend an appropriately sized pair to anyone who is seeking a sleek, flattering, full-coverage short tight. Although I personally have not and probably never will come to terms with the notion of purchasing spandex in SIZE XS!!! (Gasp and shutter!!!), you may consider sizing down if you dare.

Now, on to the Flyte Short…

The scrumptiously soft and comfy, super-sporty Flyte Short.

The scrumptiously soft and comfy, super-sporty Flyte Short.

What I Love About the Flyte Short:

Absolutely Delicious Fabric Feel

Holy balls, y’all, this short is almost as comfortable as NOT WEARING PANTS!!! Seriously, it’s soft, seamless, never see-through fabric feels AH-MAZING, and I love it. Thus far, I have found the delightful comfiness of the Flyte Short to be quite magical in both the running gear and sleep wear arenas, and I just can’t say enough about the stellar tactile pleasantness of this piece!

A Few Flyte Short Peculiarities:

I was intrigued to give the Flyte Short a go because (a) Just days before it’s release I got to try on a sample of it at the showing of the 2014 Spring Oiselle line at the store where I work. I thought it felt like a little slice of shorts Nirvana and was reluctant to take it off. And (b) with a race calendar filled with plenty of shorter races and big aspirations of getting faster, I rationalized that now would be a good time to add some shorter, faster shorts to the race day rotation. I thought the Flyte Short’s 2″ inseam sounded short, but not obscene, so I hopped right on the bandwagon and ordered myself a pair post-haste!

WARNING: Some Flyte Short Wearers May Experience Mild Amounts of Lower Butt Area Exposure

I’ve never been one to shy away from spandex. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that I regularly embrace it as business casual attire!  (Don’t be frightened by that statement. I am a full-time fitness specialist and a part-time running store employee.) However,  as it turns out the 2″ inseam hits my slightly taller side of average frame in such a way that it ever so subtly reveals my lower butt area (LBA). We all have areas/ parts of our bodies that we do not feel super-great about, and for me, the LBA is one of those places. I totally get that the Flyte Short is intended be shorter and more competition focused than other shorts in Oiselle’s line, and I’ve got nothing but mad respect for all of you pretty young things out there who feel confident letting the I-feel-good-about-my-lower-butt-area flag fly, but for me this is definitely an area in which the Stride Short wins out over the Flyte Short. (Maybe we could throw a 4″ inseam Flyte Short into the Oiselle Spring 2014 line? Pretty please?)

I think we'll all be better off if I just keep my lower butt area to myself.

I think we’ll all be better off if I just keep my lower butt area to myself.

Unconventional Inseam to Waistband Height Ratio 

Despite my feelings of hesitation at the lack coverage of the Flyte Short’s shorter inseam, the second thing I find peculiar about this piece is its higher rise about the waist. I feel like we are living in a fashion world that is dominated by low-rise hip hugging everything, and yet the waistband of the Flyte Short oddly comes all the way up to my bellybutton. I suppose that isn’t necessarily a bad or uncomfortable thing, but for whatever reason, I just feel very aware of the higher waistband. I suppose it is possible that it may serve some sort of functional purpose (control top race shorts, perhaps?), and I have found that it can easily be addressed with a simple waist band fold-down, but at the end of the day I think this piece would just feel a little more natural to me if it had more fabric at the bottom and less at top. All things considered, it’s still a fantastically comfortable short and that’s what really matters, but I cannot deny that I am just ever so slightly perturbed and befuddled by its mild disproportionallity.

The Flyte Short is just ever so slightly oddly high-waisted in my humble opinion.

The Flyte Short is just ever so slightly oddly high-waisted in my humble opinion.

Mediocre Southern Summer Humidity Performance Rating

For all you sisters out there who are sweating it out in the south with me this summer, I think it is important to point out that the luxuriously soft fabric of the Flyte short is sadly noticeably more absorbent than the more traditionally spandexy fabric of the Stride Short. Not only have I observed that they Flyte Short seems much quicker to become completely saturated by my copious amounts of southern summer sweat, it is also dramatically more inclined than the Stride Short to stretch and expand upon reaching the point of saturation.  But there is a silver lining to the high absorbency and expansion properties of the Flyte Short: Its coverage of the lower butt area improves tremendously the more you sweat on it! Even so, I still have to give the higher southern summer humidity performance rating to the Stride Short.

In the end, the Flyte Short remains the most deliciously comfortable of all the running shorts in my vast collection, and I highly recommend it for shorter, faster races and workouts where feeling as speedy as possible is important. I also especially recommend the Flyte Short for women who feel good about their lower butt areas and live in arid climates. But if you are someone more like myself who prefers to keep your LBA to yourself and must endure heat humidity of the southern summer, then the Stride Short may be a better bet for maximizing LBA coverage and moisture management.

Let’s revisit the key differences between the Stride Short and the Flyte Short with a little side-by-side comparison photo essay re-cap…

A general rear view side-by-side comparison.

A general rear view side-by-side comparison.

Note the difference in the length of the Stride Short's 4" inseam (left) & the Flyte Short;s 2" inseam (Right) while you become better acquainted with my backside.

Note the difference in the length of the Stride Short’s 4″ inseam (left) & the Flyte Short;s 2″ inseam (Right) while you become better acquainted with my backside.

Note the lower waistband rise of the Stride Short (left) vs the all-the-way-to-the-bellybutton rise of the Flyte Short (right).

Note the lower waistband rise of the Stride Short (left) vs the all-the-way-to-the-bellybutton rise of the Flyte Short (right).

In conclusion, I think that the Stride Short is still the short that best aligns with my personal training and racing needs as well as my LBA comfort level, despite the OMG-I-never-want-to-take-these-off comfiness of the Flyte Short. But we must remember that there are many different fabulous women runners out there in many different shapes and sizes, with many different feelings about their lower butt areas. We all have unique shorts needs and preferences and that is why it is super-cool that Oiselle makes a great variety functional, flattering, fashionable shorts to accommodate a wide range of tastes and body types. I hope my little shorts story has been useful in helping you zero in on which of these fast, fabulous short options best suits you and your training and racing needs.  (And if spandex is not your thing the Roga Short and the Distance Short are great non-spandex Oiselle options!)

So cheers to Oiselle and to awesome shorts for all! I would also like to throw out an extra big shout out to my fantastic running bud Kara for helping make this post possible by graciously taking about a million close-up photos of my butt. (All in the name of consumer research, of course!) Friends like that just don’t come along everyday, y’all. And as always, many thanks to all of you for reading!

What’s your favorite race day short and why?

*Please note that all opinions expressed in this post are my own.

A Fast and Fabulous Guide to Your Most Awesome Race Photos Ever!

So you might have already guessed from reading my race reports that I am the kind of runner who sets goals based on personal improvement rather than competition. I am not, never have been, and probably never will be the runner that wins the race, although I might occasionally score a nice little age group award pint glass or a Starbucks gift card on days when no one fast shows up. I’m totally cool with this. There is no doubt in my mind that what I lack in speed I make up for in fun. All that said, there is one aspect of racing that I ALWAYS dominate…the photo shoot. That’s right friends, whether it’s a mid-race action shot or an after-party team photo, I guarantee you I’ve got  a facial expression, theme, or pose that’s  so ridiculously over-the-top enthusiastic you won’t be able to resist hitting the “like”, “share”, and/ or “retweet” button when it shows up in your newsfeed. And guess what? I have put together this handy little guide with a few tips for adding a little extra awesome to your running pics. Sit back and enjoy the ride if you will…

You’re Doing it Wrong”: Common Race Pic Faux Pas

Before we delve into to strategies for nailing a fabulous race pic every time, let’s talk about common bad race photo scenarios to be avoided at all costs…

The Narcoleptic Marathoner

The Narcoleptic Marathoner

Seriously, how do you fall asleep while you’re running?!?

The Zombie Apocalypse

The Zombie Apocalypse

The T Rex, also known to some as "Mixmaster J".

The T Rex, also known as “Mixmaster J”.

As it turns out, T Rex not only hates push ups, he also hates the final miles of a half marathon and/ or 8K.

"What do you mean this isn't a RACE WALKING marathon?!?!"

“What do you mean this isn’t a race walking marathon?!?!”

Come on folks, at least make an effort to actually be running for the race photographer.

Holy crap, this race is full of shit!

Holy crap, this race is full of shit!

Ok, so the “Holy crap” one is actually pretty unlikely unless you are, in fact, running a race involving giant piles cow dung, (and yes, that’s really what’s happening here.) But seriously y’all, how awesome is this photo?!?

And just because you've crossed the finish line doesn't necessarily mean your safe from bad the curse of the bad race pics.

And just because you’ve crossed the finish line doesn’t necessarily mean your safe from bad the curse of the bad race pics.

Yes friends, this amazing photo was captured by the official race photographer. Apparently he was so enamored with how fantastically  hilarious my teammates looked that he neglected to snap a pic of me crossing the finish line. This was all  for the best because (a) this picture is possibly the best thing I’ve ever seen. Ever.  And (b), this turned out to be one of those yak-all-over-the-finish-line type of days for me.  So be grateful that you were spared THAT unfortunate race pic!

Tips for Stepping Up Your Race Pics Game

1. Abandon All Hope of Looking Normal, Natural, and/or Pretty.

Instead I recommend the over-the-top, hyperbolically enthusiastic, this-race-is-the-best-effing-thing-that-ever-happened-to-me face, which is best served up with some sort of enthusiastic, always (mostly) HR appropriate hand gesture.  Here are some super-excited-face/ hand gesture combos that I have found to be particularly clutch for pulling off the extra-awesome race day snaps…

The Double Thumbs Up…

The Double Thumbs Up...

The Double Thumbs Up…

Far too cheesy to be unflattering.

Furthermore, the double thumbs up has the power to make you look like you are having tons of fun even after only barely surviving the most epic marathon blow up of your life.

Furthermore, the double thumbs up has the power to make you look like you are having tons of fun even after only barely surviving the most epic marathon blow up EVER.

The above photo was taken immediately after I crossed the finish line of the most heinous running experience of my life.  For reals, it was one of those days when I would frequently stop and sit in the (sketchy Eastern European) porta-johns just because that seemed like a more pleasant thing to be doing than running. At approximately mile 25 I watched myself  progressively vomit up EVERYTHING I had eaten in the last 48 hours. I can’t think of another time when  I have experienced such utter physical bodily rebellion against the act of running. But you would never in a million years guess any of that when you look at this pic because everything about my facial expression and body language says “That was  more fun than hugging 50 puppies!!!”. This picture is perhaps my greatest personal victory of that vile marathon experience. The double thumbs up is truly a powerful thing.

The Victory Arms…

The Victory Arms...

A fabulous montage of The Victory Arms in action.

Use The Victory Arms in your action shots to convince your race photo viewers that you are surely winning the race, even if you are actually still miles from the finish line.

Your Very Own Official Team Hand Gesture…

Show love for your local running club/ team with an official team hand gesture.

Show love for your local running club/ team with an official team hand gesture.

I live and run in Durham, NC, affectionately known to it’s residents as “The Bull City”. Furthermore, I work at Durham’s favorite local running store which is appropriately named Bull City Running Company. Thus, the store’s racing team’s official trademarked team hand gesture is the legendary “Bull Hands” pictured above.  It is easy to see that this official team hand gesture adds significant extra fun and badass-ness to our race photos. Because it is so intimidating (and probably also because we’re from Durham) people sometimes assume the Bull Hands represent some sort of gang affiliation. I like to believe that striking fear in the hearts of other local teams only stands to give us an extra competitive edge. So get out there and have fun coming up with your own custom group hand gesture. From time to time you my get some “WTF?!?” looks from your fellow runners, but don’t sweat those haters. You are absolutely having more fun than they are and you can rest assured that your race snaps are infinitely more exciting than theirs.

Haters gonna hate, but there's no denying that this is awesome.

Haters gonna hate, but there’s no denying that this is awesome.

2. Accessorize.

Accessories play a key role in setting you apart from the crowd.

Accessories play a key role in setting you apart from the crowd.

I think it’s pretty obvious that if you want to have awesome race pics, you are going to have to put a little effort into quite literally covering yourself with awesomeness. Accessories play a key roll in setting you apart from the crowd in your photos. My list of standard must-have high-visibility accessories includes brightly colored compression wear, Shwings (which are wings for your shoes), thematic nail polish (I have a mandatory two color minimum), my Picky Bars sweat band (Lauren Fleshman took it off of HER OWN WRIST and gave to me, y’all!), all things sparkly, and as many temporary tattoos as possible. It is important to note that there are no temporary tattoos featured in the photo of my favorite accessories above, because I used up the last 19 I had in my recent 4th of July 5K.

Remember, when it comes to temporary tattoos, spare no expense!

Remember, there is just no such thing as too many temporary tattoos!

I also try to add additional themed accessories to my race day outfit whenever possible. So far my favorites are the tutu with matching head piece and the patriotic fascinator (pictured above along with some of my 19 temporary tats). More on the importance of themes in the paragraphs to come… So don’t get lost in the crowd. Stop what you are doing right now and get yourself down to the nearest Claire’s and/or Michael’s to buy up all the sparkly, tacky goodness so you can stand out like the superstar that you are!

3. Pick  a Theme…

I have always loved a good themed event. A younger, cooler, more fun version of myself was notorious for throwing kick-ass theme parties on the regular. The debatably “more grown up” me (who uses the term “more grown up” very loosely) is considerably less inclined to throw a raging Golf Pros and Tennis Hos party, but still incorporates the element of theme into her race photos on a regular basis. (At no other point in this blog post will I refer to myself in the third person, I promise.)  So here is a little theme inspiration for you…

Don’t Be Afraid to Make Someone Else’s Theme Your Own…

Sometimes it is easiest to simply borrow someone else’s theme. This is why I generally make it a point to have my picture made with anyone dressed in an extravagant costume at a race. *Note: Do not be shy about approaching people who are thematically dressed for photo ops. They are dressed up because they WANT people to ask to have their pictures taken with them. You are only bringing them joy and validation in making such a request. Don’t think of it as approaching oddly dressed strangers. Instead, seize the opportunity to be spontaneous, make new friends, and most importantly, score some fantastic race pics.

 Here are some of the better dress-up themes I’ve encountered over the course of my illustrious career as an amazing race photo connoisseur…

'Merica!

‘Merica!

Mr. Go America here ran an entire 5K  on the 4th of July in South Carolina (not exactly a state know for its cool and comfortable 4th of July temperatures). Mad respect, dude! ‘Merica done be proud!

Pirates vs. Marathoners

Pirates vs. Marathoners

Who doesn’t love a good pirate themed marathon?!? I am on the hunt for a good ninja themed marathon to balance it out. Holla if you know of one.

Turtle Power!

Turtle Power!

Speaking of ninjas,these heroes in a half shell may have us in the creative dress department, but they didn’t stand a chance against us in the race! Next year we will be sweeping both the running part and the costume contest. Say your prayers, Ninja Turtles!

Theme Park Races…

You may also want to try doing a race in a THEME park. In my (limited) theme park racing experience it seemed that people who were not heavily accessorized and/ or dressed utterly ridiculously were in the minority. Let it be known that this was probably the thing I loved the most about theme park racing. I also found that wearing a tutu and tiara and being surrounded by a sundry Disney characters and fantastical landscapes inspired an exceptionally richly creative post-race photo shoot. Here are some of our best theme park race shots with their respective sub-themes…

"Damn, it feels good to be a gansta."

“Damn, it feels good to be a gansta.”

You know, just living the thug life in the happiest place on earth.

"Pretty Princesses" (It's a no-brainer, I know...)

“Pretty Princesses”

What can I say. When in Rome…

And my personal favorite "Impersonations of popular Olympic athlete's signature photo poses."

And my personal favorite “Impersonations of popular Olympic athlete’s signature photo poses.”

See! I TOLD YOU all the cool kids have their own signature photo shoot  move! 😉

Get Creative…

Don’t sweat it if you don’t live close to a theme park and/or ridiculously dressed race participants kind of creep you out. It is still perfectly acceptable, and in fact, encouraged to get creative and come up with your own photo themes. These themes can be as simple or as complex or as wacky and random as your heart desires! Here are some of my favorite classic race pic themes…

The Animal Kingdom:

Snapping pics like a boss with the King of the Jungle.

Snapping pics like a boss with the King of the Jungle.

It's ok to go a little buck wild every now and then.

It’s ok to go a little buck wild every now and then.

Beer:

Show a little photo love to real reason you paid money to get up early to run a long way... FREE BEER!

Show a little photo love to real reason you paid money to get up early to run a long way… FREE BEER!

Fun with Fountains:

Add a little fountain flair to your race photos!

Who doesn’t love a little fancy fountain flair?

Synchronized Jumping:

When it comes synchronized jumping pictures, we're kind of big deal!

When it comes synchronized jumping pics, we’re kind of big deal!

Generally, I am not all that into tooting my own horn, so forgive me for what I’m about to type next, but  my friends/ teammates and I pretty much wrote the book on awesome synchronized jumping pictures. Don’t hate us because our jump shots are more syched up than yours.  I think the amazing montage above and the impressive synchronized jumping multi-tasking feat documented below really speak for themselves.

We at Oiselle Team NC have perfected the synchronized jump pic...

The lovely ladies of Oiselle Team NC are especially skilled in the ways of the synchronized jump shot…

Oiselle Team NC Jump with Burger

So much so that we execute it flawlessly, even while enjoying these hearty and delicious Morningstar spicy black bean burgers!

Here’s a little insider tip from the synchronized jumping pic pros: Count up from 1 and JUMP on 3. Instruct your photographer to begin the act of snapping the picture between the numbers 2 and 3. This strategy has afforded me many successfully jumping pics using the cameras of both the iPhone 4 and 5.  Good luck, have fun, and may your jumps be ever synchronized!

My Point, and I Do Have One…

As I conclude this silly little post, you may be wondering if there is a point to it and if so, what that point might be. Well friends, I suppose it is this:  In running and life we should dream big, train hard, get out of our comfort zones, and leave it all out there whether our goal is to win the race or simply to make it to the finish line. Just make sure that it’s not all work and no play. I believe  it is of absolute paramount importance to leave a little room to have some fun, and also to celebrate the hard work, dedication, discipline and accountability that it took to get you to both the start and the finish of whatever race you may be running.  I guarantee that if you implement my proven strategies for race photo enhancement listed above you WILL experience copious amounts of pure, unadulterated kid-on-Christmas-morning-esque fun and celebration which will surely facilitate wonderful and hilarious memories as well as friendships that will last a lifetime. Furthermore, everyone in all of your various social media feeds will most likely want to be you, and that is always a nice perk. You only live once after all, so don’t waste any more time. Get out there and start hamming up those race pics and celebrating your general awesomeness as soon as possible!

Shout Out to My Peeps…

Many thanks to my terrific,  admirably self-confident and secure friends for boldly offering up their least flattering (but most awesome) race pics for use in this post. If that doesn’t epitomize fast and fabulous, well then I do know what does. And even more thanks to those very same friends for making my race photos and the experiences that they represent so truly fantastically fun! Oh, and extra special thanks to the one and only Mixmaster  J and the equally baller Jen D. for inspiring this little race photo anthology. Cheers to many more awesome race pics to come!

The Saucony Kinvara 4: Faster and More Fabulous than Ever!

The Saucony Kinvara is a shoe that has always been near and dear to me. This loyal little foot friend has traveled the world with me, helped me qualify for Boston, and seen me through countless workouts, races, and training cycles along the way. Furthermore, it was none other than a big ‘ole glowing review of the Kinvara 3 that launched The Fast and the Fabulous into existence , so it only makes sense to celebrate my illustrious 1 year blog-a-versary with a review of the new and improved, now available in stores Kinvara 4…

The many Kinvaras I have loved.

The many Kinvaras I have loved.

Seriously, I can't think of another shoe that makes me want to put on a tutu and high-five everyone I know...

Seriously, I can’t think of another shoe that makes me want to put on a tutu and high-five everyone I know…

...And also keeps me jumping for joy, even when the New York City Marathon gets cancelled.

…And also keeps me jumping for joy, even when the New York City Marathon gets cancelled.

Come on, have YOU ever been this excited to get new shoes in the mail?

Come on, have YOU ever been this excited to get new shoes in the mail?

But enough about me. I know you are all one the edge of your seats in anticipation of reading about all of the exciting tweaks and updates to your beloved Kinvara. And I will get to those, I promise, but let’s start with the familiar…

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It.

First and foremost, I think it is important to note that the Kinvara 4 is still very much the low-drop, lightweight, gateway-to-minimalism trainer that you know and love. It maintains the following Kinvara 3 specs:

  • Heel-to-Toe Offset: 4mm (Heel: 22mm, Forefoot: 18mm)
  • Weight: Men 7.7 oz, Women 6.7 oz (Sizes 9 and 8 respectively)
  • Suggested Retail Price: $100.00 (Bravo Saucony! Cheers to exciting new updates with no price increase!)

You may also find it comforting to know that the outsole of the Kinvara 4 has not changed at all. Just like the Kinvara 3, it offers hardy, protective blown rubber only where you need it (lateral heel and midfoot, and at toe-off), and those signature, uniquely Saucony, cushy triangular lugs.

The Kinvara 4 Outsole. Hello, old friend!

The Kinvara 4 Outsole. Hello, old friend!

What’s New?

Adjustments to FlexFlim Upper

So, on to the new and exciting stuff! I am pleased to report that the Kinvara 4 boasts a completely redesigned upper! It features the same seamless, heat-molded FlexFilm technology of the Kinvara 3. However, the upper of the 4 has been adjusted to provide a more breathable but still secure fit through the forefoot and a cleaner, more structured fit in the heel/ rearfoot. In other words, the Kinvara 4 has more FlexFlim material in the heel and less in the midfoot than it’s 3rd generation predecessor.

Forefoot FlexFlim Adjustments.

Forefoot FlexFlim Adjustments.

A closer look at heel/ rearfoot FlexFilm adjustments.

A closer look at heel/ rearfoot FlexFilm adjustments.

Two Things That Really Excite Me About the Kinvara 4’s New Upper…

1. The End of the Line for Pinky Toe Blow-Out:

I am super-pumped about these changes to the upper from the Kinvara 3 for two very specific reasons. Now don’t get me wrong, as a resident of notoriously humid central North Carolina, I love the sound of a shoe that is super-breathable, but the first thing that really has me physched about the upper updates to the Kinvara 4 is the possibility that it could be the end of what I like to call “The Pinky Toe Blow-Out Phenomenon”. All you hardcore Kinvara super-fans out there know what I’m talking about… you get an awesome, brightly colored pair of Kinvaras that you are super-jazzed about and you proceed to blissfully run your heart out in them until one fateful day you look down and the unthinkable has happened… that beautiful, day-glo colored mesh that you love has split open and now exposes your vulnerable little pinky toe! Gasp! I have owned and trained in 7 glorious pairs of Kinvaras from the original to the 3, and I have experienced the pinky toe split in nearly every single pair. I was hopeful that the FlexFlim upper of the 3’s would address this issue, but by the time I hit the 200 mile mark in them that pinky toe of mine was once again flapping in the breeze. Not that this flaw affects the running performance of the Kinvara at all, and it does only occur late in the shoe’s life cycle. It just kind of a bummer to look down and see that sad little gaping hole in the side of your fave kicks. I’m remaining optimistic that the new configuration of the FlexFilm on the Kinvara 4 will eradicate this little pinky toe shoe tragedy once and for all.

Here's hoping that the Kinvara 4's new upper will forever eradicate pinky toe poke-through.

Devastating pinky toe blow-out on Kinvaras of the 2nd and 3rd generation.

2. Lower Heel Collar and Improved First Impressions:

You may already know that when I’m not blogging, running, or working at my full-time job I work at a fabulous locally owned running specialty store. (Stop by to say hello and buy some freshly-released Kinvara 4’s: http://www.bullcityrunning.com/) One of the best things about working at a running store is getting to hear A LOT of feedback from the general running public about the various products we sell. (For the record, this is also sometimes the worst thing about working at a running store.) The primary customer complaint that I observed with regard to the Kinvara 3 was its high-ish, sometimes Achilles-chafing/ blister-inducing heel collar. I have yet to encounter this issue personally and remain heel blister free even after logging countless miles in 3 different pairs of  K3s. But nonetheless, it gives me great satisfaction to announce to all of you disheartened ankle chafers out there that the restructured upper of the K4 features a lower, more Achilles-friendly heel collar FTW!

Notice the daylight between  the purple line and the shoe on my right foot (the K4) vs the collision between the purple line and the K3 on my left foot. #lowerheelcollarFTW

Notice the daylight between the purple line and the shoe on my right foot (the K4) vs the collision between the purple line and the K3 on my left foot. #lowerheelcollarFTW!

And guess what… That wasn’t even the second thing about the Kinvara 4’s new upper that I am super-excited about. The thing that really makes me want to cheer about the K4 upper is the way the added FlexFilm structure through the heel makes the back of the shoe a little sturdier and therefore easier to put onto one’s foot.  As a running store sales associate the Kinvara ranks high on my list of most-frequently-pulled shoes not just because it is one of my personal favorites and I fancy myself to be a (self-proclaimed) Kinvara expert, but also because it is, in my humble opinion, one of the most sensible options on the market for the runner who is accustomed to running in a traditional trainer but seeking transition into something more minimal. Much to my shoe-selling chagrin, I often found that the extra-flexible heel area of the K3 would kind of crumple up as a customer slipped their foot in to try it on. Although I know that this is not necessarily any reflection of the running performance of the shoe, I often worried that this heel-crumpling tendency made a bit of a bad first impression on the customer. I died a little inside each time I sent a formerly-stability-shoe-wearing aspiring minimalist runner home with a zero drop/ zero cushion option just because they thought the fantastically moderately minimal Kinvara was too much work to get into. And that in a nutshell is why I rejoiced to learn that the Kinvara 4 comes complete with  a more structured heel than other Kinvaras gone by. Thus far my feet have slid right into them like a dream, and relished the snug, seamless FlexFilm hug of the new upper. I am optimistic that your feet will do the same!

Upgraded Cushioning Technology:

In addition to its fancy new upper design, the Kinvara 4 comes with a swanky PowerGrid heel cushioning technology upgrade! PowerGrid is the good stuff that Saucony uses in its premium cushion shoes such as the Triumph 10, the Cortana 2, and the Hurricane 15. Although the new PowerGrid heel insert does not necessarily warrant re-labeling the Kinvara as a premium cushion shoe (this would be contrary to it’s lightweight, efficiency-focused nature), it does give the shoe a softer, more plush feeling underfoot than the 3. Hopefully this little upgrade will offer increased durability/ mileage as well. And I for one think that paying $100 for a shoe that uses the same cushioning material found otherwise exclusively in shoes in the $130.00 to $150.00 price point is a pretty sweet bargain.

Get pumped for the K4's new PowerGrid heel cushion insert!

Get pumped for the K4’s new PowerGrid heel cushion insert!

Exciting, Fashionable Color Options, As Always!

I love the Kinvara  for various function and performance-based reasons, and the fact that I can always count on this shoe to come in myriad obnoxiously flashy colors is the icing on the proverbial Kinvara cake of awesomeness. The K4 does not disappoint in the fashion department. It is now available in 5 different color options for both men’s and women’s styles. Check out the entire brilliant Kinvara 4 color spectrum here on Saucony’s website. Also, here are a few color options I am particularly excited about…

Loving the purple/ yellow K2 throwback! My all time favorite Kinvara color combo. (That's the K2 on the left & the K4 on the right.)

Loving the purple/ yellow K2 throwback! My all time favorite Kinvara color combo. (That’s the K2 on the left & the K4 on the right.)

And I really dig how nicely these blue and orange bad boys match some of my favorite running duds. Color coordination is clutch here at The Fast and the Fabulous.

And I really dig how nicely these blue and orange bad boys match some of my favorite running duds. Color coordination is clutch here at The Fast and the Fabulous.

A Quick Recap…

In conclusion, let’s take a moment to review all of the key reasons you should drop what you are doing right now and hightail it to your favorite local running store to pick up a sexy new pair of Kinvara 4s…

  1. It’s still the versatile lightweight, low-drop training that you fell in love with 4 generations ago.
  2. Restructured FlexFlim upper yields improved breathability and snug, yet accommodating fit, plus potential elimination of pinky toe blow-out, heel rubbing, and bad first impressions.
  3. New PowerGrid heel insert for a softer, more cushiony ride.
  4. Plenty of fast and fabulous color options to choose from!

Please note that although my Kinvara 4’s were complimentary, all opinions and observations expressed in this blog post are my own. Many thanks to the great people at Saucony for the energy and effort they have put into making this awesome go-to shoe even better, and of course, for sending some sweet new kicks my way! And as always, thanks to all of you for reading, and let me know your thoughts on YOUR new Kinvara 4s!

Additional Reading:

  • Read more about the Kinvara 4 here on Saucony’s blog.
  • Check out all the juicy details of the K4 piece by piece here on Saucony’s Kinvara 4 website.

Boston Marathon Reflections

I can’t recall another day when I have experienced the wild spectrum of emotions that I did on Monday, April 15th, 2013.  I had run many a race, endured many a disappointment, and learned many a life lesson to earn a spot in the Boston Marathon, and the highs and lows of my journey from Hopkinton to the finish line quite accurately mirrored those of my BQ chasing odyssey. Those hard fought 26.2 miles are story that is worth telling and an accomplishment worth celebrating for all of us who poured so much of ourselves into making it to both the start line and the finish line of Monday’s race. It is sad and infuriating that such a great triumph of the human spirit has been overshadowed by a hideous and senseless act of violence, and it is devastating knowing that lives were lost and families torn apart at the event that was, up until the moment when disaster struck, a wonderful, iconic celebration of the sport that we love. My heart breaks for the city of Boston and those who were affected by Monday’s bombings, and my thoughts and prayers for comfort, healing, and justice continue to go out to the victims and their families.  But as I reflect on this tragedy I am comforted by the fact that one does not have to look very hard at all to spot the beautiful displays of humanity that rise up from the ashes.

As I’m sure you can imagine the words that compose the previous paragraph of this post hardly scratch the surface of the myriad of thoughts and emotions that I am sorting through as I struggle to process my Boston Marathon experience.  At the moment, I am feeling utterly physically and emotionally drained by the events of the last several days. However, as gesture of love, support, and solidarity for the tenacious people that are Boston and the magic and tradition that is the Boston Marathon, I would like to share with you the things about this experience that I am grateful for.

First and foremost, I am tremendously grateful and relieved to know that everyone I know who was in any way involved in this event – every friend, every teammate, every social media acquaintance is safe and accounted for. I am also incredibly moved by the outpouring of concern from friends, family, and co-workers for my personal safety and that of my friends. And I am thankful for friends old and new who were there with me and for me in the midst of the chaos and confusion: those who dried my tears of anger, sorrow, and relief, welcomed me into their home, and graciously shared with me the comforting cuteness of their pugs.

The comforting cuteness of pugs is a powerful thing.

The comforting cuteness of pugs is a powerful thing.

To all of you who reached out to me on Monday, thank you. I honestly cannot think of another time when I felt so much love from so many people, and I am deeply touched by this beautiful display of humanity. Furthermore, I apologize for not responding directly to all of you. I was completely overwhelmed by the volume of messages I received, but I saw and appreciated each and every post, text message, voicemail, tweet, and email.  Please continue sending your concerns, thoughts, and prayers to the people of Boston. They need them so much more than I do.

Secondly, as heartbreaking as the situation is, I find it so inspiring to watch the running community, the people of Boston, and the nation as a whole rally around this tragedy with such a spirit of love and support. As I contrast this experience with my last major marathon encounter, the cancellation of the New York City Marathon due to super-storm Sandy in November, I am grateful that the events in Boston have served to unify people and communities rather than polarize them. (I know you are thinking it, so  feel free to insert your statement about how I should give up major marathons forever here.)

I know and respect that my personal experience running the marathon was far less significant in the grand scheme of things than the events that occurred shortly after I crossed the finish line. However, for what its worth, my Boston Marathon experience was nothing short of epic and was an emotional roller coaster in and of itself before any bombs were detonated.  As anyone who has read any recent race report of mine surely already knows, my little local running community is kind of my everything. I am always so grateful to have them in my world, and there was never more truth in that statement than there was in those miles between Hopkinton and Boston. In that span of roughly three and a half hours I experienced the sheer thrill of running 25K of the freakin’ Boston Marathon in the company of some my favorite people on the planet and the demoralization of being separated from my pacer/ running BFF. Additionally, I delighted in watching a soft-spoken teammate plant a big old kiss on some lucky Wellesley girl, and I narrowly escaped utter heartbreak on Heartbreak Hill thanks to the compassion and encouragement of that same teammate and her husband. (I guess he wasn’t too upset about her smooching that Wellesley chick.) But the ultimate highlight of the entire race came at approximately mile 24.5. My pace had fallen apart after tearing through Boston College on the way down Heartbreak Hill, and I had waved my teammates off after crossing the 35K mat with them. Then low and behold, my aforementioned pacer/ running BFF pulled up beside me. We had been separated for the better part of 15 miles. She had originally gotten ahead me after making a pit stop, then missed me when she stopped to wait for me, putting me at least 7 minutes ahead of her. I am fairly certain that are few people out there who could chase a friend down at a ridiculous pace for the better part of 11 miles of the Boston Marathon, and there are probably even fewer people out there who would actually do such a thing, but Allie Bigelow did that for me on Monday. This sort of friendship does not come along everyday, and I am very grateful for it. Furthermore, I cannot imagine how much more frightening and upsetting the events the followed my marathon finish might have been had we still been separated when they occurred. Which brings me to the next element of the Boston Marathon experience that I am grateful for…

So incredibly thankful that all of these beautiful Oiselle Team birds (as well as those not pictured here) are safe and accounted for. And they are even more lovely in person than they are on Twitter.

So incredibly thankful that all of these beautiful Oiselle Team birds (as well as those not pictured here) are safe and accounted for. And they are even more lovely in person than they are on Twitter.

This is how much fun we were having at mile 14. By the way, this pic can also be found on the front page of the Wednesday, 4/17 edition of my hometown's local newspaper.

This is how much fun we were having at mile 14. By the way, this pic can also be found on the front page of the Wednesday, 4/17 edition of my hometown’s local newspaper.

Reunited and it feels so good...

Reunited and it feels so good…

As I continue to process this situation my mind keeps returning to the timing of it all. The timing of Allie catching me, the time on the clock when I finished the race vs. the times of my marathons of yesteryear and how similar those were to the time on the race clock when the explosions happened. The timing of our departure from the finish line area, the timing of the phone call I received from a friend back in North Carolina giving me the news. The fact that I was able to get through to my mother to let her know that I was safe before she heard of the bombings elsewhere, and the timing of us leaving the city just ahead of the lockdowns and road closures all seems far to complex and close-cut to be merely coincidental. Whatever higher power might have been watching over us in those moments following my finish of the Boston Marathon, I am grateful for it.

I am incredibly relieved to be back home in North Carolina and I am happy to report that my Boston Marathon race shirt, my finisher’s medal and I made a beeline directly from the airport to our favorite local watering hole for a much-needed evening of laughs, tears (most of which were mine) and beers in the company of the wonderful friends and teammates with whom I shared this unforgettable experience.

So happy and relieved to come to the company of these very special people.

So happy and relieved to come home to the company of these very special people.

However, my heart and my thoughts remain in Boston, and especially with those who lost love ones or are fighting for their lives in the wake of this unthinkable occurrence. The Boston Marathon is a magical celebration both of distance running and an iconic American city and it’s people, and I am already looking forward joining Bostonians far and wide and the global running community in reclaiming it in all its glory in 2014.  In the meantime, as I work through my own processing of and emotional recovery from Monday’s bombings, I will continue to seek out ways to help and to express my support for Boston, and I urge you to do the same.

Things You Can Do to Help:

Donate to The One Fund

Donate Blood in Your Community

Comprehensive list compiled by Runner’s World

“6 Ways You Can Help Boston” Blog Post from Saucony

Donate to the Challenged Athletes Foundation to support victims in need of prosthetics.

Additional Posts and Articles:

“Runners, The Marathon Does Matter,” Boston Globe

“Bring on the Next Boston Marathon”, The New York Times

“At My First Boston, My Heart Aches Most…” Megan Hetzel for Runner’s World

Allie’s (as in the Allie who chased me down for 15 miles of the Boston Marathon) reflections on the bombings, the marathon, and wonderful parts of our trip.

The Secret to Half Marathon PR Success: Stalking…Ummm, I Mean Teamwork…

Check it out y’all, I wrote another race report! Time to cozy up to the computer or mobile device of your choosing and read all about my latest running adventure, The Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon! It’s sure to be a real page-turner…

We’ll Start with Some Reflections and Some Strategy…

Leading up to Sunday’s race I had been doing a lot of reflecting on my run at Disney Princess and why it did not go so well. I know that a lot of reasons for my disappointing performance that day were entirely out my control… Heat and humidity, GI distress, tutu drag, etc. But still, it is disappointing to fall short of your target pace on race day, especially when you have been nailing said pace in all of your workouts. I was discussing this matter with my wise and speedy Oiselle teammates on our Saturday shake out/ race strategizing run when it dawned on me: I should approach this race as though it were workout! I like workouts and I am generally successful at them because they provide a structured plan of action… Run at this pace for this long, then take this much rest and repeat x number of times. All you have to do is follow a few simple steps and maybe endure a little discomfort, but before you know it you are done and you probably kicked that workout’s butt! This whole simple how-to thing usually works out really well for me.  And so somewhere in the mix of our profound and very important conversations about what’s trending on Twitter, our Oiselle spring line wish lists, the latest episode of Glee, and sweet vs. savory crepes for our post-run festival of carbo loading, my teammates/ running gurus Allison and Bigs and I put our heads together and my race day game plan was born.

We decided that the Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon should be a progression run, and we mapped it out to look something like this:

  • Miles 1 through 4: Keep it comfortable, let’s say 7:20 to 7:15.
  • Miles 5 through 9: Try to pick it up at little, but don’t go crazy… 7:10 to 7:05 pace.
  • Miles 10 through 13.1: Get the hell out of the comfort zone. It’s all out balls-to-the-wall from here to the finish.

I took great comfort in mapping out a game plan, and also in spending a lovely Saturday morning running, eating, hydrating, and power-shopping (all critical components of my day-before-the-race preparation plan) with my awesome teammates. I had a good feeling as we packed up and head east for Wrightsville Beach.

Just in case you were wondering, I was unable to choose a winner in the great Sweet vs. Savory Crepe debate. This left me no choice but to have one of each.

Just in case you were wondering, I was unable to choose a winner in the great Sweet vs. Savory Crepe debate. This left me no choice but to have one of each.

Upon our arrival at the beautiful North Carolina coast, we enjoyed a pleasant afternoon and evening of packet pick-up, more shopping, 5K watching/ cheering, a very carbohydrate-intensive team dinner, and of course, a serious green nail polish mani-pedi party… I mean, is it even possible to run a race on St. Patrick’s Day without green finger and toe nails?

All for one, and St. Paddy's Day manicures for all!

All for one, and St. Paddy’s Day manicures for all!

I awoke on St. Patrick’s Day morning feeling reasonably well rested, well hydrated, and ready to kick some ass. My fabulously fun teammates and I donned our race kits and all the sparkly green accessories we could find and jogged/ booty danced our way to the start line. (Apparently dance parties are the new half marathon warm up of champions.)  Before we knew it, the gun went off and so did we.

Bigs and I take a quick moment between the dance party warm up and the starting gun to model our fly new Oiselle spike bags before depositing them at bag drop.

Bigs and I take a quick moment between the dance party warm up and the starting gun to model our fly new Oiselle spike bags before depositing them at bag drop.

The Mile By Mile Breakdown…

Right away my teammate Caren (Caren is the reigning Masters North Carolina State Champion of the mile distance.  She’s kind of a big deal.) pulled up to me, and I breathed a giant sigh of relief. I was admittedly lacking confidence in my ability to execute the race plan on my own, so I was extremely grateful to have some company. We easily rolled through mile 1 in 7:11 and I decided to rein it in a little, even it meant losing Caren. She humored me with a conservative  7:17 mile for #2, but pulled away by mile 3, which I ran in a somewhat embarrassing 7:28. Fortunately, the running gods were smiling on me and I missed the slowest split of the day as it popped up the watch. Had I been aware of it, I suspect it would have psychologically derailed me for the remainder of the race. By mile 4 I was back on track with a 7:15 and it was Hammer Time. Hammer Gel time, that is. I celebrated completing phase one of the game plan with a delicious raspberry Hammer Gel.

Raspberry Hammer Gel, the race day nectar of the gods...

Raspberry Hammer Gel, the race day nectar of the gods…

Time to step it up a little… I was able to accomplish this pretty easily thanks to my first sighting of the officially Bull City Track Club cheering section (i.e. Jason Page toting the camera and the child-filled baby jogger,) plus an especially awesome NC State-themed aid station complete with a pack’s worth of cardboard cut-out wolves and guy with a sign that read “FREE HIGH FIVES”. (I don’t really have any special attachment to NC State University, but who doesn’t love a good cardboard wolf pack?) I cashed in my free high-five as my watch chirped a big  7:05 for mile 5, and to my great joy I caught a glimpse of Caren maybe a quarter of mile ahead of me!  I immediately adjusted my game plan to include reeling her in by mile 10 so we could work together for the balls-out portion of the race.

I kept my sights set on Caren for miles 6 and 7, which were 7:09 and 7:10 respectively. Although I did not seem to be gaining any ground on her, she didn’t seem to be putting any distance on me either, and this kept my optimism for catching her alive.

At mile 8 I came across some nice, chatty marathoners and clicked off a 7:04 thanks to their pleasant company. The power of a little friendly distraction never ceases to amaze me.

But wait, where is Caren?! We’re getting dangerously close the “Beast Mode On” phase of the race plan, and I haven’t caught her yet! Balls! Time to focus. I downed Hammer Gel #2, the espresso flavor this time for good measure. At this point I realized that all I really needed to do now was run 4 miles at 7:00 min pace. This was precisely the tempo workout I ran last week and it went particularly well for me.  Just the confidence boost I needed. That, and oh yeah, THERE’S CAREN and I am starting to close the gap!

I very nearly yelled as loud as I could “HEY CAREN, WAIT FOR ME!!!”, but then it occurred to me that this was a totally selfish/ ridiculous thing to do and that Caren probably wasn’t especially interested in throwing her own ballin’ half marathon time out the window in the name of getting me through the last 3 miles of the race. As I rolled through mile 9 in 7:01 and mile 10 at 6:58 I rejoiced at the realization that I was totally rocking the execution of the game plan and feeling strong. It also crossed my mind that I had cleared the mile marker that had been my digestive system’s demise in my last half marathon without one fleeting sign of GI distress.  Then I prayed that I had not jinxed myself by patting  myself on the back for making it this far without digestive issues. Thankfully, my prayers were answered.

By mile 11 I was definitely gaining ground on Caren. “Perfect!” I thought to myself. “Since Caren is the Master’s Mile Champion of North Carolina I am so gonna draft off of her for a super-speedy final mile.” Near the end of mile 11 I encountered the Official BCTC Cheering Section again. I had to chuckled to myself as Jason yelled at me “ELLEN, THERE’S CAREN! GO GET HER!!!” Yeah, no kidding dude.  I have been stalking her as “Every Breath You Take” by The Police plays in my head the entire race! And then with the help of a 2nd round of free high fives from the cardboard wolf pack aid station, something magical happened. Just like that, I CAUGHT CAREN! This time  I actually did yell her name to make my presence known, and as  Mile 11 popped at 6:51 we I kicked it into high gear for a big, glorious BCTC teamwork finish. Then somewhere in my shockingly speedy 6:29 (at least by my standards) mile 12 I lost Caren again. Except this time she was behind me.

As I charged into the final mile that bad feeling of impending vomit set in.  I channeled the wise and profound final-kick mantra of the amazing Bigs , “Don’t shoot your wad. Don’t lose your lunch.” (She really said this to me repeatedly last year in the last 800m or so of the Napa Valley Marathon as she paced me to a big ol’ Boston Qualifier.) It got me to the finish line barf-free that day in Napa, and it did the same  for me on Sunday in the home stretch at Wrightsville Beach.

Speaking of Bigs, where were all the BCTC fasties who had surely finished way ahead of me and why weren’t they out here cheering for me? I had reached the point where I could really use some encouraging words and familiar faces in my world. I breathed a tremendous sigh of relief as mile 13 flashed up at 6:35 and not any slower.  Then I graciously  turned the final corner for the remaining  .1 portion of the race to the tune of the very enthusiastic cheers of Bigs and our teammate Rachel.

I crossed the finish line with 1:32:59 on the watch and the lovely girl who very barely out-kicked me and I celebrated our matching sequined shamrock hair clips and our nearly matching new half marathon PRs (the first time breaking 1:35 for both of us) with some serious high-fiving. The celebrations continued as I learned that the aforementioned  BCTC fasties, Rachel, Jen, and Bigs had swept the podium for the women’s half marathon and that every single runner in our group had run a phatty new 13.1 PR.

BCTC fasties Rachel, Jen, and Bigs sweep the podium. (Podium not pictured.)

BCTC fasties Rachel, Jen, and Bigs sweep the podium! (Podium not pictured.)

The whole gang sporting our shiny new half marathon PRs!

The whole gang sporting our shiny new half marathon PRs!

The rest of the day was pretty much a non-stop fun-fest complete with finish line beers,  the best post-race DJ dance party I have ever experienced, a beach trip, and Irish Car Bombs for lunch.

Free Beer: The real reason we paid money to run 13.1 miles.

Free Beer: The real reason we paid money to run 13.1 miles.

In addition to winning the race, Rachel (left) DOMINATED the after DJ Dance Party. Rachel is my running AND my dance party hero.

In addition to winning the race, Rachel (left) DOMINATED the  DJ Dance Party afterwards. Rachel is my running AND my dance party hero.

It just wouldn't be a trip to the beach with out the obligatory synchronized jumping pic. Also, no small children were harmed in the taking of this phot0.

It just wouldn’t be a trip to the beach with out the obligatory synchronized jumping pic. Also, no small children were harmed in the taking of this photo.

Irish Car Bombs, because it's St. Patrick's Day and we all just ran half marathon PRs. As if we really needed a reason...

Irish Car Bombs, because it’s St. Patrick’s Day and we all just ran half marathon PRs. As if we really needed a reason…

A Few Words of Gratitude, Oscars Acceptance Speech Style…

First and foremost, I would like to thank Caren.  Caren, know that I mean this in the most sincere and non-creepy way possible when I say that I could not have been more grateful to get to watch your backside for the majority of the race if you had been Matthew McConaghey wearing chaps. Seriously though, having you there gave me focus I needed to stick to the game plan and saved me from being sidetracked by my race day nemesis; self-doubt and negative inner dialogue. Cheers to you, your tremendous new 1/2 Marathon PR, and the loss of your Irish Car Bomb virginity!

The Wrightsville Beach 13.1 experience was a huge testament to the power of teamwork in my opinion. I really believe that being a part of something bigger than myself and just knowing my friends/ teammates are out there running the same course and working towards the same goal improves my running, or at least my outlook on racing. I feel like I say this a lot, but can really never say it enough, so here I go again… Thank you to all of you wonderful people out there who race and train with me on a regular basis. Your energy, humor, and all around aweosomeness are the things that get my out of bed and running nearly every morning. All of that great stuff I just mentioned, plus the motivation, training expertise, and accountability y’all supply me with have made a better runner and a better person, and I am oh-so-grateful for that. Sometimes I wonder if I would run at all without you people. I also really appreciate how all of you are still friends with me even though I am nearly always late to our scheduled runs, even when I am the one who insists on an obscenely early start time. Y’all are the best. Thank you.

So very grateful for awesome teammates like Bigs, who is pretty much the most awesome running BFF a gal could hope for!

So very grateful for awesome teammates like Bigs, who is pretty much the most awesome running BFF a gal could hope for!

I would also like to give a big shout to the nice people who put on this lovely event. I found it to be among the most congenial courses I’ve run  recently, and after a trying training cycle of long runs in Umstead State Park,  its flatness felt particularly luxurious. To all of you out there who are on the lookout for a fast, fun, well-organized race, I highly recommend the Qunitiles Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon. Furthermore,  Kudos to the Official Bull City Track Club Cheering Section, and to Bull City Running Co. for giving me the weekend off work so I could take this little get-away.  And extra-special thanks to you, NCSU Alumni Association of the Greater Wrightsville Beach area. I doubt this new half marathon PR would have been possible without your cardboard wolf pack and your free high fives.

Oh, and I almost forgot, thanks to Shwings, which are wings for your shoes. OMG Shwings, where have you been all my life? So glad I finally found you.

This half marathon PR was brought to you by Shwings, which are wings for your shoes.

This half marathon PR was brought to you by Shwings, which are wings for your shoes.

And last, but not least, thanks to all of you for reading, and may you all be lucky enough to have a spring racing experience as fast and fabulous as mine at Wrightsville Beach! Next stop, Boston!

Knuckle Lights: Not as Ridiculous as You Might Think

This December I was fortunate enough to attend The Running Event in Austin, TX. For those of you who don’t know, this is giant, fantastic trade show featuring running specialty retailers and all of their latest, greatest products from near and far. I was on a mission to find exciting new cutting edge products for the store where I work. I was given a list of several different things to scope out and at the top of it was Knuckle Lights… “Knuckle Lights, sounds like a product I might get made fun of for using,” I thought to myself. But I procured my trial set of Knuckle Lights nonetheless, and upon my return home I set out to try them.

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Knuckle Lights: Check out the specs for yourself!

Knuckle Lights are precisely what you think they are. They are essentially headlamps, but worn, you guessed it, on the knuckles. The set of two lights offers 45 lumens across 4 LED’s per hand, providing what the Knuckles Lights guy at The Running Event described as “an even, bounce-free light.” Knuckle Lights also claim on their packaging that they illuminate a larger area than their single light source headlamp competitors. So, I dragged myself out of bed at o’dark-thirty to see if the Knuckle Lights could, in fact, oust my trusty, albeit sometimes bouncy, tunnel-vision-inducing headlamp as my preferred means of illumination for running in the dark.

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Taking the Knuckle Lights out on their inaugural run… They’re looking pretty baller so far!

Knuckle Lights Skepticism and Benefits:

Knuckle Lights proclaim themselves to be “fully adjustable”, but I was skeptical that their rudimentary silicon strap adjustment system  would adjust to a size small enough to stay put on my debatably smaller than average hands. I’ve yet to try the Knuckle Lights without gloves, as I have only used them in cold weather thus far, but as it turns out, I’ve had zero problems with the lights moving or slipping on my gloved hands. I was also a little worried that I might decide that I hate holding the lights and want to ditch them early in the run, but even after a hardy 8 miles I found them to be pretty light-weight and non-invasive. Furthermore, I did really appreciate how the Knuckle Lights illuminated objects in my periphery as well as what was directly in front of me, and I think it is safe to say that a light on each hand does offer a more functional and less frightening range of light distribution than a single-beam headlamp. Another nice thing about Knuckle Lights is the fact that there are 2 of them, which makes them perfect for sharing with friends who run at different paces. My Knuckle Lights  maiden voyage was a speed workout with a faster friend. When it was time for her to speed up and leave me behind, it was pretty cool to split up the light set so both of our runs were a little brighter.

Thanks to Knuckle Lights my speedy friend Bigs and I can both enjoy a well-lit workout, even as I eat her dust!

Thanks to Knuckle Lights my speedy friend Bigs and I can both enjoy a well-lit workout, even as I eat her dust!

The Darker Side of Knuckle Lights:

Some of the downsides of Knuckle Lights include possible temporary blindness should you accidentally shine them directly in your eyes when you lift your arm to look at your watch. Also, those AAA batteries won’t last forever, and they may need replacing sooner rather than later if your Knuckle Lights (unbeknownst to you) stay turned on all day inside your gym bag.  And then there is always this risk of ridicule from your running friends and running store co-workers because you are using a product called Knuckle Lights… But all in all, I would say that the positives out-weigh the negatives, and that Knuckle Lights are pretty handy little invention as well as a nice headlamp alternative.

The gym bag accidental leave-on, a serious Knuckle Lights no-no.

The gym bag accidental leave-on, a serious Knuckle Lights no-no.

Knuckle Lights Go Head-to-Head with Headlamps:

I’ve put together this handy headlamp vs. Knuckle Lights comparison for your convenience…

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It’s a Knuckle Lights vs Headlamps Showdown!

Price: $39.99 for Knuckle Lights vs. $39.95 for the Petzel Tikka Plus 2 headlamp

Light Output: 4 white LEDs per light for a total of 90 lumens for Knuckle Lights vs. 1 white LED with max output of 70 lumens, plus red LED source for the Tikka Plus 2.

Modes: 3 Modes for Knuckle Lights: Economic, Maximum, and Strobe vs. 5 Modes for Tikka Plus 2: Economic, Maximum, and Strobe, plus Max and Strobe for red light source.

Power Source: 4 AAA batteries (2 per light) for Knuckle Lights vs. 3 AAA batteries for Tikka Plus 2.

All things considered, I think we’re splitting hairs when it comes to picking a winner specs and price wise. It’s true that the headlamps offers a few more options in terms of modes, and I have found the red LED mode to be particularly useful for not blinding friends when sitting around the campfire or chilling out in the van while waiting for my late-night leg of  some overnight relay race. However, I can’t think of a time that I have actually utilized the red mode for running purposes. You also save 1 AAA battery if you go the headlamp route, but you get 20 extra lumens of light with Knuckle Lights. That’s a wash if you ask me.

Ultimately, I think the great headlamp vs. knuckle lights debate comes down to personal preference. If you find your headlamp to be nauseatingly bouncy and limiting in the way of peripheral  vision, then by all means, give Knuckle Lights a go. I think you’ll really like them! On the other hand, if handheld water bottles and other hand-centric running accessories kind of creep you out, then stick with the classic headlamp.

In any event, I think that Knuckle Lights are an entirely legitimate and practical headlamp alternative for low-light running, and that makes them fast and fabulous! Do YOU have any strong feelings regarding the Knuckle Lights vs headlamps debate???

Learn more about Knuckle Lights and purchase them here: http://www.knucklelights.com

The Disney Princess Half Marathon: Not Very Fast, but Still Mostly Fabulous

The local running club that I am a part of asks that we write race reports for all of our races. This was a request that I routinely brushed off until recently. But after a particularly fabulous racing experience as a part of an especially great team, I decided I would jot down a few lines and send it out to the list serve, mostly as a tribute the awesomeness of my teammates, and to make everyone else jealous of how much fun we had together. “Hmmm”… I thought to myself, “this race report thing is kind of fun and it feels an awful lot like blogging, something I am striving to more of in 2013 anyway.” So I figured why not combine the two and start posting race reports on the blog…  After all, all the cool kids are doing it. I still want The Fast and the Fabulous to be more about product reviews than my personal running experiences, but just for shits and giggles (both of which are mentioned in the report you are about to read) here’s a little recap of my most recent running adventure, the Disney Princess Half Marathon…

It All Started with a Pre-Dawn Dance Party:

My 32nd birthday started off with a new waking up early PR of 3 am. On birthdays gone by I might have stayed up until this hour, but setting the alarm for this time was a first for me. I was hopeful that today would be a day that I would also set a half marathon PR, but I took one look at the outdoor temperature and humidity level (72 degrees and 90%, respectively), and was immediately consumed with feelings of doubt. I tried my best to stay optimistic as I donned my tutu and tiara and headed off to the happiest place on earth for the race. We were required to be in our corrals by 5 am for the 5:35 am race start, and as we made the long trek across the park to the starting area I realized this was going to throw a serious wrench into my warm up plan. Upon arriving at my corral I debated in my head how important it really was to warm up for a half marathon and calculated the risks of leaving the corral to do it. I didn’t see anyone else warming up and in the end I settled for some half-ass drills, the Cha-Cha Slide, Gangnam Style, and the YMCA dance in lieu of my original warm-up plan of 1 to 2 easy miles. This did nothing to bolster the feelings doubt I was experiencing on account of the North Carolina/ Florida climate difference. Furthermore, my little dance party warm-up left me feeling downright hungry, which brought on additional feelings of doubt that my modest breakfast of a mini Luna bar and a banana might be inadequate for getting me through 13.1 miles without bonking. I tried to ease my troubled mind by consuming one of my two raspberry Hammer Gels about 10 minutes prior to gun time.

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That’s right friends, Bigs and I are in full-on party mode and it isn’t even 5 am yet!

The Good…

Eventually, after numerous line dance numbers, interviews with a sundry Disney characters, and some pep-rally style crowd involvement cheers the fireworks went off and fairy dust rained from the sky (no seriously, there was fairy dust) and the race began. My first order of business was to get the hell out of the starting line mayhem and settle into a decent pace. I was really hoping to keep it around 7:10 today, but I tried not to be too hard on myself when I came up with 7:25 for mile 1, and 7:20 for mile 2. After all, I had not properly warmed up…

By mile 4 I had managed to settle into a 7:15ish pace, which felt like work, but also seemed manageable. At this point I decided that my new plan was to hold on to 7:15 until mile 10 and then see if I could push the final 5K.

The Fabulous…

Suddenly, at approximately mile 6 after winding through mostly desolate access roads and parking lots, the course turned onto The Magic Kingdom’s Main Street USA which was packed with cheering crowds, and complete with a close up view of Cinderella’s Castle. Caught up in the magic of the moment, I loudly verbally expressed the joy I felt at the sight of all of this by quoting a line from the chorus of the popular Macklemore song “Thrift Shop”. The particular line that I exclaimed contains adult language so I will refrain from mentioning it in this post, as I know my mother will be reading it. We were then diverted through the Frontier Land portion of the Magic Kingdom before looping back for the climax of the Disney Princess Half Marathon experience: Running through the castle. When I signed up for this race, I remember thinking to myself rather nonchalantly “Oh cool, you get to run through Cinderella’s Castle. Whateves.” But I swear to you as I ran through that castle my inner child (which makes up a significant portion of the core of my being) had an orgasm. My apologies for not putting that more delicately, especially to you, Mom.  It was just really that fantastically amazing.

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This is f@#$ing awesome!

The Ugly…

Unfortunately, the castle marked the end of the awesome part of my run and I quickly crashed from my Magic Kingdom high. As I came through mile 7 I choked down gel number two, which was a bit of a struggle made even more unpleasant by an ultra-concentrated dose of Powerade that I snagged at an aid station. At mile 8 I officially began to experience symptoms of GI distress, including but not limited to slowing down. Sigh. I thought back to my spontaneous episode of swearing on Main Street USA and wondered if this was some sort of karmic punishment for saying the f-word in The Magic Kingdom on Sunday. I prayed for forgiveness and digestive cooperation as I pressed on, willing myself not to walk. Mile 9 was about 15 seconds slower than mile 8 and mile 10 was an additional 15 seconds slower than mile 9. Rats. So much for picking it up at mile 10.

There were thousands of porta-johns on this race course. Thousands. And yet at the moment when I absolutely had to have one (circa mile 10.5) there were none to be found. I soon as I was out of sight of the army man from Toy Story who was shouting out orders of encouragement on the side of the road, I dove for the bushes in what I am sure was a most un-princess-like fashion. I will spare you the rest of the details of this part of the story.

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So many here, yet you can never find one when you need one.

Getting started again after that little pit stop was perhaps the most miserable thing I’ve done all year and I was actually surprised and relieved when my split for mile 11 popped up as 7:43, seeing as it felt like every bit of  12:43.

Then somehow, by the grace of God I managed to slog out a 7:20 for mile 12, and despite a ridiculous series of twists and turns through Epcot, a 7:06 for  lucky number 13. “WHERE THE F IS THE EFFING FINISH LINE?!?!?” was the mantra the resounded in my head as that last mile split flashed up on my watch. When I finally found it, Praise The Lord, the Garmin read 13.26 miles and 1:37:33. Unfortunately, they don’t stop the clock for bathroom breaks, so my official finishing time was 1:38:51, a good 4 mins slower than my goal time. However, all feelings of disappointment quickly vanished when I was reunited with Allie, Carter, and Colleen for the most important part of race day… The photo shoot, featuring shots inspired by great Olympic athletes such as Usain Bolt, Mo Farrah, and Ryan Lochte. Here are a few snaps for your viewing enjoyment…

Usain Bolt

It all started with a little Usain Bolt….

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…which was naturally followed by the MoBot…

A little medal-biting love for Ryan Lochte...

A little medal-biting love for Ryan Lochte…

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Then things took a turn towards gangstaville with the brushing off of the shoulders…

And you know gotta tho up some signs cuz we'z from D-Town... You get the idea. The photo shoot was really fun.

And you know we gotta tho up some signs cuz we’z from D-Town… You get the idea. The photo shoot was really fun.

Despite a less than stellar performance that can most likely be attributed to high levels of humidity and self-doubt, the fun and fabulous aspects of the Disney Princess experience and the wonderful people I got to share it with outweighed all the running unpleasantries. Big thanks and much love to Allie, Carter, and Colleen for a lovely birthday weekend get away, and to my friend Cindy who made me the most awesome running tutu of all time especially for this race. Also, extra-special congratulations to Carter who rocked her very first half marathon!  Looking forward to some sweet 13.1 redemption and more great photo shoot fun in a few weeks at Wrightsville Beach!

Lessons Learned from the Marathons I Ran and Did Not Run in 2012

So I know I’m a little late to the obligatory reflecting-on-the-events-of-2012 blog post party, but if you are lucky enough to know me personally I doubt this comes as a surprise. Being fashionably late is a policy of mine. All tardiness aside, 2012 has been a pretty amazeballs year for me, as least as far as running goes. Highlights include (finally) qualifying for Boston,  joining the Oiselle Team Ambassador flock, an epic ultra-relay experience, the New York City Marathon that wasn’t, watching my average pace creep down from numbers that start mostly with 8’s to numbers that start mostly with 7’s, and countless hilarious stories and one-liners courtesy of my favorite running BFFs. All of it has been great really, but without further ado I would like to utilize this post to reflect on the lessons that running has taught me in 2012. I can pretty much boil it all down to 3 key take home points, but as you might have already guessed, they are a little long winded so hang on to your hat. Here we go…

Lesson #1: Tapering Works!

As a creature of perpetual motion, I’ve  never been a fan of tapering, resting, days off, etc. My natural inclination is to keep myself as busy as possible all the time. I suspect this inclination is driven by a deep-seeded innate fear that if I stop for even a moment I may never start back again, thus resigning myself to a life of depression, boredom, and/or fatness. I tend to equate slowing down with missing out on living life to the fullest. I realize that probably makes me a little crazy. It also makes resting up for race day the most daunting part of training for me, and therefore I tend to shortchange myself when taper-time rolls around. However, after 2 mostly taper-less failed Boston qualifying attempts in 2011, I gave in and added “Try Tapering” to my list of 2012 New Year’s Resolutions.

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See… I resolved to try tapering!

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I’ve condensed my 11-minute -marathon -PR- yielding tapering plan into 5 key components for your convenience…

1. Take as Much Time Off Work Prior to your Race as Possible! I recommend taking an entire week off if you can swing it. This part is especially critical if your job involves teaching 8 to 10 group exercise classes per week, or is otherwise physically demanding. Although I began gradually scaling back my running mileage as early as 3 weeks prior to the race, having most of the week off leading up to the marathon made it infinitely easier for me to truly rest both my body and mind in preparation for the big day. So start saving up those vacation days now friends. Your gonna need them come marathon season!

2. Sleep A LOT and Use Jet Lag to Your Advantage: Speaking of resting both mind and body, the 2nd component of my 5 step tapering program is sleep. If you are tapering for a marathon or long-distance race of another sort, please do not hesitate to take lots of naps, go to bed early, and sleep late. This will work out particularly well for you if (a) you embrace component 1 of the tapering program, and (b) you live on the east coast but your goal race is on the west coast. This way you will be inclined to go to bed early anyway and when morning rolls around you will most likely wake up pretty early without even noticing, thanks to that handy 3 hour time difference. *Note: Although I found the time zone change to be advantageous when traveling west across the Continental US, it proved to be very much the opposite for trans-Atlantic European Marathoning. International races are fabulous, but make sure that you allow yourself adequate time to adapt to the time change, and for the love of all that is good, sleep on the plane trip there!

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Remember, naps are your friend!

3. Stuff Your Face with Delicious Food: You are going to need plenty of quality fuel to keep you going all the way to the finish line, so during your final taper week do not under estimate the importance of eating. A lot. Race week food choices that seemed to work well for me included  crepes, gelato, fancy gourmet BLT’s, and a sundry fare from various Italian and Farm-to-Table restaurants in the Bay Area. Use your own good judgement and intimate knowledge of your unique digestive system and dietary preferences to make food choices that are appropriate for you a week out from your race. Here are a few examples of my preferred tapering meals…

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Delicious Crepes a la Mode

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Best damn fancy BLT I’ve ever eaten!

4. Fill Your Week Leading Up to the Race with Fun and Relaxing Activities: Stay relaxed and focused as the big day approaches by participating in only fun, light-hearted, low-key endeavors. I especially recommend copious amounts of playing with babies (but not necessarily babysitting) and/or puppies, or otherwise surrounding yourself with cuteness. Shopping is also a good idea, particularly if you have access to multiple Sports Basements, Trader Joes’ and Whole Foods stores.

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Keep race week light-hearted and fun by hugging as many puppies as possible!

5. Hydrate Like There’s No Tomorrow! My spring marathon hydration strategy was based on the 2:1 ratio. 2 bottles of water for every 1 Peet’s latte consumed, that is. In the days leading up to my race I was averaging 2 to 3 Peet’s lattes per day. This means that my daily water consumption total came in at around 4 to 6 32 oz Nalgene bottles per day, in addition to an inordinate amount of peeing. I also fortified my water with those fun little flavored fizzy electrolyte tabs whenever possible. (Seriously, I think I went through an entire tube of that stuff in the final 36 hours before my race!) Peach Tea flavored Gu Brew was my pre-marathon electrolyte-loading product of choice, but I think Nunn and Hammer Fizz are equally tasty and affective in keeping your electrolyte levels balanced and working in your favor on race day.

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Drink two of these…

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…for every one of these.

As it turns out, these 5 things, plus a little help from my friends (which I will be speaking more about shortly) were all I needed to ditch my 2011 marathon fun, and land the BQ I was looking for. I am confident that you can benefit from them as well!

Lesson #2: Qualifying for Boston… It Takes a Village

My 2011 running goals were pretty cut and dry: (1) Qualify for Boston (2) Procure a spot in the 2012 Boston Marathon. As you already know from reading the tapering segment of this post, I did not achieve any of my 2011 running goals. I could blame my 2011 marathon shortcomings on a myriad of things that run the gambit from international jet lag to unexpected weather conditions to boyfriend drama to pre-race stomach flu. And I have no doubt that all of these things contributed to my various race day demises on some level. However, I think the biggest Boston Qualifying obstacles for me in 2011 were self-doubt and an unhealthy obsession with my Garmin.

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My 2011 marathon nemesis.

Fortunately for me, my awesome running posse rallied around me an formulated a brilliant plan to distract me from my Garmin and my destructive inner monologue. This plan was successful in landing me a fairly effortless BQ in early 2012. So, if you have patiently accompanied me on nearly every one of my long runs even though you are capable of run significantly faster than me… If you have run every step of my goal marathon with me wearing my Garmin all the while because I just couldn’t bear the thought of not having a Garmin Connect record of my race… If you ran the 4 most trying  of the race with me (miles 18 to 22) while holding my arm warmers and my water bottle AND updating all my various social media streams… If you graciously and supportively listened to me bitch incessantly about a particularly frustrating  work/ life week on any given run… If you came back for me and said nice and encouraging things to me after dropping me on a long run because I was painfully  slow and hungover and probably also making noises that embarrassed you… If you talked me out of moments of self-doubt with wildly comical swearing or tales of hilarity about jazz hands… or if you literally caught me when I fell and pressed the stop button on my watch before I hit the ground… From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!!! It has taken hard work, consistent training, and venturing outside of my comfort zone to reach my running goals in 2012, but more important and significant than that it has taken accountability, laughter, motivation, and encouragement that only the most fabulous of running friends can provide. Cheers to the wonderful people who inspire me to drag myself out of bed  to run on more days than not, and to many more laughs, bloopers, memories, and PRs to  come in 2013!

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Allie Bigelow pacing me to Napa Valley Marathon success!

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These are the people I cannot wait to wake up and go running with. Thanks for a fast and fabulous 2012, ladies!

Lesson #3: It’s Not the End of the World if the Marathon That You Raised a Bunch of Money and Trained Your Ass Off for Gets Cancelled

That’s right friends, I was supposed to run the 2012 New York City Marathon. I raised over $5000 for charity and trained my happy little butt off for it! I watched my weekly mileage soar to new heights while my average pace dropped significantly. With all the good will and big miles I’d been logging, I DESERVED a fatty new marathon PR and I couldn’t wait to go out and get one on behalf of all the special people in my life who are connected to my charity of choice as well as all the donors out there who contributed  money not just to fund cancer programming, but also so I could run the race.

After Super-Storm Sandy pummeled the northeast but Mayor Bloomberg and NYRR announced that the race would still go on, my teammates and I wasted countless hours of our lives on hold with Jet Blue sorting out flight cancellations and itineraries. (By the way, Jet Blue’s customer service is AMAZING and you should make sure to fly with them every chance you get.) I was super stressed out and exhausted when I arrived in NYC early on the Friday morning prior to what would have been race-day Sunday. Despite my fatigue I substituted a few extra lattes for a nap (after all, lattes were a key part of my hydration strategy for my last marathon) and we pressed on to the expo for packet pick up. Although I never really witnessed any significant storm damage, the tension in the city and at the expo was palpable. Nevertheless, I collected my bib and t-shirt and chatted it up with Kara Goucher (you know, usual race expo stuff) as I struggled to maintain a positive frame of mind for the upcoming race.

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Never mind that we look like crap and haven’t slept in days. We’re hanging out with Kara Goucher!

Although no one I encountered on my NYC trip was anything other than polite and sympathetic towards me and marathoners in general, it was quite unsettling to read the mounting number of angry, negative comments that were monopolizing my various social media news feeds. The more I read, the more my stress level escalated and the more conflicted I felt about the race and my participation in it. It was genuinely shocking to me that the general public would label marathoners as self-centered, insensitive, frivolous, and so on… I mean what the hell?!? I raised a shit-ton of money for a noble cause to get here for goodness sake! And it most certainly was not my intention in coming to New York for the marathon to participate in some sort of conspiracy theory to deny hurricane victims resources and supplies that they desperately needed. Not even close! In fact, I felt quite compelled to help in whatever small ways I could. In addition to feeling drained by the conflict surrounding the race, I was also not feeling especially pumped at the thought of running a marathon with the threat of being heckled and having garbage thrown at me. But I had made a commitment to a lot of people who had donated a lot of money on my behalf to run the New York City Marathon, and since the race was on, I figured I had better do it…

And then just like that the race was cancelled, instantly shattering my ideallistic visions of a hard-earned grandiose NYC Marathon experience. And there was not one thing I could do about it. But do you know what? Nothing dramatic happened. I did not even so much as have a meltdown. I did however, have a lot of wine and margaritas and a pretty fun New York City weekend to boot! Just look at all this cool stuff I did…

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Like this awesome Oiselle Team Central Park photo shoot…

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… And contributing to Sandy relief efforts…

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And a magically moving non-marathon Sunday run in Central Park… (So cool that I’m not even pissed that multiple people have posted this pic of me ugly-crying on the internet!)

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…And pretend-winning the non-marathon…

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…And impersonating statues at The Met.

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…And being on The Today Show… You get the idea.

In the end, I think the right decision  prevailed and canceling the race was the appropriate thing to do, both out of respect for those devastated by the hurricane and in the best interest of  the runners’ safety. Furthermore, I am extremely grateful for the humbling perspective that I gained from this experience. It was a wonderful and needed reminder that raising money for charity and running marathons are awesome, but at the end of the day, they are only small parts of what really matters in life.  In retrospect, I think it is pretty safe to say that if the worst thing that happens to you all year is something you were really looking forward to getting cancelled for reasons that you had no control over then you can probably still call it a pretty frickin’ good year. I also cannot express enough gratitude to the fantastically positive and level headed group of people who I was lucky enough to share this adventure with. They made  it especially easy to make the best of that wild ride of a weekend!

And those are the most significant lessons that I have learned from running 2012 in a nutshell. Here’s hoping that your year of running has been every bit as fun, educational, and adventure-filled as mine has, and that 2013 holds many exciting new opportunities for all of us!