There’s Something About the Mountain Air

Relaxing has never been a strength of mine.  Always balancing a tough course load, top-notch grades, part time jobs, and marathon training, I have never made relaxing a priority.  At the end of Fall semester last year, I realized you can’t pour from an empty cup and learned the importance of rest.  Simply learning the importance of rest, however, did not stop me from making the same mistakes the next semester.

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*Photo Credit: Pinterest 

Since starting graduate school, I have found myself with a lot of down time.  I realized this is not something I will have for very long, especially since my Master’s program is only one year and then I will be teaching full time, so I decided to take advantage of it.  Last week, I ventured back to Salzburg, the city that stole my heart, to breathe in the mountain air and learn how to relax.

I went to all of my favorite spots in town, saw my favorite views, ate my favorite foods, and took long strolls along the river. One day, I hiked Gaisberg, a 4,225 foot mountain with healing powers.  I spent a sunny day reading in the Mirabell Garden and a rainy day reading in a cafe.

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Looking for a good physical challenge after training for and not running Berlin, I ran the Salzburg Trail Running Festival for the second time.  It was, well, challenging, but refreshing and renewing all at the same time.  I entered Kapitelplatz where the finish line was just as all of the bells began to chime in unison.  It was a perfectly timed ending to a beautiful run through my favorite city.

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Though I missed my friends with whom I shared Salzburg, it was comforting to return to and relax in the city I consider to be my home away from home.  Until next time, Salzburg

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Did Not Start

DNS- “Did Not Start,” it says next to my name in the record book for this year’s Berlin Marathon.  While those letters sting more than I can describe, they certainly do not mean that I did not try.

Four months ago, I began training for marathon number four.  As the hot and humid summer negatively affected my training, I knew I had to drop my ambitious time goal and run instead of race.  Oh, and I moved to another country.  That didn’t help matters given the time frame.

Undertrained, I was still looking forward to running another World Major Marathon and spending time in Berlin this weekend.  I strategically planned the trip for optimal museum time without putting too much strain on my legs.  However, a few days before I was scheduled to leave, I found out that Meme, one of my biggest runspirations, passed away.  My priorities immediately shifted and I made an impromptu trip home.

This trip was accompanied by many emotions.  The loss of my grandmother, who doubled as my friend, was difficult, especially being so far from home.  That, along with the stress of missing class, extensive traveling, and missing the Berlin Marathon (that I struggled but persevered to train for) all became very frustrating when you add in the exhaustion and resulting headache.

I thought the race was out of the question until I FaceTimed with Daddio and he told me that I should still try to run.  He made some good points, and while overwhelming, I knew I had to try.  Meme would have wanted me to run, and it’s worth it to try and have it not work out than to never know.  It is this combined determination and stubbornness that I inherited from Meme.

So, I coordinated a slew of one-way flights, traveled through seven cities, with four different airlines, and arrived at the marathon expo to pick up my number with just minutes to spare.  All of this activity with a dividend of five days- if I pulled it off, I would have done cartwheels through the airport.

SIDE NOTE: I would like to recognize the restraint involved in listening to the Hamilton soundtrack and not belting out a single lyric because you are on an airplane.  This restraint is far under appreciated.

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Meticulous travel notes to get me to the church on time! A bagel tally seemed necessary too!

It wasn’t until I got lost on the way to my hostel that the shear exhaustion of the week hit me like a high speed train.  Trying to channel the badassery of Barefoot Boston, part of me thought, “Well I’m here, I may as well give it a go.”  The other part of me decided that the exhaustion combined with being undertrained and alone was a recipe for disaster and the safer option would be to sit this one out.  With my adjusted projected finish time and added exhaustion, catching my flight back to Scotland didn’t seem plausible.  It is very important to respect the distance of a marathon.  After all, without proper training, marathons can be dangerous.  Still, the decision to sit out was painful to make.

My best friend summed it up pretty well by saying, “this seems like a lose-lose situation.” And she was right.  I would be upset to not run, and I would feel terrible (physically and mentally) if I did run, not to mention running the risk of injury as well.

A DNS is frustrating to a marathoner no matter the reason.  It’s easy to be upset because, although I’m not in the peak condition I originally planned, I still put in the hours of training and gave up a lot (especially a lot of family time) to get there.  At the end of the day, I’m still only human.  It wouldn’t have been healthy to run and that would have sacrificed my future running goals.  I’m in this for the long haul, not to be outrun before turning 25.  Maybe just one marathon a year will suffice!

And so, this “Did Not Start” has sparked the fire to begin working towards my next running goal.  Wherever the next race may be, I’ll be sure to make it a good one because Meme has the best seat in the house.

Thank You Notes:

  • Thank you for the outpouring of love and support my family received this week, and thank you to everyone for celebrating Meme’s life with us.  This goes without saying, but she was a special lady.
  • Thank you to my family for convincing me to give Berlin an honest try.  I wouldn’t have been able to give it a go without your support.
  • Thank you to the fellow marathoner I met on the flight to Berlin.  We split a taxi from the airport, swapped stories of travels and marathons passed, and got to the expo on time  (In case you are wondering, he finished with an incredible time!).
  • Thank you to compression socks for keeping my legs race ready with all of this travel.  If only the rest of my body could keep up!
  • Thank you to Meme for a lifetime of wisdom, wise cracks, and peppermint patties.  Your strength and determination have always inspired me and will continue to do so as I live, learn, and meander through life.
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Thanks, Meme

Moving to Scotland: For the Degree

It has been about three weeks since I moved to Scotland for graduate school.  For the past couple weeks, I have been getting acquainted with my new city of residence, settling into my flat, and planning all kinds of trips around the region, the rest of Scotland, and Europe.  My classes also started this week and I think I am going to like them (and if not, I’ll just hold my breath because a one-year Master’s program isn’t so long!).

Now that I am just about settled in, I have found some time to go adventuring along Scotland’s north eastern coast.  I am a 10-15 minute walk from the beach, though it is rather windy.  Rumor has it, Aurora Borealis will be visible from the beach soon.

Last weekend I hiked along the coast just north of Aberdeen, near Cruden Bay.  The walk along the cliffs was gorgeous and staying on the tiny footpath was crucial as there was nothing to stop you from going over the edge and into the North Sea.  The grass was rather slippery as well because, believe it or not, it had rained earlier.  So I didn’t do much off roading!

As the semester continues, so will the adventures!  Stay tuned for more updates!

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Share The Road

Since graduating in May, I have moved out of the city and back home to my bedroom in my Dad and Debra’s attic.  It is, no doubt, an adjustment in many ways, but for the sake of this blog’s theme (which is “running” if you are unaware), I will focus on the transition from city to suburban running.

In Boston, I never tire of places to run.  Sidewalks line every road (on both sides!!), there are running paths by the Charles and the Muddy Rivers, and there’s always the beautiful and unforgiving Marathon Course.  The carriage road on Commonwealth Avenue in Newton is not only my favorite place to run, but it is the running route where I feel safest (most safe? Someone please grammar check) from traffic.

Running in my hometown is different.  Sidewalks are few and far between, roads are narrow and winding, and drivers aggressively maneuver the streets because where they are going is hands down more important than where everyone else is going.*

It is difficult to find a long route that follows a sidewalk, which is frustrating to someone who could leave her apartment, crush eighteen miles, and return to her doorstep all without having to hurdle over roadkill, jump into brush piles on the side of the road because a driver chose not to slow down, or try to cross a busy intersection that for some reason doesn’t have crosswalks or walk signals for pedestrians.

I do my part by running against traffic, wearing bright colors and reflectors, carrying a flashlight on the rare occasion of running at dusk, and taking headphones out on busy streets, but sometimes that’s just not enough to ease my mind as a car whizzes by faster than the generous speed limit.

So, I ask that drivers please slow down, move over, and share the road with runners and cyclists.  Running is often the greatest part of my day, and, understandably, your commute is not, but please be mindful of others using the same roads in different ways.  Just because you are jealous that I’m running and you’re not doesn’t mean you can almost hit me with your car.*  But in all seriousness, please slow down, we athletes on the side of the road thank you.

*Denotes sarcastic tone

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Taken on a road near Lake Placid, NY, where the roads aren’t just for cars!  Click for a TBT to the 2015 Lake Placid Marathon!

Marathons: A College Success Story

It wasn’t until my freshman orientation that I realized college wasn’t for me (Yes, the two day orientation the summer before college even starts).

Here I stand, four years later (after transferring, studying abroad, seemingly endless summers of catching up on credits, student teaching, and completing three marathons) with two Bachelor’s degrees and a license to teach in the State of Massachusetts.  Though I successfully navigated my college years, I can confirm that the “college experience” was not my cup of tea.

Luckily, I am stubbornly independent and was perfectly fine marching to the beat of my own drum as I moved around roughly every four months for four years.  My schedule and setting changed on the regular, and running became my constant.  When I wasn’t being challenged at my first school, I started to run.  And my oh my look where it got me.

I attribute much of my success in college to running.  Training for marathons has given me time management skills like no other.  It is the perfect release during a stressful semester.  It is the greatest excuse when I don’t want to stay out late.  It has led me to incredible friends who like to go on adventures.  It has taught me how to get lost on purpose.  It has taught me to adapt, persevere, and endure.  And sure, training for marathons while being a full-time student and working on the side isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m glad it’s mine.

I put a piece of my Boston Marathon heat sheet inside my graduation cap.  Heat sheets are given to runners upon completion of most marathons.  A heat sheet protects you by keeping you warm after you stop running.  Since 2014, I have kept a piece of Boston heat sheet in my wallet just because it means so much to me.  I like knowing it’s there.  Putting a piece of it in my cap was a no-brainer because I owe much of my success in college to running.  As I sat at commencement, reflecting on my collegiate accomplishments and glimpsing into the uncertainty of the future, I was glad it was there to remind me of where I’ve been and to protect me as I head into the Great Unknown.

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Austrian Adventures and Running: A Few of My Favorite Things!

Thank You Notes (College Edition):

  • Thank you to my Daddio for believing in me, being my biggest supporter, answering my phone calls at any time of day, and generally always giving the best advice.
  • Thank you to my Mum for always being there, especially when I’m sick.  (She makes the best soup).
  • Thank you to my Debra for believing in me when I forget to believe in myself.
  • Thank you to my sister for being my best friend, role model, proofreader, and the person that I look up to most in life.
  • Thank you to my Austria friends for being adventurers.
  • Thank you to my co-teacher/mentor for giving me all of her secrets.  If I can be half the teacher that you are, I’d be satisfied.
  • Thank you to my first students who taught me more than I could ever teach them.
  • Thank you to my professors (four of them in particular) who prevented numerous b-downs over the years.
  • Thank you to my laptop for not crashing.
  • Thank you to my nine roommates over the past four years for the memories and for  putting up with my early-set internal alarm and the noises I make when I (try to) stretch.

Barefoot Boston: A Race Recap

Marathons are not run in a day.  They are run in months of early mornings, countless hill repeats, squats, planks, ice baths, and bowls of spaghetti.  Race day is actually the final stretch of a marathon, and it can be unsettling when your months of hard work are shattered because of that one factor we cannot control: Weather

On Tuesday,  I celebrated Monday’s accomplishment with some friends I am privileged to know through charity running.  We were all in agreement that Monday was a grueling day to race, and none of us are quite satisfied with our performances.  Mostly everyone’s times were off what they knew they were capable of based on training, and even the elite times clocked in a bit slow this year.  That being said, it was still Boston, a race that will eat you alive, spit you back out, but still have you crawling back for more.

The seventy-and-sunny forecast was a bit unnerving considering we never had a long run over fifty degrees this season and our coldest was somewhere around negative ten.  With race day being the first warm run of the year, it was difficult for the body to adjust and perform they way it did during training.  This was frustrating, especially because the day started out really warm and then 30,000 runners ran into a cold front with a strong head wind on their way to Boston.

This strange weather made for a tricky and technical race, and a lot of things could have gone better.  For example, I over hydrated.  Over hydrating can be very dangerous.  Feeling lethargic for most of the course, I searched the human barricades (beautiful crowds that mentally carried me from Hopkinton to Boston) for a spectator with pretzels.  I normally carry salt packets with me for long races, but it completely slipped my mind this time and sent me into a rut.

There are a few things you can do when you’re in a mental and/or physical rut during a race:

  1. Say to yourself, “One step at a time.”  It’s literally how you get from point A to point B in any situation.
  2. Remember why you run.  We all have our reasons.  
  3. Think about all of the other athletes around you.  If you’re in mile 21, so are they, and they probably feel the same way too.

One of the most important things running marathons has taught me is adaptability.  It is difficult for your body to adapt to sudden changes in temperature during endurance events, but there are always adaptations you can make on the fly while running.  I am not proud of how I hydrated and fueled on Monday, but I am proud of one fantastic adaptation that I made.  I took my shoes off in mile 24 and finished the race in my socks.

I have a love/hate relationship with my current running shoes.  I loved the previous version of this shoe, so when I was due for a new pair it was a no-brainer to just upgrade to the next edition, right?  Wrong.  Throughout training I had good days and bad days with these shoes.  I hesitated (and chose not) to buy a new pair before the race because I was not up for the experiment with such a short amount of time.  Instead, I just hoped it would be a good shoe day.  It was not a good shoe day.  My Daddio helped me take them off and I sojourned onward to that beautiful finish line.  Getting those darn shoes off my feet provided instant relief and was the best I felt for the entire race.  It also made me feel like an absolute badass.

So, barefoot and crazy, I finished my third marathon.  I am incredibly proud of completing my second Boston, but redemption is needed (It’s in my three-year plan).

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No Shoes, No Problems

Thank You Notes:

  • Thank you to the spectator who gave me pretzels.  I think you saved my life and my kidneys.
  • Thank you to the spectator who gave me a wet sponge.  I’ll have you know sir that I carried that sponge many miles and I also thought you were cute.
  • Thank you to my family and friends for your constant support throughout training and the race.  Seriously, y’all’s know how to work a road race.
  • Thank you to every spectator who lined the course.  You are what makes Boston so special.  Thank you for the pretzels, the wet paper towels, the encouragement, the punny signs, the music, endless high fives, and never failing to provide more cowbell when asked.  Thank you for carrying me home to Boston.
  • Thank you to all of the wonderful donors who contributed to Brigham and Women’s Hospital.  Your donations provide Life Giving Breakthroughs to countless appreciative people and their families.  If you would like to make a contribution, there’s still time!  Click here for more information!
  • Thank you to the sun for only burning the right side of my body this year.  The annual Patriots’ Day Sunburn has much less surface area this time.
  • Thank you to the volunteers, medical personnel, and police officers throughout eight fantastic towns who kept the course safe for runners and spectators.
  • Thank you to the New Old South Church for a beautiful service on Sunday Morning.  The annual Blessing of the Athletes service is truly inspiring and I channeled it while I was struggling during the race.

Home Field Advantage

The Boston Marathon is the most prestigious marathon in the world.

That sentence (and the reality of it) is daunting.

The Boston Marathon has two hats.  The first hat is the kind of hat you see at the Kentucky Derby.  Boston is a marathon for the elites, it has incredibly strict qualifying times, and a BQ is at the top of every marathoner’s bucket list.  Calling it “prestigious” is almost an understatement.  But what makes this marathon even more incredible is the second hat, like your good ole baseball cap.  Regular Joe’s get to run Boston too by raising money and awareness for their favorite causes.

I say “Regular Joe’s” because some of us didn’t grow up runners, some don’t have a runner’s physique, and some aren’t very fast, but we are all passionate and crazy, crazy passionate, passionately crazy, all of the above.

On top of our day jobs and/or school, charity runners train like athletes (some getting in shape for the very first time) and raise money and awareness for causes that are near and dear to our hearts.  It is painful, exhausting, and consuming but at the same time, it is equally rejuvenating and rewarding.  Knowing that I get to spend Saturday mornings with Team Long Run is something that I look forward to week in and week out.  There is something very special about being surrounded by people who are so passionate and dedicated to the art of the marathon and the causes we run for.

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I am very lucky to call Boston my home, and I am even luckier to be running this race for the second time for the wonderful Brigham and Women’s Hospital [Insert shameless fundraising plug here].  I grew up outside of the city, but during my years living in the heart of Bean Town, I have witnessed the resilience that personifies the Boston Marathon.  I am speaking of a resilience that is inspiring, not only to get you out of bed in the morning to log some miles, but to be a kind human being.  Boston continuously reminds me that people are good, that love trumps hate, and that together we are strong and can make remarkable things happen.

Living and training in Boston for Boston has its perks.  First of all, the harsh winter weather makes you adaptable (buck up, it builds character!)  Secondly, training on the course gives you an incredible edge, physically and mentally, on race day.  Turning right at the fire house is when I click into gear.  Heartbreak Hill is the ultimate home field advantage.  I know every unforgiving incline of those miles.  This training season alone, I have run Heartbreak Hill 28 times.

I know that this will be my last Boston for a while, so I am ready to eat up every delicious crumb of Marathon Weekend: the Expo, every wonderful mile of the race, mass at Trinity Church on Sunday morning, Sam Adams 26.2, the camaraderie, pasta parties, the sound of cowbells, fancy heat sheets, hilarious and sometimes inappropriate double entendres on signs that were meticulously thought up and created by spectators, the butterflies-in-your-tummy feeling of busing to Hopkinton only to realize the only way back is via your own feet, the kind words of encouragement from family, friends, and strangers alike, the post-marathon waddle (swag walk), and that beautiful medal adorned with the prettiest unicorn in all the land

On the eve of the 2014 Boston Marathon, BWH’s beloved coach said, “The Boston Marathon is the marathon of all marathons.  It is your Superbowl, your World Series, your Final Four, there’s nothing else like it.”  I have trouble finding words to describe the experience that is Boston, but that pretty much sums it up.

Thank You Notes:

  • Thank you to each and every wonderful donor who has contributed to BWH’s quest for Life Giving Breakthroughs. Your generosity is appreciated by more people than you can imagine.  Interested in donating?  Click here to help BWH meet our $1,000,000 goal!
  • Thank you to my beautiful family and friends for enduring yet another training season with me.  I am the only one who can put in the miles, but y’all’s make it easier.
  • Thank you to ice baths.  You hurt so good.