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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Transcendental. The Boston Marathon: April 21st, 2014

Goals.  We all have them.  And if those goals mean enough, you invest everything into accomplishment: every day, every decision, every breath.  Every single breath.

I realize that this post is a few weeks overdue, but I struggled with how to translate my emotions from the Boston Marathon into written words.  I want you to all feel like you were right there with me, because trust me, your spirit and positive energy were by my side for every step.

When we boarded the plane to Boston from LAX the Saturday before the race, I wasn't quite sure how I was supposed to feel.  It seemed as though nearly the entire plane was comprised of runners and their family members, and everyone had that same blank look upon their face.  Considering the tragic events of last April, how were we expected to feel?  Sad? Angry? Anxious? Scared? Excited?  I know we were all still mourning for those innocent spectators who were injured or worse.  I know we were all still fiercely angry over the attempt to maim our tight-knit running community.  I know we were all anxious and a bit frightened to see how this year's race would unfold, in spite of the added security.  And of course we were all excited; we worked extremely hard to qualify or raise the required funds for a charitable cause.  We deserved to feel excited!  But yet, I sensed that not one of us was certain how we were supposed to feel.

From the first step off the plane, we were greeted by signs like this.  Boston was ready.

We landed in Boston and easily made our way to the hotel, the Intercontinental on the harbor.  We had made our reservations months prior with Marathon Tours and Travel, and I highly recommend their easy to use and affordable services.  Our hotel was beautiful, well-staffed with friendly employees and conveniently located next to a "T" (light rail) station as well as an abundance of restaurants, shops and bars within walking distance.  My husband and I enjoyed a seafood dinner and took a few pictures as the sun set on the Massachusetts Bay. 

Hubby tastes his first New England Clam "Chowda".


Iconic Boston.


The next morning (Sunday) we took the T to Copley Square then walked the quarter mile to the Expo at 9 AM, just as the doors opened.  The sun was shining, warming our bodies in the chilly Atlantic air.  Silently I absorbed all of the sights along the walk, places I recognized from the countless documentaries I had been watching about the bombing: Marathon Sports, the Forum Restaurant, the finish line.  Several homemade memorials had been placed precisely where the explosions occurred and hundreds of people were there taking pictures.  My skin felt icy and the hairs on my arms and neck tingled.  My eyes welled up.  I felt sadness.

No more hurting people.  Peace.

We took our time exploring the expo, wandering through all of the booths and chatting up vendors.  I met up with Rob, one of the owners of INK n BURN, caught a glimpse of Dean Karnazes, and spent a small fortune on official Adidas Boston Marathon 2014 paraphenalia (seriously, will it be this expensive every year or was it a "first time doing Boston" thing?).  The expo was so expansive, it was dispersed between three levels of the convention center, so we took the escalator up to the top floor, where packet pickup was staged.  I trembled as I accepted my bib number (15075) and official "Runner Passport".  A year had passed since I qualified for Boston at the Eugene Marathon.  I recalled the effort I put into taking over 40 minutes off of my PR to obtain that and again tears clung to the corners of my eyes.  I felt excited.

Exploring the expo, very clever Brooks!


Bib pickup.  Earned.

From there my husband met up with friends to take a tour of Fenway Park (being a collegiate baseball player, this was a highlight for him!) and I took the T back to the hotel room to just relax.  Later that evening we met up with our entire group for dinner in Little Italy, followed by a Red Sox game.  Thirty minutes prior to the game, a memorial presentation took place in recognition of the heroes from the bombing incident to include physicians, nurses, police, firemen and women, the 415 injured spectators and runners, and family members of those who lost their lives.  Bagpipes provided the soundtrack to a moving tribute and for the third time since arriving in Boston I found myself moved to tears. 

Speechless at this moment, as an entire stadium mourns together.

The family of Lingzi Lu, who came from China to celebrate the anniversary of her tragic passing, shouted the customary "Play Ball!" and I thought to myself how ironic yet fitting that act was.  Lingzi died that day in an act of terror that shook the iconic pinnacle of road running, the Boston Marathon, yet the overall force of human spirit and perseverance prevailed, not just through Boston but globally.  The family of Lingzi Lu came all the way from China to proclaim those opening words to the classic American game of baseball, and by doing so, they announced that the show must go on, for Lingzi, for all of the victims, for Boston, and for the world.

Though my husband and I no longer live in the Pacific Northwest where we grew up, the group we toured Boston with included friends from our hometown in Washington state.  Twenty years ago, when I ran for the High School track team, my friend Franzine ran the same distances for the "rival" school.  We continued our virtual friendship through college, marriage, babies and career changes, bonded by our mutual love of running.  Last year we made a pact that we would qualify for Boston, and we did just that, a week apart, at different marathons, but with just seconds between our finishing times of 3:27.  Franzine and her husband put a lot of effort into organizing our weekend and we were so thankful to finally be there in person with them, laughing our way through the three days.  In addition to them, our group included her running partner Tiffany, and several friends from home that just wanted to be there for the magic that is the Boston Marathon.  Our friend Josh was so moved by the events of last year that he qualified on his very first attempt at running a marathon, however, due to the abundance of applicants for this year's race, he failed to obtain a bib by less than fifteen seconds.  He was heartbroken, yet was there for us anyways, cheering and laughing and crying.  I am so thankful for that; his selfless spirit motivated me to work even harder.  Josh, you WILL be there in 2015!

Franzine and I cannot get enough of Boston.

After inning four, those of us that were running returned to the hotel to relax and get some sleep before race day.  I answered an abundance of texts and facebook messages wishing me luck, however, it was strange that everyone included the phrase "be safe" interlaced with their well wishes.  Those words are never exchanged before running a race, they seemed out of place yet nevertheless welcome.  I fell asleep anxious for the events to come the next day yet comforted by the support from friends and family.

Traditionally, the Boston Marathon has a much later starting time than most marathons, as evidenced by my 6 AM alarm versus the usual 3 AM setting.  I nervously got dressed and felt a tinge of fear as I kissed my husband goodbye. I thought about couples murmuring those same words to each other on the morning of the 2013 marathon, never to have the opportunity to exchange them again, or having to wait hours before they were assured that each other was safe. I shook the dark thoughts from my head then met the girls to ride the T to Copley Square where we caught our bus that would take us an hour away to the starting line in Hopkinton.  Along the way we laughed about how we were about to run the long route back to Boston.  One of the most striking aspects of this race hit me like a punch to the stomach as we exited the bus at Athlete's Village and were met by a long line of the National Guard, clad in camouflage and each possessing a firearm.  This was a disturbing image at a typically harmless event.  Still their presence calmed us.

Entering Athlete's Village with 35,000 of my new best friends.

We went through security checkpoint number two upon entering Athlete's Village and came upon tent after tent after tent after porta potty after porta potty after porta potty, the "village" taking up what seemed like three football fields of grassy space.  A sea of runners were strewn about, stretching and quietly conversing and harnessing their nervous energy.  We were provided with bagels, banana, energy gel, water, coffee and tea, and entertainment came in the form of a DJ and jumbo tron.  Just prior to the announcement of the elite and wave one starting, a formation of four Army Helicopters provided a flyby of the entire course, acting both as a symbolic display of our country's strength, and a literal show of force.  Thirty minutes after the elites and wave one started the race, the DJ announced that is was wave two's turn to make the half mile trek to the starting line.  We removed our "throw away" sweats and discarded them onto the mountainous pile that was to be donated to the Boys' and Girls' Club of Boston.  

Never ending porta-potties highlighted by a four-helicopter Army flyby.


Throw-away sweats off, ready to race!  Franzine, me and Tiffany.


I was surprised that the starting line was basically in the middle of a neighborhood of quaint brick houses.  Generations of families were out for this yearly event, boasting gourmet BBQs, well-stocked coolers and endless encouraging signs.  One home even had a table set up with "Free hair-ties, Bandaids, Vaseline, Tampons, gummy bears...".  It was as if spectating the Boston Marathon was an event in itself.  We were six minutes late getting to the start so we just simply walked up to the designated starting area and began our journey back to Boylston Street.

Spectating IS a marathon in itself.

From Hopkinton we passed signs stating which town we were entering followed by the year the town was formed, the architecture matching the age designated on the sign.  I was mesmerized by the brick store fronts, decorative columns and town squares.  As expected, the spectators of the Boston Marathon were like nothing I've ever encountered at a race before.  With each mile they grew in number and in decibels.  These selfless fans were not just standing there clapping, they were truly there to encourage every last runner.  I was surrounded with the sounds of, "Run Texas, Run!" and "Go Baltimore Running Club", and "Looking great John!".  Since I was wearing my head-turning (as INKnBURN often is) flag-inspired INKnBURN Patriot tech tee, I was referred to as "America!" throughout the entire race.  The National Guard and hundreds of Police lined every kilometer of the race and the constant buzz of circling helicopters above our heads added an eerie yet consoling presence; despite the thousands of people, we felt safe.

One of the most memorable scenes along the course was the "Meg's Miles" memorial along mile one, a tribute to Meg Menzies, a Boston runner who was killed by a drunk driver while out doing what she loved.  I also recall feeling chills as we rounded a corner to be greeted by the sounds of "America the Beautiful" beckoning us through a rather patriotic neighborhood.  I broke down in tears (yet again) when at another mile a group was playing the Boston anthem "Sweet Caroline" and every single runner threw up their hands mid-stride to belt out the words in unison.

Exactly half way, we came upon Wellesley College and the famous "Wellesley Girls".  Even though mile 13 was entirely uphill, we hardly noticed the ascent as our heads were turned to the right to read each girls "Kiss me I'm..." sign.  Each sign said something unique about the student such as, "Kiss me I'm from Florida!" or "Kiss me I'm a Geology Major!" or "Kiss me I'm a redhead!".  It was amusing watching runners partake in these requests.  I am convinced that every single enrolled student at the college was out to celebrate the day as they stretched along the entire mile, each sign more hilarious than the next.

A few more miles passed and we found ourselves at the infamous Newton Hills, the home of the dreaded "Heartbreak Hill".  Men from nearby Boston College were out with their various Greek Letters, dressed in costumes, playing beer pong (seriously) and offering the runners a refreshing hoppy beverage to help clear our heads of the notorious mile 20 doubtful thoughts.  Never have I given so many high fives in my life.  Heartbreak Hill was a beast, but I expected it to be clearly designated and instead wasn't even sure I had cleared it once we crested its wrath.  The sun was shining and the heat was much more intense than anyone predicted.  I did my best to drink water and Gatorade at every mile's hydration stations but still I felt the woozy combination of exhausted legs and a numb mind. 

The crowds lining the course grew even more dense as we continued through the final 10K of the race, their passion providing an unbelievably loud roar that bellowed us through each rolling hill.  It seemed as if the hills never ended.  I took a deep breath to inhale the pride of Boston, willing us to keep going, to never stop proving that we were invincible.  And finally, we rounded the corner and I saw the finish line.  I left it all on the course and could not find the energy to sprint that last quarter mile stretch.  I was okay with that though, as I knew I would finish with a sub 3:30 time on one of the most emotional and exhausting days I have ever experienced.  The live video feed on the Boston Marathon website caught the high five I gave to the stranger on my right as we finished the most exhilarating race of our lives and my friends and family got to witness that special moment all the way back on the West Coast.  Due to security, we had to walk another quarter mile to obtain our medals and water and refreshments and that walk felt like an eternity.  I passed the time by talking with those who were herded along with me, discussing where we were from and our families, knowing that we would likely never see each other again, yet seamlessly connected by our congruous endorphin rush and by our communal experience on this surreal day. 

Unsure of why I gave the #1s.  Perhaps too tired to raise the remaining 8 fingers?


Emotions: Tired, Relieved, Pride.


After the race we returned to our hotel to shower then met our friends to celebrate the day, grateful for our safety and for our health.  My face was sore from the fixed smile I had worn all day, a welcome malady I'd never experienced after a race before.  We toasted to the magical day, to the spectators, the police, the National Guard and the entire city of Boston with our Sam Adams 26.2 Lager, because after all, that is what you do in Boston.


Can you feel the love here?

The Boston Marathon.  For years I doubted my ability to ever qualify, yet it remained on my bucket list as the apex of road-running accomplishments.  To me, the Boston Marathon represents precisely that: setting lofty goals then proving to yourself that you are indeed capable of exceeding any limitations. For a year I relentlessly worked, reminded of my ambition with every decision to run in the rain, to choose the healthy meal option, to push my limits and get further out of my comfort zone than I ever imagined possible.  I made no excuses.  Moreover, the Boston Marathon proved to the world that the running community is invincible.  We persevered, and across the world, together we celebrated not just the running of 26.2 miles, but the inextinguishable human spirit.  Cheers to that.


A toast to this beautiful life.












Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why not today for a PR? PCRF Half Marathon: March 30th, 2014

Why not today for a PR (personal record)?  Perhaps that should be the question we ask ourselves just prior to starting any race.  Why not today?  Seems that I can always come up with an endless list of excuses why "today is just not the day for a PR," but in reality, any day can be THE day.


The night before the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation (PCRF) Half Marathon in Irvine was a rough one.  I cared for two sick and sniffly kiddos at home while battling my own sore throat and lack of sleep.  I contemplated completely skipping the event to instead just lounge with my family in sweats all day.  But many members of my beloved Moms Run This Town chapter were participating and thus I felt committed.  Luckily the race began just a few miles from my house so the alarm wasn't set for a ridiculously early time.


As a pediatric RN, this race benefits a cause that I surround myself with on both a professional and personal level, and this year, with over 7,000 participants, the foundation impressively raised over $316,000 in research funds for a cure.  The event included a cycling race on Saturday followed by the Half Marathon, a 10k, a 5k, and a kids' race on Sunday.


My MRTT group met up just before the race started, and we mingled and snapped a few obligatory pictures.  A reporter approached me from Japanese Running Style Magazine and asked a few questions regarding my attire (INKnBURN Dragonfly shorts, INKnBURN Current 4Arms, and my Hokas).  They took a few pics.  Anyone subscribe to that magazine?  Another highlight pre-race for me was finally meeting the peppy Monica, of Run, Eat, Repeat.  Turns out we live just a few miles from each other.


My Moms Run This Town girls are truly priceless friends.


I'm famous in Japan.  Maybe?  Ha.


Monica from Run, Eat, Repeat!


This was a small race so there were no corrals; a former pediatric cancer patient sang the National Anthem and we started off on the well-manicured and friendly streets of Irvine.  From mile one, I knew I took off too fast.  It was a cool, sunny morning and I just could not bring my pace back to reality.  Mile one was clocked at 6:54, followed by three more miles at 7:00 pace.  Mile five was a 6:56 pace and I started to worry that I would blow up soon.  


I continued to follow about ten yards behind the distinct foot strike of a woman I recognized from another local race.  Since the upcoming Boston Marathon has banned all hydration packs, I had decided to use the PCRF Half as a perfect training platform to practice without my beloved Nathan Intensity vest.  I slowed to a walk at every aide station to ensure adequate hydration as the sun began to rise higher.  I downed a Salted Caramel GU at mile five.  "Why not today for a PR?" I thought.  I felt strong.  I felt lithe.  Perhaps I could keep this pace going, even though I thought I'd never be able to match my current PR of 1:35:48.  That PR was achieved in May of 2013, when I felt I was at my peak.  Despite the obstacles of sick kiddos, being up a few lbs in weight and sleep deprivation, maybe I could do this?


The following miles were consistently fast, pegged around a 7:00 pace.  At mile eight we began to climb.  The dreaded negative thoughts began to creep in my head, as they always do with approaching hills.  But then I began to think again, "Why not today for a PR?".  These were the hills I run every single day, though usually with my single or double stroller full of kid weight.  "Suck it up Kat," I thought, "You can have no excuses today, this day you get to run these hills without a stroller for once!!".


So my pace increased a bit through these hilly miles as we wound around the University Community Park, and back into the neighborhood of Woodbridge.  We finished the last few miles on the San Diego Creek Trail, my home away from home, where I've spent countless hours training; and still, I followed about ten yards behind that familiar stride, her long black ponytail swishing back and forth with every speedy step.  


I knew in the last mile that I had energy left to burn, so I thought about when it would be best to make a move.  The first place woman had passed us in the first quarter of the race, and it was just me and this mystery woman left for places.  When I could see the balloon arch at the finish, I estimated when a quarter mile was left and I began to kick, right past this woman and across the finish line in second place overall female, achieving a new PR of 1:34:48.  I turned to shake her hand, and we immediately began a conversation that lead to the inevitable friendship, sealed by the commonalities of motherhood and the love of the run.


Finish with all you've got.  Always.



Happy to receive some fun swag with this PR!



INKnBURN Dragonfly shorts carried me swiftly to a new PR.


Interestingly, this PR was EXACTLY a minute faster than my previous record.  Strange.  In addition to finishing 2nd female, I also finished 13th overall in the race, and 1st in my age group.  With these places I was rewarded with two pint glasses, two gift cards to Road I.D., numerous certificates to local restaurants and a PCRF hat.  I was so grateful, I was completely elated.  My overall average pace was 7:08 according to my Garmin (I actually ran 13.26 miles).


And so, the lesson I learned at the PCRF Half Marathon is one that everyone can utilize.  Why not today for a PR?  Make no excuses, just get out there and run your best race.  You may be pleasantly surprised.



Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Cosmic 5k and Hot Chocolate 15k: March 23-24, 2014

So yes, this post is way overdue.  I have been neglecting my blogging duties lately and am frantically attempting to catch up tonight between shifts at the hospital, parenting duties, and continuing to train for the upcoming Boston Marathon.  But I have been healthy and feeling good and in the last two weeks have been fortunate enough to run several unique and fun races.


Friday, March 22nd I traveled down to my sister Lynsey's house in San Diego to run the Cosmic 5k with her and my friends Natalia and Yvette.  Natalia and Yvette are sisters too so it was a sisterly outing.  We had no intentions of actually "racing" this 5k, and if you are aiming to PR or attempting your very first 5k, I do not recommend these gimmicky races as the venue to do so.  First of all, most of these are not even officially timed, as was the case with the Cosmic 5k.  No timing chips, no clocks along the course, hell, I am not even sure if it was truly 3.1 miles.  Didn't matter at all to us, as we threw together our finest neon outfits and had a blast winding around the San Diego Chargers' Qualcomm Stadium parking lot through flashing strobe lights, ending in a high-energy electronic music spectacle.  The beats were pounding and I may or may not have twisted my ankle while simultaneously making a fool out of myself with my "well over the age of 30" style dance moves.  I have zero shame.


Yvette, Natalia, me and Lynsey (my sister) positively glowing.

My electrified flying cat leggings were the perfect touch.


I crashed on my dear sister's couch that night and woke up far too early the next morning to meet up with some of my best running friends, Smitha and Diana at the San Diego Padres' PETCO Park for the Hot Chocolate 15k.  This stadium is in the heart of downtown San Diego so there was ample parking structures and logistically, it was simple to get into and out of the venue.  I was very impressed with the organization of this event; since it is a traveling race with appearances in 14 cities across the U.S., every detail was meticulously carried out, making for a seamless and entertaining 9.3 miles.  This race offered a 5k and 10k option too, and even though I registered just two days before the actual event, it was only $65, and included the best race clothing item I've ever received as part of the registration fee, a half-zip hoodie with thumb holes and a zippered back pocket.  I have already added this hoodie to my weekly rotation, when usually my race shirts just get crammed into the back of a drawer. 

Although this is also somewhat of a "gimmicky" race, it felt more professional than others I have done, as it included details that catered to us more serious runners, such as corralls to keep differing paces from competing for starting positions, and a wave start to separate the varying distances. 

The course was tough.  The gun went off at 7:30 and immediately started up a steep hill, the first of countless climbs we completed, before we crested at Balboa Park just prior to descending the last few miles of the race.  I was worried that my rolled ankle would bother me, but thanks to several years of soccer, I could scarcely feel it in my Hokas.  

Race proof. Love my INKnBURN Dragonfly singlet. 



I pushed myself, and finished in 1:07:20 (pace average of 7:09 according to my Garmin), which put me at 13th overall female and 4th in my age group.  At the finish line I heard the announcer yelling to me, "Oh hey, nice Hokas there!" and I laughed.  Hoka lovers just can't help but to express their admiration for fellow Hoka enthusiasts.  Ha.  I turned to watch Diana finish (she was just a minute behind me) and heard the announcer exclaim that Dr. Andy Baldwin (from the television show The Bachelor) had just crossed the line.  I dragged Diana over to get a pic with him, as he is such an inspirational triathlete in the Southern California community.  Again, I have zero shame.  


We met Dr. Andy Baldwin from the Bachelor...and I must add that I finished before him!


After finishing, we walked over to claim our finishers' swag from an energetic volunteer, and again I was impressed with the detail that went into this race.  We were each given an oversized plastic mug with a cup of hot chocolate in the center compartment surrounded by melted deliciously decadent chocolate sauce in a side compartment with fondue accoutrements such as graham crackers, pretzels, marshmallows and a banana.  Have I enticed your sweet tooth yet?  This is a race I will absolutely be doing again next year without a doubt, and you must look to see if it will be appearing in a city near you too.  I must agree that it was indeed as advertised, "America's sweetest run", as well as was inexpensive, well-organized, had unique race swag and overall, was highly entertaining.

Diana and I modeling our yummy chocolate "medals" just seconds before devouring.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Westside 'til I Die...of Heatstroke (Los Angeles Marathon, March 9th,2014).

I know, I know, 75 percent of you are still smothered in a frosty haze, literally nauseous at the sight of your treadmill, would give your left kidney for one sunshine-filled morning run.  Just the title of this post ignites a jealous anger in your icicle-clad heart, wishing you could peel your gloved-hand off of your frozen Nuun-filled Nathan handheld and knock me to North Dakota.  But let us be honest here, it never really was winter in Southern California, and in fact, last weekend's Los Angeles Marathon was held in conditions many only experience in those final days of August.  To sum it up: it was hot.


In October I registered for this race as a convenient way to tour the large metropolitan city a mere 45 minute drive to my North.  I hadn't been in decades and knew it would be an awesome way to see all the landmarks.  Check out the course here.  My alarm set for 2:45 AM marked this as the earliest I have ever had to rise before a race.


I have amazing running friends.  Wait, let me rephrase that; I have amazing friends.  One of my best friends, Natalia (we met in line at a race packet pick-up, a true friendship from the start) could not run the race, but still wanted to be there, so she graciously opted to pick me up at 4 in the morning on race day (post daylight savings time change, so it felt more like 3 in the morning).  From there we picked up another of my best friends, Dede, and made the rare trafficless drive up North to Dodger Stadium where the race was to begin.  Natalia dropped us off at 5 AM and we settled in for the 2.5 hour wait until the 7:25 AM start.  The LA Marathon recently changed the route to the now famous "Stadium to the Sea" course and wow, what an awesome venue to begin a race in.  The stadium bathrooms were open, as well as the actual stadium chairs for participants to rest in, during those pre-dawn hours.  We met up with our other good friend from San Jose, Josam, mingled with other runners, checked out the DJ and dancers and shivered in the dewy Pacific air.  Then, we made our way to our corrals with just a few minutes until 7, when the corral gates were to be closed.


Initially, I registered for this race as a Boston Marathon training race, since I knew Boston would fall just seven weeks after this one, however, a few weeks out from LA, I changed my mind.  Why not race it to see what I could do?  I felt in decent shape, despite a month off of hard training in February due to starting a new job.  I am extremely competitive with myself, and a little notion to requalify for Boston 2015 began to take seed in my brain.  Going into the race on Sunday, I knew that was my ultimate goal, no matter what: I would requalify for Boston, with a time of sub 3:40 (my age group in 2015 will be 35-39).  And furthermore, isn't racing in itself a learning experience? I glanced up at the gorgeous swirling pink Los Angeles sunrise, closed my eyes, inhaled deeply and centered myself in the present.  "Enjoy this moment" I told myself, "I am so lucky to be here, on this day, with these like-minded people.  Learn from this, it will indeed hurt, but only for a short while."



The start began, first for the elite women, then 17+ minutes later, for the elite men and everyone else.  The LA Marathon has an interesting tradition of taking an average of the elite female PR times and an average of the male times and spacing the start equally, so as to create a game of tag.  The first person to cross the finish would win an additional $50,000.  Far from the elite field, the remainder of us crossed the start ramps, and we set off downhill, past the stadium, en route to the sea.


My initial plan was to follow the 3:25 pacer.  "Why not?" I told myself.  I had never run with a pace group before and thought this might be a fun place to try.  A 3:25 would be a two-minute PR for me, but I know I am capable of that time with perfect conditions.  The course was completely covered in rolling hills, though accumulated a net loss of 400 feet.  Those rolling hills took some strength and in fact mile 4-5 was mostly uphill, cresting to the sound of the Japanese Taiko Drumline, pounding to the increased pace of our hearts.  I could not help but to smile as they lured us up the last stretch.

Legs still feeling strong in the first half of the race.


I made it to about mile 12 with the pace group before the heat of the rising sun started to knock me back to reality.  What is it about the sun?  We wish for it, we worship it, yet on race day, we loathe its presence and find ourselves pierced with negative feelings of self-doubt the higher it rises in the sky.  Up until mile 12 I felt fantastic.  Physically and emotionally, I felt strong.  I felt invincible.  But those negative feelings can hit you faster than an elite Ethiopian's pace, slamming you away from your goals, breaking your stride as well as your heart.  Additionally, I could feel my electrolyte levels depleting with cramping legs and a foggy brain.  I popped two Hammer salt capsules, pushed some water and then began to grab cups of Gatorade along the route.  I would have given MY left kidney for an icy cold Coca-Cola. 


The thought of more than half the race remaining caused me to panic a bit.  "There is NO way I can do this" I thought to myself, over and over.  The miles felt like an eternity, even though hoardes of happy spectators screamed at us to continue pushing.  I was so impressed with the crowds at this race, they were neverending, each sign better than the previous.  I think my favorite sign read in bold blue glitter: "F the Time Change!", my sentiments precisely.  We ran through Hollywood but I was so consumed with my feelings of failure that I failed to see all the sights.  This angered me further.


At mile 18 I truly thought about quitting.  "I'll find a medical station.  I desperately need electrolytes before I faint.  I MUST not continue this torture!" I told myself.  While I realize these types of overdramatic feeling are totally normal in a marathon, this was by far the most extreme I have ever wanted to quit a 26.2 mile race.  Just quit, throwing away the months of training I had completed in preparation, like a strewn, smashed Gatorade cup on race day.  But I pushed on, the thought of how angry I'd feel in six hours, tomorrow, next week, next year if I stopped.  I felt like I was running through honey.  I felt like I was no longer running, instead I was plodding.  I thought of my friend "Endorphin Dude" Tony's famous "waddle to the finish" description.  I told myself just exactly that: "Waddle to the finish Kat.  You can at the very least do that."  The finish had cold drinks.  I needed that.


At mile 20 we hit Rodeo Drive, another location I had never been before but wanted to see.  I forced myself to be present in that mile, looking at each window of leather bags, adorned wedding gowns, Jimmy Choos, and diamonds galore.  No celebrities were spotted, but I was much happier to see volunteers with their open arms of water cups and Gatorade.  No $1000 heels for this girl; I happily choose my Hokas any day.


Despite feeling drained and electrolyte-depleted, I believe my fueling was as planned.  Spaced through the race I downed four GUs and a few orange slices along the course.  That is one more GU that I typically consume, and I learned from previous races that I need one more to keep me going.  Where I fell short at the LA Marathon though, is the early wake time caused me to eat my typical pre-race oatmeal/chia combo at 4 AM and then nothing until the race started at 7:25.  I had no coffee like I normally do pre-run too as I feared GI upset.  I will totally admit I'm a caffeine addict, and I had none prior to the start of this race.  Not smart yet a learning experience. 


Miles 19-23 were a gradual climb and similarly a gradual increase in my feelings of complete defeat.  All around me people were falling out, walking, and stumbling.  This told me I was not alone in my internal struggles; we were all in this fierce battle with the heat.  I stopped again to use the porta-potty, maybe more to gather my thoughts for a second alone than anything else, stretched at the curb, and then finally, we crested the steep hill at the VA Hospital to meet an awesome abundance of uniformed volunteers, a tunnel painted with hundreds of military squadron flags and more ice cold water to dump on my head for temporary relief.  My thoughts turned to what my squadron flags looked like, in my previous military life.  My struggles with the heat were so miniscule, in the grand scheme of things, could that have been a small trickle of hope?  Could I dig deep and kick it to the end of this race?
This MarathonFoto picture sums up my mindset of defeat as we crested the VA hill.


Keeping with the 3:25 pace group gave me a great pace to play with in that final half of the race.  Even with the two bathroom stops, walking a few hills, and stopping at every single aid station to drink Gatorade and dump cups of water on my head, I was somehow still managing to average around an 8:30 pace for the second half.  I had been told that the final three miles of this marathon were straight downhill though and I used that to my advantage, averaging a 7:20 pace for those final three (point two!).  But it was not easy.  I felt like crying.  I felt like stopping and walking.  I felt like my legs were constructed of jello.  But I pushed on, lured by those imaginary cold drinks calling for me at the finish line.  I knew my finish time would be okay as long as I didn't let up in this last stretch, but I was delirious.  I recall turning my head to read a sign along the course and felt dizzy.  Not good.  But I was oh so close to the end so I pushed on. 


Then we turned left onto Ocean Avenue.  I could see the bold orange finish line balloon in the distance but a glace at my Garmin told me it was nearly a half mile away.  It was pure grit to finish that last stretch.  My legs were turning yet the orange haven ahead didn't seem to get any closer.  So close!  It was pure ecstasy to cross that finish line.  Yes, I've completed a 100 mile race, but this was a different feeling of relief.  I fought so damn hard for every mile of this marathon when I easily could have succumbed to the heat and walked more or quit. Nevertheless, I accomplished my goal of qualifying for Boston 2015 by over five minutes (a time I feel will secure me a spot with the BAA's rolling registration).


An instantaneous wave of lightheadedness and weakness overtook me and I stumbled a bit through the finishers' chute.  I glanced at my Garmin (it said 26.6!) as a medical volunteer recognized my symptoms and lead me to a nearby shaded medical tent, where I collapsed on the concrete to rest, assuring the kind professional that I would be fine after a few moments to relax.  I chatted with a few other finishers doing the exact same thing, their race sentiments exactly like mine, and then I made my way to find Natalia.  En route, out of nowhere, a young volunteer handed me an icy cold wet hand towel and I wanted to grab him and plant a huge kiss on his cheek (sorry husband).  Heaven in all its cheap terry glory.  Heaven around my neck.  Relief. 

Marathon amnesia: walking an additional mile just to get to the beer garden.

I found Natalia among the thousands of fans thanks to her fantastic bright pink signs she had made and we waddled our way (well I waddled) to the beer garden (I was like a hound dog following a scent, I NEEDED that frosty beer).  Per usual, I found someone wearing Hokas under the tent and we immediately bonded over our love of the cush.  Turns out he was an LA Marathon legacy runner (has done all 24 marathons since the debut race), was well over 60 years old and ran a 3:30 despite the heat.  I was impressed.  After I downed the beer we walked under the famous Santa Monica Pier sign and onto the beach so I could dip my legs into the refreshingly cold Pacific Ocean.  I wish I could have lingered in that water for hours as it felt perfect, but we had families to get home to so we decided it was time to go.


This is a race I will absolutely be doing again next year.  It was the most well-organized event I have ever done, despite the necessary increased security so common in all races post April of last year and a field of over 20,000 runners.  Though my head was consumed by negative thoughts, the thousands of support crew and fans along the route are what kept my legs moving.  Natalia somehow managed to navigate the marathon traffic and was present at THREE different mile markers, her signs forcing me to forget my troubles and smile, even if but for just a few seconds.  She is why I kept my mind strong.  Sure, runners work for months and months to train for marathons, but it is the circumstances on race day that dictate our result.  Without her help and undying positive motivation, I surely would have fallen victim to heat stroke.  Not even sure how I can thank her, but I know that because she too is a runner, she understands how appreciated she is and someday I will be there to be her rock too.  Thank you to my dear husband too; without your permission to escape for this race while you settled on Dad duty all weekend I am certain our freshly blooming rose bushes would be pruned for a Barbie garden, my secret dark chocolate stash would vanish, and I would have returned home to a literal mountain of Legos and Matchbox cars to climb.

Natalia's infectious smile kept me strong!

Looking back on this day, I am so proud of myself for battling the dark negativity that overtook my confidence.  I achieved my goal.  I did not quit, though I wanted to several times, and I am quite surprised with my finish time.  Maybe the thoughts in my head were worse than reality?  Of course I never choose to feel those lows during a race, but it is the lows that define the post-race highs.  True elation is achieved when you have overcome mental and physical obstacles that seem impossible.





Thursday, February 20, 2014

Smush Your Tush Virtual Race for Team Healthy Kids!

Hey you, get off your tush and race for a good cause! 


Want to register for an inexpensive race that has no weather impediments, allows you to choose your own distance, choose the day you run, has the raddest finishers' prize around and 100% of the profits go towards the Action for Healthy Kids, which funds nutrition and physical education programs in schools across the United States?  Here is the opportunity you have been waiting for!!!


Sign up now for the Smush Your Tush Virtual Race right this instant!  Do not delay, as this race is limited to only 200 runners! 


Why am I hosting this virtual race for charity?  A huge goal I set this year was to run more races for charitable organizations.  Since I am a pediatric RN, I am quite passionate about nutrition and fitness education in schools as preventative healthcare for children.  The Action for Healthy Kids (click the link above for more information) is the perfect organization for me to assist with, and thus I vowed to run the LA Marathon on March 9th for this cause. 


  • Did you know that more than 30% of American children are obese or overweight?  This is triple the number in 1980. 
  • Did you know that only 8% of elementary school students and 6% of middle school and high school students have daily PE at school?  With budget cuts, these programs are among the first to get slashed. 
  • Did you know that 35% of school-age children watch an average of 5 or more hours of TV on a school day? 
  • Did you know that overweight kids miss school four times as much as normal weight kids?  If kids aren't in school, they cannot learn. 
  • Other consequences of childhood obesity include increased risk of cardiovascular disease (the number ONE killer in the US), and an increased risk of asthma, sleep apnea and Type 2 diabetes. 
  • These health risks contribute to the rising national obesity related health care costs!  If we fail to help children learn to eat right and be active every day, then this generation will be the first to live shorter lives than their parents.  SCARY!! (Cited from www.actionforhealthykids.org)


A virtual race is the perfect platform for me to raise funds.  I am not one to go around asking for donations.  I'd rather do something fun that everyone can get involved in, feel good about helping out an excellent cause, and obtain a cool award in return.  In lieu of traditional finishers' medals, I am providing these AMAZING super-hero lightening-bolt running knee-socks.  Yes, they say they are womens' sized, but look here, my size 11.5 hubby can wear them with ease.  Adorable right, hairy legs and all?!?  Please note, these are NOT compression-style socks, just high-quality running knee-socks.




How to register and participate, registration accepted through March 9th, 2014:


Step 1: Please pay $22 to my paypal account, kattyleigh@hotmail.com
If you select family/friend then I do not have to pay a fine with paypal.


Step 2: Please fill out this private google doc, providing your address and race distance (don't worry, only I can see it): https://docs.google.com/forms/d/17GZlDdN1bp6SL98djn5OLxTFOdZDUHwJIVYayeDPI_o/viewform


Step 3: Run your pledged distance by March 9th and post pics and let me know how you did at www.facebook.com/smushtushfitness


Step 4: Expect your incredible lightening bolt socks the following week and bask in all the glory of how awesome you are for supporting kids across the country on their quest to learn about fitness!


Thank you everyone for your support!!  Please e-mail or facebook me (facebook page posted above) with any questions at all.

Friday, February 7, 2014

How Being an RN Correlates to Running an Ultra (Making Lemonade)

Yesterday I completed my first week at a new place of employment.  Since the move from Portland to Orange County several months ago, I have enjoyed being sans job and home with my kids, driving them to preschool, exploring our new territory, pushing them in the double stroller on long runs to the playground every day, and literally soaking up this new concept of sun (new to us native Pacific Northwesterners).  It took far longer to obtain my California RN license than I estimated, and thus this Monday was my first day as a nurse at the Children's Hospital here.

Being a Pediatric RN has fun perks!

The truth is, it has been a rough and emotional week for me.


I loved my days home with my children.  Loved.  The stress of changing our routine, bringing an unknown person to the house to care for the children while I was away, the commute, the long hours spent with sick patients, the confusion of learning a new way to do a job you've been confident with for years, and the scared sensation of entering a tightknit group of RNs as the "new person" has truly caused anxiety and tears this week.  I know I will persevere, as I always do, but I must be honest and admit that it has not been easy. 


And therefore, I have been thinking a lot lately about how working as an RN at a busy Children's Hospital is quite beneficial to running an ultramarathon.  So here are my thoughts.


1. Thirteen plus hours on my feet spent scurrying around like a maniac to obtain supplies, physicians, medications and provisions for my patients and their families on a "rest day" is the best kind of active recovery.  Surely it is better than sitting on the couch right?


2. Lengthy 13 hour shifts also double as mental training for when I am in that lull of a race, bored to tears and ready to be done.  Hour 11 of a long shift is the similar sensation, complete with frequent time checks.


3. Working the night shift is perfect training for those sullen hours of a 100 mile race; these night shifts will whip my circadian rhythm into shape and instill a sense of normalcy in going 24 hours without sleep.  Furthermore, I have a few training runs planned for directly after I clock out just so I can train while physically exhausted AND sleep deprived.  Much easier to actually do this kind of training when I'm already sleep deprived from my job than if I simply tried to stay up all night in my own home.


4. Every single second of every single day at my job I am reminded of those enduring far more suffering than I have ever known.  The strain I experience at mile 88 of a 100 mile race is not comparable to the burden a child sustains on his 8th dose of anti-nausea medication to minimize his post-chemo symptoms; the empty feeling I cope with at 4 A.M. while running a 100 mile race is nowhere near the sadness that a four-year-old may be feeling while she is left alone at the hospital to recover from her brain tumor surgery because her mother has no choice but to stay at home to care for her siblings; unlike the paraplegic 13-year-old with Spina Bifida, I am not confined to a wheelchair, unable to experience the thrill of the final quarter-mile kick.


I vow to remind myself of this when I am in the darkest hours of my races, when every step is excruciating and my mind insists that I quit.  I cannot quit, because in the end, my pain and suffering is nothing.  It is a choice.


Running is such a privilege, and though I may complain a bit about returning to work, I am thankful for the daily reminder that I am so lucky just to be alive.  I will continue to live limitlessly.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Race Report: Tinkerbell Half Marathon 1/19/14 - Why YES You Can RACE a Disney Event!

Three days ago I completed my first runDisney event.  I remember the moment I registered for this race, because just a few weeks prior, my husband came home from work to tell me that we were moving (from Portland, OR) to Orange County at the end of July.  Registration was early in July, and I had heard that the Disney races all sell out swiftly, so I logged onto active.com from my phone while sitting on the bench outside my daughter's ballet class.  I thought to myself, well, since I'll be living down there anyways, "when in Rome...".  It is funny how sometimes you do things without really knowing the huge impact that can result.  It is scary to move to a new state without knowing another soul, and I had no idea that when I registered for that simple Tinkerbell Half Marathon, I'd be waking up in an Anaheim hotel room at 3:15 AM to prepare silly costumes and discuss race strategies with some fantastic new Orange County friends. 


Yes, I said 3:15.  Since the race had to be totally completed prior to the opening of Disneyland for the day, the official start time was 5:00 AM.  Luckily, several of my awesome new friends from our Moms Run This Town chapter and I stayed in a nearby hotel the night prior and utilized the free shuttle service to avoid traffic and parking.  Logistically, this made it super easy and a total blast.  We chatted and laughed the night prior until 11 so needless to say, we were not prepared for the alarm clock the next day.  Everyone woke up happy and excited though (hello, we were about to go RUN at DISNEY) and we put on our various wings and tiaras and in my case, cowboy hat, and got on the shuttle.  I dressed as Jessie from Toy Story, complete with her signature red cowboy hat piped in white, blue Team Sparkle skirt and cow-print knee socks.


Deer in Headlights With Several of my MRTT Girls Before Finding our Corrals.


I had been warned just how thick the crowd would be and it certainly was.  However, with over 14,000 runners, I was impressed with the organization of the event.  Each runner was corralled via a confirmed time from a previous race, so I made my way up to the "A" corral, as designated by my bib.  Since the bib numbers were also assigned by previous race times, I knew I needed to start close to the front since my bib was number 36. 


My view at the start.


For several months leading up to this race, I actively participated in a national Tinkerbell Half Marathon Facebook group.  Most of the other members had done several other runDisney events so I learned a lot about what to expect.  Here is where I learned what makes runDisney races VERY different than all other races.  A large number of the Disney race participants are not there to race, in fact, MOST participants have no desire to run fast or focus on time, and that is just fine.  Many mentioned that this is not a "PR race", and instead to focus on taking pictures with the various cast members along the route, and just to take in the entire experience.  But I had an internal struggle with this advice.


I love Disneyland, I truly do, but I love running more. 


Since moving to Orange County, we frequent the parks, and have ample opportunities to explore without the feeling of needing to rush through every ride and scene since we can just go back the next week as a local.  I had no idea prior to the start of this race if I would participate in all of the set aside photo opportunities, or treat the race as any other race.  I dressed in a costume like all the other participants, but I knew deep inside that the FUN for me is actually in the running.  I knew that morning of the race that I wouldn't be stopping for pictures along the course, and that is equally just fine.  I know many loyal runDisney fanatics look down upon my method, but to me, this truly is a race, one that should be preceded by a training plan and dedication to crossing the finish line in the best possible shape.  Just because I chose to actually run the race does not mean I did not have fun.


So I weaved my way to near the front of the start with 15 minutes to spare, and prepared for an experience I knew would be like no other race I'd ever done.  The National Anthem was concluded with classic Disney fireworks, and this set the tone for an over-the-top Half Marathon.  Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck stood on the podium with the announcers and in the pre-dawn darkness (which lingered until after I finished the entire race) at precisely 5 AM, under an over-sized screen portraying Tinkerbell herself, we were off! 


Minnie Mouse Announcing the Start.

Passing Under Tinkerbell at the Start.

Because I got to start so close to the front, I never experienced the typical elbow fighting and jockeying for position that usually occurs at the beginning of every race.  I know this was not the norm for a Disney race, and I found it refreshing.  This calmed my nerves, as I was anxious about that crowded start.  I must state though, that the only reason I started so close to the front is because my bib number was 36.  If it had been something higher, I would have given other runners the front, just out of common courtesy.  I have heard horror stories of those that actually wanted to run this race yet found themselves stuck behind pockets of walkers lacking the decency to stay to the right.  This is infuriating for someone who has trained hard for a race. 


Disney provides Corral A bibs to special VIPs and in that first minute I ran by Sarah and Dimity, authors of the book Run Like a Mother and Train Like a Mother.  I have met these ladies several times so I ran parallel to them for a few seconds to say hello and tell them that they looked gorgeous in their Queen Elsa (of the movie Frozen) costumes.  And then I kicked ahead.  The race started in the California Adventure Park.  We weaved up and down the various areas of the park, from the Paradise Pier to Cars Land.  We saw cast members and parade floats and the music of the park was blasting.  It truly was magical.  Each person and character lining the streets cheered us on, yelling "Go Jessie, Go!" to me as I ran by in my distinguishing red cowboy hat and cow print knee socks.  World of Color was running, and I loved that since I've never stayed at the park long enough to capture the spectacle.  Since the story of Peter Pan is filled with tales of pirates, there was an abundance of pirates along the course too.  We made our way through the back lots, past the animal barns that house the park's horses, the employee buildings, the maintenance sheds, and through Disneyland.  The darkness of the early hour was electrified by Disney's magical lighting in pink and blue and green.  I saw Cinderella, Rapunzel (I yelled hello!) and Merida.  My daughter would have swooned.  I saw more pirates, and Mike and Sully from Monster's Inc..  My son would have chased them down!  Since I was up front, I basically ran all alone, the nearest runners ten yards ahead and behind.  This made it special because everyone cheered as if I was the only one there.  I held my pace right at 7:30/mile.


I never stopped smiling the entire time.  Never.  Though I did not stop for pictures, I had FUN!


Marathon Foto Captured my Neverending Smile in my Toy Story Jessie Costume.


About halfway through the race, I downed my Surge Espresso Gel as we left the parks and looped our way through the streets of Anaheim.  Even though we had exited the "Happiest Place on Earth", the positive energy followed.  From the Red Hat Society ladies who lined a corner to the various High School bands and cheer squads, to the hundreds of Anaheim Police volunteers, my goofy smile remained intact.  Interestingly, I never turned my music on the entire race.  There were several lonely miles too, just listening to the sound of my own feet hitting the pavement.  Looking back, I am very proud of myself for maintaining the 7:30 pace through these long stretches.  I never ran out of energy though, and was able to pick up the pace in the final two miles, passing a few women along the way.  The only people to pass me the entire race were a handful of guys, every single one of them dressed as Peter Pan, which I found quite comical. 


The race concluded near the Disneyland Hotel, with Mickey and Minnie and Chip 'n' Dale there to provide endless high fives at the finish line.  Again, I was impressed with the organization of this race, but considering I was only the 67th person (31st woman!) to cross the finish line (5th in my division!), it was not a chaotic traffic jam of finishers trying to claim their snack boxes, mylar blanket and the glittering Tinkerbell medal.  The finisher's chute lead to a large area where an Army band sang well-done covers of popular songs.  Since I was alone, I did not remain and instead made my way back to the hotel shuttle.


Displaying my First runDisney Medal!


My conclusion of this, my first runDisney race, is that I had an absolute blast.  It was a unique, unparalleled experience to run through the empty yet still vibrant Disneyland parks.  The crowds raved over my Jessie costume and that fired me up even more.  My net time was 1:39:04, which is still four minutes above my PR, but I was happy with the result nevertheless, especially considering I ran in a non-aerodynamic cowboy hat, danced along to the High School bands, and high fived all the cast members along the entire 13.1 miles.

Because I am a Numbers Girl.


Just this morning I registered for the Disneyland Half Marathon in August, and I am already so excited to repeat this day.  Now I need to start planning my costume!  The only soreness I felt post race was in my cheeks from my permanent smile and I am counting down the days until I feel it again.