The Moderately-Paced and the Mediocre: 2014 in Review.

Oh, hello there, Fast and Fabulous readers! Long time, no blog. My apologies for the extended hiatus. I’ve really missed you, and the creative outlet of blogging a lot, but the sad truth is that since we last spoke I just haven’t been feeling all that fast or fabulous, hence the title of this post. What I have been feeling is stressed, overwhelmed, inadequate, and probably legitimately clinically depressed. All of these feelings have been exhausting and soul sucking and they have left me with little to no bandwidth for things like blogging. Obviously, I hope to make things better and brighter for 2015, so if you are interested, allow me to share with you my 2014 highs and lows, and lessons learned, along with my plan for getting my shit together in the new year. Please know as you read this that this post is just for me. It’s my little way of processing the year, freeing up some brain space by expelling a few nagging thoughts from my head, and solidifying my commitment to my goals for the year ahead by (digitally) writing them down and sharing them publicly. Be advised that there is an excellent chance that you will find this post to be cliché, annoying, overly emotional, whiny even, and that’s ok. It is, in fact, going to be all of those things. Just remember that it’s not about you.  I am also hopeful in writing this that someone out there somewhere might find it relateable and take comfort in knowing that these things, and these mediocre years happen to the best of us.

Having said all that, I guess we might as well start with the good stuff. Here goes…

Running Highlights…

Boston: Possibly the Most Magical Thing I’ve Ever Done. Ever.

I have this theory that the reason the rest of my 2014 seemed so woefully un-fabulous is that I used up every single ounce of my annual allotment of magic on a surreally spectacular Boston Marathon experience. Although I can’t say that every detail of the day/ weekend was perfect, it was truly one of those rare and wonderful things in life that was every bit as fulfilling,  special, and fun as I had hoped and dreamed it would be. I’ve already blogged several thousand words about it so I will spare you any additional synopsis, but just in case you missed it, you can re-live it in all it’s 2 part blog post glory by clicking here, and then here. Or if the idea reading/ re-reading my gushy, puppy and rainbow-filled Boston Marathon race report sounds nauseating to you, feel free to skip the links and just enjoy this nice photo montage I made to commemorate it…

Just a few little pieces of Boston Marathon magic for your viewing enjoyment.

Just a few little pieces of Boston Marathon magic for your viewing enjoyment.

Not Doing the New York City Marathon. (Again.)

Ok, so maybe this wasn’t exactly what I would call a highlight, but I believe it was a very responsible, listen-to-my-gut, act-in-my-own-best-interest, grown up decision and I am proud of myself for making it. Don’t get me wrong, I was an over-dramatic, often-weepy, grumpy and/ or whiny little bitch nearly every step of the way towards 86-ing New York, but eventually reason prevailed, and I even managed to regroup myself enough to pull off a decent “B” “A” race when it was all said and done.

Yes friends, this November marked my second time signing up for, but not doing the New York City Marathon. The first time was in 2012, when no one who signed up for the race did it on account of Hurricane Sandy. (In the unlikely event that you care, you can read about that experience here.) I signed up for the race again this year for the sole reason that I had guaranteed entry as a result of the 2012 cancellation resolution.  I knew in my heart that making this trip wasn’t really within my means financially from the very beginning, but it was the New York City Marathon, a race that ranked high on my running bucket list, and one that I had already missed out on once. I hemmed and hawed over registering, but eventually, I caved to FOMO and wept a little as I charged the exorbitant entry fee.  I crashed hard from my Boston high and muddled through a hot, inglorious summer of mediocre to shitty running. When I couldn’t put off starting marathon training any longer, I purchased the Hansons Marathon Method book from Bull City Running Co. and dove headlong into the advanced training program. Although things went pretty well from a physical standpoint, and fitness gains seemed to be coming along just as promised (despite the fact that I recklessly neglected to actually read the book), I lamented and resented pretty much every step of my training.  I booked a plane ticket to NYC and joined a fundraising team in hopes of finding/ forcing myself into some renewed training motivation, but there was just none to be found. And then one day, maybe 12 weeks into my 15 week training cycle (modified from the Hansons’ prescribed 18 week plan) in the midst of a 9 mile tempo run, it punched me right in the face. I didn’t want to be doing this. I didn’t want to be doing this training plan. I resented how much of my time and energy it was taking and the way that it’s (perceived) obligations were limiting my enjoyment of running and my capacity to have a life outside of running. I didn’t feel comfortable with taking a big, expensive trip to New York to spend a lot of money that I didn’t have, and I sure as shit did not want to run a marathon. Uh-oh.

What was I going to do now? I sincerely didn’t want to do this marathon. I legitimately could not afford to do this marathon. But I had proclaimed on social media that I was going to do it! I SHOULD want to do it! People were probably going to judge me for being a lame-ass quitter if I didn’t do it. And worse yet, I would judge myself for being a lame-ass quitter if I didn’t do it. I mean this was the super-fabulous New York City Marathon, for goodness sake!  And the just like that (and by “just like that” I mean after another two to three weeks of angsty bitching, moaning, and obsessing about it), as that effing Frozen song blared on loop through my head, I let it go. And as I did I had what I fancy to be the very adult realization that sometimes the bravest, ballsiest decisions you can make are those to be true to your own desires and needs and no one else’s. The ones that liberate you from burdens and expectations that drag you down and make you uncomfortable. Missing the trip and the race still felt pretty sucky, but making a smart decision that was in the best interest of my emotional health felt empowering, and offered a fleeting glance into what it must feel like to be a grown-up who has their shit together.

My New York City Marathon Training Cycle Theme Song. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

Breaking 90 Minutes In the Half Marathon.

So there I was, with ~15 weeks of hard-fought marathon training under my belt and no marathon to speak of.  It seemed a shame, and also super-depressing to let all those months and miles of intense training (and complaining) go to waste, so as the New York Marathon went on without me, I signed myself up for the half at Richmond. This had been my fall goal race in 2013, and I had come up short of breaking 90 minutes then, so I figured I would channel all of my NYC angst and any fitness gains I might have reaped from marathon training into taking another crack at it this year. I had no idea what to expect since my efforts had been focused exclusively on the 26.2 distance to the point that I found it hard to fathom running anything other than, and certainly anything faster than marathon goal pace. I was feeling pretty disenchanted with running by the time race day rolled around, but I also felt strongly driven to make this training cycle something other than merely the 2nd time I trained for, but did not run the New York City Marathon.  My race that day was lonely and uncomfortable, and as I ran it I couldn’t help but think that this was a metaphor for my current life theme of having to do difficult things all by myself.  (Poor me! Cue the tiny violins!) But with the help of a few inspirational words from Allie (“Be brave, Ellen!”) and a tremendous sense of urgency to get a certain poster featuring  Nick Symmonds’ bare backside to mile 22 of the marathon course to surprise Allison, who was running the full, I somehow managed to access the grit required to get my own fully-clad backside to the finish line in (ever so slightly) under 90 minutes for an official chip time of 1:29:54. Thank God. Although I was a little disappointed that checking this milestone item off of my list of lifetime running goals didn’t feel more glamorous or come complete with a shower of confetti and a multi-layered cake at the finish line, I executed the my race plan far better (save for one tiny shoe-tying incident), and with greater confidence than last year. And I found the nerve and determination to get out of my comfort zone and get the job done, even when it wasn’t very fun.  It didn’t arrive in the shiny, fabulous package I had envisioned, but there it was nonetheless: Growth, progress, and validation for the work and life I had (reluctantly) poured into the fall training cycle. Booyah.

Gettin' er done in Richmond.

Gettin’ er done in Richmond. (Photo Credit: Allie Bigelow)

The sign that won the 2014 World Championships of Marathon Spectating Sign  Making, made a very burly Kinko's employee giggle like a school girl,  and yielded a monster PR it's intended marathoner!

The sign that won the 2014 World Championships of Marathon Spectating Sign Making, made a very burly Kinko’s employee giggle like a school girl, and yielded a monster PR for it’s intended marathoner!

Completing Beer Mile without Barfing.

My fun-loving running community traditionally celebrates the end of the racing season with a beer mile. I always participate. I always have ridiculous amounts of fun that are well-worth the wretched day-after hangovers. And I always, always throw up, sometimes as early as the 2nd beer in.  Maybe it was all the hype surrounding the recent first-ever Beer Mile World Championships. Maybe it was a burning desire to out-perform Lance Armstrong in a quasi-athletic endeavor. Or maybe I just really needed an extra-special win to close out this glaringly un-extraordinary second half of my year (More violins, please!), but I was utterly bound and determined to get through the 2014 Greater Triangle Area Holiday Beer Mile Invitational barf-free.  I can’t think of anything that I did differently at this beer mile vs. any other I’ve ever done, but this time, with a little help from Kendra and her magical sign, my lucky technical holiday sweater, and a renewed faith in the concept of mind over matter courtesy of the Richmond Half Marathon, I kept all 4 beers down without so much as a dry heave. Or at least that’s how I choose to remember it. (For the record, you get WAY more drunk at beer mile when you don’t yak up half the beer!) I don’t think I could have been more proud of my ~13 minute penalty lap-free Beer Mile result if my finish time had started with a 5. Hooray for checking yet another very important goal off the ole running bucket list!

Barf-free Beer Mile = Winning at Life. Also, my friends are cooler than your friends.

Barf-free Beer Mile = Winning at Life. Also, my friends are cooler than your friends.

 

Lessons Learned and Goals for the New Year, Running and Otherwise…

I Have the Most Amazing Friends.

Friends Pinterest

I think that there is a lot of truth to the above quote, which I stole from a Pinterest board that belongs to Allie Bigelow. I also think that I am incredibly lucky that my number of friends I can be certain of is a large one. (I’m talking more than I can count on both hands here, y’all!)  You may have already noticed (from spending time with me in person, or just from reading this post) that 2014 wasn’t exactly the year of my fabulous self.  Throughout the year I have often felt run down, sad, disappointed, and dissatisfied (largely over mundane, perfectly non-tragic, first world problems) and I have allowed myself to wallow in all of these negative feelings. I have cried often (sometimes publicly), and ranted, griped, and whined more frequently still. I have no doubt that all of this has been incredibly unattractive and unpleasant to be around, but do you know what? My friends have continued to love and hangout with me anyway, and this amazes and impresses me to no end. So if you sent me funny text messages with pictures of baby animals and/ or cute boys because I was sad, if you have comforted me through a meltdown of any kind (and believe me y’all, there has been an impressive variety of meltdowns), if you hugged me just because I seemed like I needed a hug or checked on me just because you thought I might need to be checked on, if you have waited patiently for me to show up inappropriately late for a group run and still been nice to me despite my chronic tardiness, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. All of this wonderful VIP friend treatment is far better than I deserve, and I love and appreciate you all to the moon and back. And I’m going to be way more fun this year. Just you wait!

A small, but mighty musical tribute to all of my wonderful, fabulous friends out there.

And Speaking of Chronic Tardiness…

Guys, I am late to everything. Work, group runs, coffee meet ups, dinner dates, EVERYTHING. I know this is not ok, and it is not something that I like about myself.  I am not doing it to be an asshole-jerk, I swear. I do it because my brain, my lifestyle, and my apartment have become so cluttered and disorganized in recent years that idea of advanced preparation for pretty much anything usually just seems to exhausting to bear. I regularly find myself abandoning simple organizational tasks such as laying out my clothes for the upcoming day, packing my lunch, and even showering in lieu of just going to sleep. Inevitably, I wake up unprepared to face the day and running behind from the moment my feet hit the floor.  In case you were wondering, I am, in fact, painfully aware  that those last 2 sentences  are nothing but a load of unacceptable, bullshitty excuses. And yet people let me get away with this! I realize that my tardiness is something that I must assume responsibility for, but I suspect that if the group run left without me, or if I got written up for it at work, or if anyone dared to tell me  how they really feel about it,  I wouldn’t do it. This year I am going to stop making excuses for being late and find a way to create the organization in structure that I need in my life and my home to get to places on time. I am committed to doing this because I could stand to free up a little more time and space in my life, and because friends, colleagues, and employers as cool as mine deserve better from me.

I'm going to have to adopt a new motto in 2015.

I’m going to have to adopt a new motto in 2015.

I Need to Work On My Relationship with Running.

There is no denying that running is a tremendous part of who I am. It’s cornerstone of my social life. An oasis of soothing structure and routine in the midst of my hectic, chaotic, piecemeal existence. It’s my primary source of feelings of purpose and accomplishment. All of this is mostly good, but I’m starting to worry that I may be developing some running co-dependency issues that are causing me to enjoy it less. It is true that running is significant part of my identity, but this year I would like to a better job of keeping sight of the fact  that is only part  of who I am. I think 2015  might be a good time to start paying a little more attention to some the other parts of  myself that haven’t been getting as much love recently. Additionally, I suspect that I am guilty of using running (along with chronic over-committment to an absurd amount of part-time jobs)  as an evasion tactic for things that make me feel vulnerable and uncomfortable… Like sorting out the future of my career path, pursuing dating relationships,  spending time with my family, and just taking care of myself in general.  Don’t get me wrong, running has giving me much, and I want to keep all of the good stuff: Belonging to a wonderful, supportive, community where I feel of sense of belonging like never before. Priceless life lessons in hard work, discipline, and perseverance. Being regularly lured from my comfort zone and seeing significant improvements as a result, and routinely engaging in fun adventures with awesome, hilarious friends. Yes, all of these positive things can stay, but this year I would like be more open to cultivating and evolving the areas my life outside of running because I suspect that those areas are probably pretty cool and fulfilling, and I regret that they haven’t been getting the attention they deserve as of late.

So there you have it, friends, all the ways (at least as far as running goes) that my 2014 was amazing, all the ways it was mediocre, and my thoughts on what it might take to 2015 as awesome as humanly possible. I have my work cut out for me here, but I think I have identified some good first steps towards pulling it off. Thanks for bearing with me on this one. I promise I’ll try to limit my future blog posts this year to fluffy gear reviews and puppy and rainbow filled race reports. In the meantime, y’all stay fabulous, and thanks for reading!

Xoxo,

 

Ellen

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Boston 2014: My Fastest, Most Fabulous Marathon Yet! Part 1

I have now allowed myself over two weeks to digest and process my 2014 Boston Marathon experience, and I am still struggling to form coherent thoughts to explain and describe it. Someone will ask me how it went and the next thing I know I’m hearing myself spew a bunch of gibberish littered with the occasional discernible “magical”, “amazing”, or “so-super-special”. Forgive me for the big load of puppies and rainbows I’m about to unload on you here (because I usually hate that crap too, I promise!)  but it was a really great day and a long time coming. Plus it comes with a big ol side of very genuine Boston Strong love, so try to let it slide just this once.

Like many others who toed the line in Hopkinton two Mondays ago, my journey to this year’s start line started last year when the bombs went off. The day after last year’s race I received a phone call from a newspaper reporter from my hometown inquiring about my Boston experience. Rattled and shell-shocked, I sobbed and stammered through her questions. The last thing she asked me before mercifully ending our conversation was “Do you plan on coming back next year to run the marathon?” I tearfully mumbled something about needing more time to process it all and said that I didn’t know. When I read the write-up the next day in the digital edition of my hometown’s newspaper I was appalled at how lame and douchey my response to that particular question sounded. Of course I had to go back next year! How could I have ever even for a second entertained the idea of NOT going back?!? Going back was the very best way I could think of to honor the lives that were lost and the courage the was demonstrated at the finish line that day and in the tense days that followed.  Showing  Boston and the marathon my love and support was important to me.  So that settled that. I was going back. I almost called up the newspaper lady and asked her to edit and re-print the article.

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And then there is the less talked about part of the story. The part that took a back seat to the bombings, the tears, and the feelings of fear, guilt, anger, and sadness. The part where I ran a disappointing race last year. The energy and hype of the 2013 Boston Marathon did not let me down, nor did my dear teammates who kept me company through the 35K mat and/or chased me down like a banshee over the better part of 15 miles just to make sure we stuck to our plan of crossing the finish line together. The running part of Boston 2013 was epic in its own right, and more parts of it than not were actually a lot of fun, but I crossed the line several minutes behind my goal time and feeling utterly spent and unhappy with my race execution. Of course these feelings of disappointment in this, the holy grail of races that I had run my little arse off just to get to quickly faded from significance the instant the news of the bombing reached my ears, but when the time came to move forward and start training again, they were there to haunt me. I didn’t just want to go back to Boston, I wanted to go back and run it well.

Some of the more fun running moments from Boston 2013.

Some of the more fun running moments from Boston 2013.

So I decided to try some new stuff. My post-marathon 2013 spring running felt like crap in every way, so I greeted summer with some premeditated time off. I rested. I aqua jogged. I decided to try ACTUALLY DOING all of those weird and ridiculous-looking strengthening exercises my sports chiropractor had been recommending for months to correct all my problematic, achy-breaky strength imbalances. (Spoiler alert: Those things work so much better when you ACTUALLY DO them!)

Fall came and my focus shifted to getting stronger and faster and gaining confidence in my ability to work outside of my comfort zone.  I added more core work to my routine, kept doing the ridiculous-looking chiropractor exercises (somewhat) regularly, and surprised myself with the paces on my watch in many of my speed workouts. In November I came up short my goal time in the “A” race for the season. The fitness was there to do it, but the confidence still needed work. I wrote a few mildly self-deprecating blog posts about it, rested and regrouped over the holidays, and before I knew it was time to start the training cycle for The Big One.

I dialed in the goal for Boston 2014 at 3:19:59.  This looked pretty aggressive compared to my marathon PR at the time (3:28:35, run at none other than Boston 2013), but I knew that last year’s time wasn’t reflective of all that I was capable of, and that I had come a long way since then. Breaking 3:20 seemed challenging, but attainable. It was a less-pleasant-than-typical winter here in North Carolina, (but probably not as bad as the winter you had to train through in the northeast or the mid-west, or the Arctic Circle, I know.) On top  of that a job transition in February kept me busier and more spread-thin than ever as I wrapped up loose ends and trained new staff for my old position and took on the responsibilities of my new role simultaneously. I ran by myself, at odd times,  and (worst of all) on the treadmill. As an extroverted social running enthusiast, a staunch routine-monger, and a vehement treadmill hater none of this was ideal, but I was going back to Boston and I was going run it well, damnit! This kept me motivated to keep finding ways to fit it and get it done no matter what. (That’s what she said.)

I (mostly) loosely followed the BAA’s intermediate training program from the Boston Marathon’s official website. Although the workouts were prescribed at slower paces than those that I trained at for Richmond, they did not necessarily feel all that easy, and I fretted that my fitness had declined since November. I reminded myself that the BAA knows what it’s doing. (They’ve been writing training plans for this marathon for more than a century, for goodness sake!) I also reminded myself that training for a marathon is not the same thing as training for a half marathon and tried to talk myself out of comparing my current program with that of the fall.

It eased my mind considerably when I fairly easily and comfortably bested my time from Richmond by 5 seconds at the Shamrock Half Marathon in VA Beach. Not my most glamorous PR on paper, but it was really encouraging to match my time from a race that I had “raced” with a time from a race that I was approaching as a “quality long run workout”. And the VA Beach trip was a truly fabulous Oiselle Team weekend get-way to boot! I regrettably have not yet found the time to blog about it, but you can check out the short version of my VA Beach race report here on Salty Running. That race marked the point where I decided that this training cycle could in fact be going pretty well.

A little photographic throwback to our awesome Oiselle Team weekend in VA Beach!

A little photographic throwback to our awesome Oiselle Team weekend in VA Beach!

As I reviewed and reflected on the work I had put in to get to Boston in the days between completing my final long run and race day, I sentimentally and very cheesily noted (in my head)  that this training cycle had been sort of like an Irish blessing. It had enough good runs to keep it sweet. Enough hard runs to make me strong. Enough crappy runs to keep me humble.  Enough friends to make it fun. Enough solo runs to give me courage. And enough determination to keep me getting out and getting after it day after day, whether it was on my own or in good company, and whether it felt good and fun or not. Can I get an Amen, y’all?  (I further mused that this seemed appropriate because the road certainly rises up to meet you in the Newton hills, and lots of people who live in Boston are of Irish decent. But I digress…)

It scared me a little to admit it, lest I jinx myself, but when it was all said and done, I felt more prepared and ready, and less exhausted and beat up than I had ever felt at the end of any other marathon training cycle gone by.

Fast forward to race day. On Monday morning I woke up to realize that I had slept through THE ENTIRE NIGHT the night before the Boston Marathon. This was a shocking first for me and I actually was a little  alarmed that it might be a sign of inadequate hydration since I never once got up to pee during the night. I got out of bed and begin my lengthy getting ready process, the most time-consuming part of which is applying 1 million temporary tattoos (or 5, as the case was that day.) There was a knock at the bathroom door and when I opened it, a pallid-looking Allie Bigelow (who was to be my ride to Boston Common to catch the bus) announced that she had food poisoning and would be unable to drive me. I’m 95% sure that what came out of my mouth in response to this news was something of at least half-ass concern and sympathy, but the response that resounded inside of my head was more like  “OMG, YOU HAVE GOT TO BE EFFING KIDDING ME!!! WTF AM I GOING TO DO NOW?!?!” Allie, being the wonderful friend that she is told me that a cab was on its way for me, so I hastily donned my disposable mom jeans, which were generously donated by Allie’s friend whose house we were staying at, and my bedazzled Target clearance rack little girls’ XL sized hoodie, grabbed a bagel for the road and I was off.

Off to catch my cab looking neither fast nor fabulous.

Off to catch my cab looking and feeling neither fast nor fabulous.

I felt a little forlorn as I walked into Boston Common alone, forcing feeding myself the bagel (which had now been dropped on the floor of the cab) in what I’m sure was a most unflattering manner. But within about 10 seconds of arriving I heard someone loudly state my name, and I looked up from my cab floor bagel to find that I was already being hugged by  my old friend, Alex Varner. (Click the link and read his blog. He’s kind of a big deal). This was a good sign. I continued to feel more at ease as I boarded the bus and chatted with my new BFF/ seat-mate, Bob from VA.  Before I knew it, we were in Hopkinton, and I exited the bus feeling happy, centered and ready to just chill out until go time. Until the moment I realized that my 4 raspberry Hammer Gels and one emergency espresso Hammer Gel had not joined me in my bus exit. “HOLY EFFING BALLS , THIS CANNOT BE HAPPENING!!!” began my 2nd inner monologue panic attack of the morning. Guys, there is a lot of food in Athlete’s Village, and it is provided by multiple companies that do in fact make gu-type products. And yet, no one but no one was giving out gels there. Holy FML. “Don’t worry, there will be PowerGel on the course at mile 17!” chirped the lady at the PowerBar tent. I prayed for the self-control not to cry or punch her in the face.  An hour later, thanks to the charity of a kind stranger in the bathroom line and a lucky run-in with Oiselle Teammate, Rebecca and her very generous friends, I was 3 Gu’s the richer, but still feeling disheveled. I knew I had to get it together and stop wasting all of this energy on freaking out or it was going to be bad news bears for sure.  I parked myself against the wall of the middle school and scanned the crowds for my friends from Durham whom I was hoping to run at least the first few miles of the race with. I didn’t see them right away, but I did see Lori, a preferred Bull City Running Company customer. She was cold and I had a baller fleece blanket, which like my bedazzled hoodie was a jackpot find from the Target clearance section. I did what any good friend would do and invited her in for some stand up spooning that would have made Holly Roberts very proud. It was starting to get late, and Lori and I agreed that we definitely needed at least one more porta-potty stop before go time, and the lines weren’t getting any shorter. But I DESPERATELY wanted to find the gang from home. Having fun with them for the first part of the race was a critical part of my game plan! Just when I thought I was going to have to throw in the towel and face the fact that this might be a day where things just weren’t going to go my way, they emerged from the crowd! I was feeling a little more spiritual than usual that morning in Athletes’ Village, and seeing their familiar, beautiful faces seemed like a sign that I was being watched over by some higher power and that everything was going to be ok.  I think I might have cried a few tears of joy and relief when I saw them. I’m also pretty sure we held hands all the way into the corral.

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The pure, unadulterated joy of being gifted energy gels by strangers and finding your friends in Athletes’ Village against all odds.

All is well with the world now.

All is well with the universe now.

Cliff Hanger Alert!

Well, fans and friends, I just caught a glimpse of the word count. Scary stuff! I have already blabbed over 2000 words and that only got me to the start line of the race!  I haven’t even gotten to any of the good puppies and rainbows parts yet! In the name of good blogging etiquette, I think I’d better go ahead and make this a two-parter. Stayed tuned for a Fast and Fabulous highlight reel of the race and the weekend in general coming soon!

 

Until then, you stay classy, Fast and Fabulous readers!

 

Love,

 

Ellen

 

The Obligatory 2013 Round Up!

Well friends, the last few weeks of 2013 have left me feeling a bit blue. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed some hard-earned time off and had a lovely holiday with my zany southern family, but as I’ve reflected on 2013 it has just felt a little blah and insignificant. No big exciting career advancements, no discovering new hidden passions or talents, no riding off into the sunset with Justin Timberlake, no saving the world, and no winning the lottery. Just the same old stagnant, exhausting grind. Insert scowling Debbie Downer face and “womp, womp” sound effect here.

Next year...

Next year…

I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not to even write an end of the year wrap-up, for fear of coming off as a total whiny-ass bitch. But as I combed through the various pictures and posts of my Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds in search of some small morsel of accomplishment from 2013 I realized two things… (1) If your biggest end of the year dilemma is whether or not you should write a cliché, obligatory year-in-review blog post, well, then you probably can’t really call that a bad year. And (2) I have posted A LOT of pictures in the last year, probably more than you ever hoped to see, and in practically every one  of them I am doing something fun with awesome people who I love. And y’all, that is nothing be a whiny bitch-ass about. So I have decided that instead of feeling bad about all things that did not happen in 2013, at least within the parameters of this blog post, I would like to reflect on the cool things that I DID experience… You know, like the stuff that was crazy-fun, and the stuff that was incredibly inspiring and moving. Hell, I even managed to dig up a few  accomplishments and self-realizations in my little social media stroll down 2013 memory lane! Let’s talk about those too! After all, there are few things in this world I like less than a whiny-ass bitch blog post.  So let’s round-up the good stuff, shall we?

1. The Boston Marathon Restored My Faith in the Good of Humanity. 

Given the events of the 2013 Boston Marathon, you may think this seems like an unlikely thing to land on one’s annual list of “good stuff”. And of course what happened at the finish line that day was absolutely inexcusable, and nothing could ever justify or validate it. I shed many tears as I processed the Boston bombings (ugly crying is kind of my thing), and it is certainly true that plenty of those were tears of sadness, anger, fear, and maybe even guilt for so, so narrowly avoiding the tragedy that so gravely impacted the lives of many others. But I cried just as many tears because I was incredibly moved by the courage, the selflessness, the compassion, and the tenacity of the volunteers, spectators, runners, and emergency personnel who were there to respond when the bombs went off. The outpouring of love and support for the marathon, bombing victims, and the city of Boston was nothing short of magical, and months later I am still deeply touched and overwhelmed by the kind concern so many of you expressed for my personal safety. I recall commenting upon being reunited with my smart phone at bag claim after the race that the Boston Marathon had officially surpassed my birthday as my biggest social media event of the year. Boy, did I have no idea how dramatically the implications of that statement would be changing within the next half hour. I have said it before, but again, my most heartfelt thanks to each everyone who reached out to me on that day. My thoughts of comfort and healing continue go out to all those physically and emotionally effected by the bombings, and I have nothing but the highest praise and respect for the organizers of the Boston Marathon and the City of Boston for handling an awful, chaotic situation with swift, effective action and class. For all that was terrible about the Boston bombings, it is very easy to see the good that rises from the ashes, and that is the most beautiful thing I have  witnessed all year. I couldn’t be more excited to return to Boston in 2014, and you’d better believe I’ll be packing a metric ton of Kleenex, but only for crying tears of happiness and awesomeness.

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A few powerful, iconic images from the Boston bombings.

...And some of my favorite moments from my 2013 Boston Marathon experience.

…And a few of my favorite moments from my 2013 Boston Marathon experience.

2. I’ve Got My Shit Together Much More So Than I Did in High School.

Ok, if I’m being perfectly honest, I actually question the validity that statement on an almost-daily basis. But this year I found out that I can run a mile  A LOT FASTER now than I could in high school. Excuse me while I interrupt this blog post for a brief fantasy where my current self taunts my (MUCH dorkier) 17-year-old self with the most obnoxiously legendary NFL end zone-style victory dance imaginable.

Present day Ellen (left) well on her way to kicking Dorky High School Ellen (right)'s ass in the mile. IN YOUR FACE, High School Ellen!

Present day Ellen (left) well on her way to kicking High School Ellen’s  slow, dorky ass in the mile. IN YOUR FACE, High School Ellen!

I have had moments when I felt that I couldn’t rightly claim this giant (roughly 45 sec) new mile PR as a really big deal. For starters, I hadn’t even thought about racing the mile distance since high school. Furthermore, I currently run an average of 40 to 50 miles per week, vs my high school training regimen of I don’t even know what, but certainly something much less intense and much less consistent than what I’m doing now. I guess my odds of smashing the high school PR going into that mile race in September were actually pretty good, but still, the outcome was much better than I expected and that race result completely redefined my training for the remainder of the fall.

Coach Bigs, who is my running BFF and one of my many running mentors suggested that we plug my new mile PR into the McMillian Running Calculator to figure out some pacing guidelines for my training for Richmond. The numbers that this yield completely scared the shit out of me! When she sent me a workout that included 800s at prescribed pace that started WITH A TWO (!!!) I was all like “HELL TO THE NO! Homie don’t play that.” But when she sighed and rolled her eyes at me (actually, I think this entire interaction took place over text message, but I could feel her sighing and rolling her eyes,) I reluctantly agreed to give it the old college try. And then to my great surprise and amazement I DID IT! This little breakthrough was clutch in launching the intensity and volume of my training, as well as my fitness and confidence levels to great new heights this fall.

All the awesome teammates I got share The Great Mile PR of 2013 with. EVERY SINGLE WOMAN IN THIS PICTURE can run a mile in under 5:50. #badass

All the awesome teammates I got share The Great Mile PR of 2013 with. EVERY SINGLE WOMAN IN THIS PICTURE can run a mile in under 5:50. #badass

Additionally, The Great Mile PR of 2013 reminded me that the heading of this section of today’s post (the one about having my shit together more than I did in high school) really is true. As much as I have struggled this year with a severe case of “OMG, I’m 32 and What Do I Have to Show for It?!” Syndrome, I have still come a long way since high school and I can celebrate the many small victories that have gotten me here… Like being financially independent from my parents (you know, unless something really bad and expensive happens to my car), and paying off lots of debt from the poverty and bad decisions of my youth, and having lived on my own for an entire decade without starving to death, despite my lack of patience for or interest in cooking (I have mostly Trader Joe’s and The Bigelow Family to thank for this one,) and just being infinitely more confident in and aware of who I am. I know all of this is pretty basic, and none of it is earth-shattering, but it is a perfectly respectable foundation for being a responsible adult. Now it’s just a matter of leveraging it into something awesome in 2014 and beyond! So yes, I am a grown up who has my shit together! Major shout-out to The Magnificent Mile Race for reminding me of this!

3. The Best Part of Running is the People Part, and Everyone Should Do Relays.

Historically, my very favorite type of running event has been the overnight relay. I love relays because their primary emphasis is the only aspect of running that I am truly naturally good at: The people part. The part where you work as part of a team to accomplish something that you probably couldn’t do all by yourself. And better yet, the part where expectations, preconceived notions, and judgments are all checked the (van) door so you can REALLY get to know people for who they are… what motivates them, what makes them feel insecure, what makes them laugh, and of course, their deepest, darkest poop stories. There is just something magical about being in squished in a van for 26 (or even for 36) sleepless, showerless hours that breaks down boundaries and brings people together. This is true whether you are relaying with your nearest, dearest besties whom your are blessed to train and hangout with on the regular, or prefect strangers who were previously just people from your Twitter feed who sounded pretty cool. It’s an amazing phenomenon and I can’t get enough of it.

In October I was lucky enough to have two equally awesome, but very different relay experiences. The first being Ragnar DC with a bunch of fabulous Durham friends/ Bull City Track Club teammates, plus my dear college BFF and some spontaneous tangential acquaintances who bailed us out of a bind at the last-minute. I seriously had been looking forward to this race from the moment we signed up for it, and it was all I dreamed it would be and more. Just when I thought it wasn’t possible have anymore inside jokes with a group of people, or eat anymore Costco Chicago Mix popcorn in one 26 hour period, or think  of more creative uses for Shittens and plush turkey hats, somehow we still managed to achieve a whole new level of doing all of these things. Our super-cohesive, dynamic, fun-loving team reigned total domination on the competition and walked away with the award for most team spirit, as well as the win in the women’s team division, and 11th place overall. Booyah!

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2013 Ragnar DC Team Spirit and Women's Division Champions, TEAM SHITTENS!!!

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2013 Ragnar DC Team Spirit and Women’s Division Champions, the legendary TEAM SHITTENS!!!

I was recruited for relay #2, Ragnar Tennessee, from Chattanooga to Nashville, by Oiselle teammate and Ragnar Relay icon, Holly Roberts! (Check out Holly’s fantastic Ragnar TN re-cap here!) I had never actually met anyone on Team Nuunapalooza prior to the race, and when I arrived in The Noog the night before I most definitely felt like I was crashing someone else’s family reunion, but in the best possible way. I made to feel incredibly welcome and right at home immediately. Some 36 hours, several dress-up dance parties, a lot of shouting the lyrics to “Blurred Lines”, some serious stand-up spooning, a late-night Shittens power arch, plenty of hashtagging, and thousands of laughs and temporary tattoos later my 11 new BFFs and I crossed the finish line in Nashville. In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined a more supportive, enthusiastic, kind, and just all-around delightful bunch of teammates. My experience with Team Nuunapalooza 100% confirms my theory that only really fun, nice, super-cool people do relays. Much like the amazing response to the Boston Marathon bombings, but in a different way, getting to know some really genuinely wonderful new friends was a beautiful reminder that there is a lot of good to be found in the world, and that seeking it out is always worthwhile.

 All the hugs, high-fives, and HVAC swagger to my Team Nuunapalooza Insta-BFFs!

All the hugs, high-fives, and HVAC swagger to my Team Nuunapalooza Insta-BFFs! I LOVED Ragnaring it up with y’all!

4. I am Stronger and Better than I Allow Myself to Believe I am. It’s Time to Trust the Training and Go Kick Some Ass!

This is a truth that needs to be applied in my running life and otherwise. It is also my biggest, most valuable take away from my goal race this fall, the Richmond Half Marathon. Although my aforementioned epic mile comeback was a tremendous confidence boost in terms of my training leading up to Richmond, I struggled to access my new and improved running self-esteem on race day. My lack of belief in myself and trust in my training resulted in an overly conservative race that cost me my goal time. In the moment I was still quite mostly pleased with my performance and how it reflected my training. However, I can’t help but think that it seems kind of lame as look back on it, because despite missing the mark, everything about my race that day screamed that I was fit enough, strong enough, and entirely physically prepared to knock 1:29:59 out of the park. The only reason that I didn’t was that I was scared I couldn’t do it. Ugh! I have GOT to cut that shit out! Seriously!  Here’s hoping that my experience at Richmond, and the healthy side of self-annoyance that came with it will be precisely the motivation I need to conjure up a some new courage and confidence and shatter a few glass ceilings in both my running life and my personal life in the year ahead. 2014 will be a year for leaving the comfort zone and kicking ass, friends! Hope y’all are ready for it!

I came up a little short on my goal time, but I still had a great time with lots of awesome people in Richmond!

It’s hard to feel bummed about missing your goal time when your weekend includes hanging out your college roomie, a cop who loves Shittens, and awesome signage courtesy of your 8-year-old BFF. 🙂

PS, just in case you were wondering, my name does now appears in the official results for this race. Thanks for sorting that out, Richmond Marathon!

5. If 2013 Had a World Championship of Race Photos, I Would Have Won it!

I hate to brag, but I’m pretty sure that 2013 has been my best year yet in terms of race pictures. I mean, those pictures totally saved me from writing the past year off as a miserable failure, so they must be pretty good, right? I fancy myself to be pretty damn fantastic at hamming it up for the camera and coming with fun and hilarious photo concepts (click here for my awesome guide to your most amazing race pics ever), but I can’t take all the credit for this one. Mad props to Monte, Bull City Tracking Club’s very own official race photographer for coming to ALL of our races, near and far to patiently photograph our every ridiculous shenanigan, and kudos to my running bestie Kara for being married to Monte, thus making him obligated to do this. And as always, to all of my dear running friends, thank you for being so awesomely fun, and silly, and brilliant, and hilarious.  Y’all are also incredibly patient and kind to me when I am super-late and/ or super-grumpy. I am certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a special place in heaven for each of you because of this, and although I don’t always do a great job of expressing it, I appreciate it more than you know. The experiences we’ve had together that make up my amazeballs 2013 running photo album have truly been the very best parts of my year, and I am on the edge of my seat in anticipation of another round of epic adventures with all of you! All the love, friends! Y’all are the greatest!

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So much photographic evidence that this year was undeniably fun…

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So many great times with wonderful people!

So I suppose in the end 2013 wasn’t a total bust after all. I would be lying if I told you I am sad to see it go, and I am grateful for the fresh start that the new year offers. But I did some cool stuff with even cooler people, learned some important things about myself, and was reminded that although haven’t won the Nobel Prize or cured cancer or established world peace (yet), I’m still doing ok. The challenge for 2014 (and boy, is it a big one) is to take all these lessons learned and find the guts to apply them to doing something amazing.  I’m not entirely sure what that amazing thing is going to be or what getting there will look like yet, but I have a feeling it’s going to be really good!  So stay tuned, because I’m hopeful determined the 2014 will be a year when I really shake things up!

What were your most significant lessons learned in 2013, and how do you hope to apply them in the new year?

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.