DC Bike Ride 2021

You guys! I have a milestone to report: first start line since pre-pandemic. Look at me go!

Months ago, I signed up for the DC Bike Ride, billed as twenty car-free miles through DC. Apparently, this is the fifth year running for this event, although somehow I’d never heard of it before. I was stoked. My friend Zoya signed up as well, and we made plans to ride together, but at the last minute she decided to be in Boston that week (Zoya and her husband split their time between cities) so I was riding alone. No matter! I missed Zoya, but I was looking forward to a blissful ride around gorgeous DC scenery.

It had definitely been awhile, because I was not at all on my start line game. I used to have races and events down to a science, but apparently I’ve forgotten everything. I remembered to lay out my clothes the night before, but spent the early morning dashing around looking for my race dots, then realized halfway to DC that I’d forgotten a mask for the start line (but fortunately had a Buff in the glove box). I left my water bottle in the car (d’oh!) and spent the entire pre-race festivities worrying about whether I’d remembered to lock up. (I had a distinct memory of zipping my car keys into my bike saddle pack, but no memory of actually locking the car door. Figuring I didn’t have enough time to get back to the car and check before the ride started, I just trusted in my personal autopilot. Spoiler alert: I had locked the car.)

I also noticed, while riding from my parking spot to the starting line corrals, that both of my tires seemed to be lower on air than they were when I left the house. Very weird, considering I just had my bike tuned up for the race. And I don’t have a travel pump – another fail; I’ll be putting that on my Christmas list for sure. I found a volunteer who had a pump and got a quick top-off, hoping it would be enough to get me through the ride, and then I could figure out what the heck was going on with my tires.

From where I set up, in the middle of the intermediate riders’ corral, it took forty-five minutes from the starting gun to actually get across the start line – oof. I spent the entire time worrying about (1) whether I locked my car; (2) whether I would get back before my meter ran out; and (3) the air in my tires. Not the most restful start line experience – but pretty much all on me. The crowd had fantastic energy, and I was looking forward to a great ride if my tires held out.

8:45 a.m. – hey! The start line! Wahoo!

We set off through Potomac Park, bound for Haines Point – one of the most scenic spots in DC, so a lovely place to begin a race. The first few miles were quite bottlenecked, so I rode along slowly, looking for opportunities to thread through the crowd and find myself a bit more riding space. We rounded the corner and – look at that view!

What a place to ride! Normally there are cars whipping down this scenic street. It was very cool to share the road only with a few thousand of my best cycling friends. The last time I got to ride through cool car-free city scenery was 2014, when I did the Five Boro Bike Tour with my dad, brother, and sister-in-law. This ride had a similar feel (albeit much smaller crowds – not a bad thing) and it was fabulous. Would have been fun to ride with my family again – or with Zoya, as planned – but I had a grand time pedaling along by myself and enjoying the scenery.

My smooth ride was not to last, though. My front tire held up fine, but as I rounded the traffic circle near Arlington Cemetery, I noticed a sickening bump-bump-bump sound; it was my back tire, and it was completely flat. Woof. I thudded my way over Memorial Bridge, enjoying the stunning view of the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument, but wondering what I should do. I quickly dismissed the idea of pulling out of the race – my car was parked so far away that it wasn’t worth trying to ride back, and I’d be more likely to solve my problem by finding a race volunteer to help. Instead, I decided that my goal was just to get to the next rest stop, where hopefully a volunteer would have a pump (I had a patch kit in my saddle bag). I thumped over the bridge and under the overpass by the Kennedy Center, where several people helpfully informed me that they thought I might have a flat. I waved and agreed that I definitely had a flat, and hoped that no one else would talk to me or I may not be able to rely on my natural politeness to bite back a rude retort, and I might channel Phoebe Buffay and shout “THAT IS BRAND NEW INFORMATION!”

As I pedaled over Whitehurst Freeway towards Georgetown, scanning for a rest stop with the bumping getting worse all the while, I spotted two riders in yellow shirts pedaling slowly along the right side of the road. When I got close enough to read the back of their shirts (“Conte’s Bike Shop Mobile Mechanics”) my heart soared. I drew up next to them and called over, “Excuse me! You guys doing repairs?” They were. Hallelujah. They quickly diagnosed my flat tire as a valve problem – not a hole, thank goodness – and kindly (and efficiently) replaced my inner tube, pumped up the back tire and topped off the air in my front tire, before sending me on my way. HEROES, totally saved my ride. The last eight miles of the ride were as smooth as the first twelve were bumpy.

Finish festival! Thanks to the Conte’s Bike Shop Mobile Mechanics, or I would never have made it – I’d have had no choice but to peel off and ride back to the car at my first opportunity.

I’d have liked to stay and enjoy the finish festival, but I was still worried about whether I’d locked my car, and I had definitely exceeded my parking meter (because of the flat tire; even with the extra forty-five minutes to cross the start line I’d have finished well before my meter ran out if I hadn’t run into that trouble on the course). So I snapped a quick picture, collected my new water bottle, and rushed to the car. I was parked right across the street from the Washington Monument, and I did stop for a solemn moment with the white flags commemorating the American victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. Please get vaccinated, my friends.

What a crazy ride that was! Hopefully, the next start line will lead to a smoother experience – but that’s all on me; this was a fabulous event and I’ll definitely be repeating the ride next year.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (July 19, 2021)

Happy Monday, folks! And happy day-after-National-Ice-Cream-Day. Did you get some ice cream yesterday? I didn’t, which does seem like a waste, but I got a big kick out of President Biden’s national message on social media.

Anyway, in addition to not eating ice cream, it was an okay weekend but not the best. We were supposed to go camping with friends – a trip I’d been looking forward to for months – but got rained out, which was a HUGE bummer. I spent most of Saturday moping and wallowing in disappointment. (Keeping it real.) Sunday dawned sunny, beautiful, and cooler than the last few weeks and I really wished we were waking up at our campsite. To make myself feel better, I went out to my favorite local reservoir with my paddleboard; got in a good 40 minutes even though it was crazy windy. (I was glad I didn’t bring Nugget this time; it was almost too windy for me alone and there is no way I could have taken him out. I almost turned back myself, but I’d spent thirty minutes getting my board inflated.) When I got home, the kids were ready and waiting for a hike at one of our local spots – it was a good one; although a short loop, there were wild black raspberry bushes every few feet along the trail. The kids gorged themselves and it took us nearly an hour to hike a mile. Worth it, though, because they had so much fun picking and eating the black raspberries along the way. On the way home, we stopped by one of my favorite local wineries and shared a flight – a consolation prize for not camping.

Reading. Another kinda-slow reading week; what can I say? Over the first half of the week, I wrapped up my remaining library book, Tokyo Ever After. The description (“The Princess Diaries in Japan”) is pretty much spot on. It was cute, and I enjoyed it! Moved on to a much-anticipated new release, Subpar Parks. More in the loving section, below – this was just as great as I expected, and worth every second of the wait for release day! Finally turned to Noel Streatfeild’s Holiday Stories (holiday as in vacation, my fellow Americans) for some cozy summer stories. I’m about halfway through and most of the stories don’t actually seem to involve the summer vacation, but they’re still good – no regrets.

Watching. We finished the Tour de France last night! Between Tadej Pogacar’s commanding victory, Wout van Aert’s ride over Mont Ventoux, Sepp Kuss’s hair-raising descent into Andorra, Mark Cavendish’s success story (side note; it’s a pet peeve of mine when a 36-year-old athlete is constantly portrayed as ancient and doddering, even if that’s kind of true in the world of their particular sport! – the commentators couldn’t help themselves, although at least he escaped another cyclist’s fate of being referred to as “poor old Ben O’Connor”) – and so many other exciting moments – it was a great tour.

Listening. Same old usual – podcasts (a few episodes of The Mom Hour and Shedunnit while walking) and the occasional musical interlude, still via my summer playlist.

Making. Erhm, nothing much. Last week was a busy week at work; I know I cooked but other than a quick curry, I can’t remember what I made. I made a lot of work emails, and a week’s worth of soccer camp snacks. ‘Tis the season.

Moving. A bit of a lighter week – three (or four?) runs, a short hike that was mostly black raspberry picking, and a morning with my paddleboard. That was actually quite a workout, thanks to the wind! I found a sheltered place to tool around, but even so, the wind put up a lot of resistance.

Blogging. A fun Themed Reads for Wednesday, and then a post about cycling on Friday. Check in with me then!

Loving. I’ve been a fan of Amber Share’s work – which she creates and posts regularly on social media – for over a year now. Share created “Subpar Parks,” a series of hand-lettered illustrations in a travel poster style, featuring iconic images of our national parks and other beautiful wild places, embedded under choice quotes from their one-star Yelp reviews. (Some of my favorites: “No cell service & terrible wi-fi” for Isle Royale National Park; “Too orange, too spiky” for Pinnacles National Park; “Too many mountains, trees, snow, etc.” for North Cascades National Park.) I have the Shenandoah print (“Not a lot to offer unless you want to hike”) in my upstairs hallway, the calendar in my kitchen – currently displaying Mount Rainier for July (“I’ve seen bigger mountains”) – and the Joshua Tree sticker on my Pelican case (“The only thing to do here is walk around the desert”). Needless to say, I’ve been anxiously awaiting the book, and it was every bit as pithy and engaging as I’d hoped. Share combines the illustrations from her original project with new parks (so there is new material in the book; it’s not just a re-hashing of her Instagram) and for each park, she includes a summary of the historical, cultural, and natural wonders that make each place so special. And on a philosophical note, she explains that the project has helped her deal with criticism, because if someone can hate on the Grand Canyon (“A hole. A very, very large hole.”) then there are just some people who will never be happy no matter what you do, and you shouldn’t beat yourself up. I love that. Warning, though: your travel bucket list will explode.

Asking. Don’t you hate it when people hashtag their own social media posts “couplegoals”? It’s one of my pet peeves. Please don’t do this. Also, what are you reading?

Virtually Unstoppable

I’ve often lamented, in recent years, that when life got really busy – too busy, really – running took a backseat or even dropped off the agenda completely.  In a life that was packed with constant rushing – rushing to pack lunches and get two dawdling kids out the door to school each morning; rushing to work; rushing to meetings; rushing home; rushing to cram in all of the little life things that have to get done in order to make the days happen – in all that rushing, running just felt impossible.  It was one more thing to think about and plan for, or maybe wake up early for.  It was just… not doable.  Okay, I could have made it work if it was important enough to me; I recognize that.  And I also knew objectively that if I took that time for myself I would be happier and would have more energy and patience for the day-to-day slog.  There are a lot of excuses, and certainly the clamoring demands of clients, colleagues, school administrators and kids were louder and more insistent than the little voice in my head that said “You’re important, too.”  But ultimately I chose not to prioritize myself.

Enter COVID-19.  The last “normal” day, at least in our family, was Friday, March 13 – pretty appropriate, huh?  The kids came home from school that day loaded up with their distance learning packets “just in case” and we prepared for what we figured would be a few weeks of hunkering down at home through the tail end of winter and early spring.  Those first couple of weeks were focused on figuring out how to make this social distancing thing work for our family – balancing parents’ work schedules with kiddo needs.  Then on March 23, the Governor announced that all Virginia schools would be closed through the end of the school year – and suddenly, we were confronted with a surreal situation that was going to stretch much, much longer.

I wouldn’t say the routine got easier, but somewhere in there, I started feeling an itch to run again.  Part of it was needing to feel like I had something reserved for me, and with a reading slump (pandemic-induced, and ongoing) books weren’t fitting the bill.  I pulled out my running shoes and started hitting the bike path a few times a week, running a neighborhood loop that kept me close to home.  The running itself didn’t feel great – comebacks never do – but it felt wonderful to be carving out a time and space for myself.

After a few weeks of casually running, I opened up my inbox to an email from Another Mother Runner, one of my favorite running-focused online spaces, advertising a virtual race series, complete with training program, coaching, and a private Facebook community in which participants could exchange messages and encouragement.  Like everything AMR stands for, the program was flexible, designed to fit into a mom’s busy life, and promised a warm and welcoming atmosphere.  I knew instantly that it was what I needed.  I signed up right then and there.

And it has been exactly what I needed.  There’s been a lot of conversation in the private Facebook group about the training plan.  Some of the participants abandoned it quickly, preferring to run by feel – many of them felt even more overwhelmed by the training plan; to them it was yet another thing that “had” to be done in days that already felt too burdensome.  Others – and I fall into this second group – have found the training plan to be a lifeline.  Each morning, I pull up the calendar to see what I am doing, and it’s a decision I don’t have to make.  It’s one thing that is simple.  If it says intervals, I do intervals.  If it says cross-training, I do barre.  The training plan, and the virtual races, have given me something solid to hang onto when the foundations of the world are shifting.

I’m not a very good self-motivated runner.  Every so often, I’ll head out on the trails just for the joy of the experience, the fresh air, the movement and the peace.  But that’s rare.  To stick to a training plan long-term, I need to be working toward something – which is why, when I was running consistently, I kept up a steady schedule of races from local 5Ks to half marathons.  Training for races fell by the wayside after Nugget came along, which is a huge part of why running fell by the wayside.  I need the motivation of knowing there is a start line and – even more important – a finish line, ideally with a shiny medal I can hang on my wall to remind me of my achievement.  Everyone is motivated by something; as I told my neighbor Zoya (motivated by ice cream), I am motivated by shiny things.

Clearly, the future of running races is pretty up in the air at the moment.  I’m hoping things will start up again in the fall; if they do, now that I am back in my running shoes I have a goal for next fall.  (Summer isn’t a big race season in DC anyway – too hot.  Once spring races are over here, things quiet down substantially until the weather begins to cool off.)  Enter: virtual races.

Virtual races are nothing new for me!  I even ran a virtual half marathon, on packed snow and in sub-zero temperatures, back in 2014.  (What was I thinking?)  So it seemed like a no-brainer to sign up, not only for the AMR virtual race series, but for a virtual 5K (“Rock Your Block”) hosted by Potomac River Running, a local chain of running stories in the DC area.

It was already warming up when I headed out at around 9:00 in the morning; note to self – get out the door earlier next time.  I wore the race shirt and stuck the bib on with my DC flag racedots, and people shouted encouragement at me all along the bike path.  It wasn’t quite the same scene as a race with thousands of other runners and spectators, and bands and bananas at the finish line, but it was plenty good enough for me to remember how good it feels to chase my own goals for a change.  And after all, I don’t really need spectators and finish line bananas, as long as I get something shiny.

(If you couldn’t tell, I’ve quit being embarrassed about liking race bling and am leaning into it hardcore.)  This is a hard time for everybody.  We’re all coping in our own ways.  If you’d asked me back in March whether I thought it was likely that the thing that would hold my sanity together would be running virtual races, I’d have looked at you like you were crazy – but here we are, in June, and my key rack is sagging with the weight of medals from virtual running events.  I’m waiting to see if a local trail race that I’m tentatively registered for ends up going forward in September; I hope it does.  But I kind of already feel like I’ve won.  I have running back, and I had no idea how much I needed that.

What are you doing to stay sane in these uncertain times?

Marine Corps Marathon 10K 2017

Whew!  It’s been awhile since I put up a race recap, hasn’t it?  I can’t even remember the last time.  The past year or two, it’s been hard to run and train for races – I’m sure I make lots of excuses, but there it is.  I don’t love being away from Nugget for long stretches, even now – I figure there’ll be plenty of time for half marathons (and maybe longer races?) when he’s older.  And between job-hunting, planning a move, and then trying to get used to a new job (I’ve been at my current job for over a year, and I still feel like I’m learning the ropes) something had to give, and it’s been running.  But I miss the feeling of accomplishment that I used to get from training for and running races, so I have very gradually been dipping my toes back into the local running scene.  I’m not doing anything too crazy right now, which was why my “big” race of the year was a 10K – but what a 10K!

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The day before the MCM10K, I drove over to National Harbor to pick up my packet.  It was a total zoo, but somehow I made it in and out with my bib and mock-turtleneck (#RockTheMock).  Loud singing along to The Book of Mormon soundtrack on the way there and back was a big help.  Back at home, I laid out my “flat runner” – we’d gotten a heat advisory email from the race organizers, so I planned accordingly with a tank top that weighs less than a sheet of tissue paper.

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Race morning dawned clear and sunny.  It was actually a little bit brisk, and I was chilly as I waited at the start line, but I knew I’d be glad I had the lightweight tank on later (spoiler alert: I was).  Eventually, the gun sounded and we were off!  I got chills as I ran under the “Marine Corps Marathon” starting arch.  Maybe someday I’ll run through this arch on my way to 26.2.

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The full marathon course starts over by Iwo Jima, but the 10K starts on the National Mall – which is very nice, because the scenery begins immediately.  We ran past a line of Smithsonian museums, and before long, I could see the Capitol over my left shoulder.  (I hummed “dark as a tomb where it happens” as I ran past.)

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Rounded the corner, and headed down past the Smithsonian Castle and toward the Washington Monument.  I have really missed running local races around these streets.  It’s SO nice to be home.

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Hello, George!  I put my camera away and before I knew it, we were crossing the bridge into Arlington.  I didn’t get too excited at that point, because most of the 10K is run in Arlington.  We still had a long way to go.

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A good portion of the race (10K and I think marathon, too) is run on highways in full sun – hence the heat advisory and the warning to dress appropriately for the weather.  I was glad that I made the apparel choices I had – I was always comfortable and didn’t really feel like I was baking in the sun (I did hear later that a few people were taken off the course in ambulances due to the heat, so it was no joke).  There was also a fair amount of shade on the 10K course, which provided relief, and even when we were in full sun we could count on cool scenery – like the Pentagon.

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I could tell we were getting close to the end when I ran through this row of American and Marine flags, and I started to get a little misty-eyed.  I made sure to thank every Marine I saw on the course for their service – others were doing so, as well.

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Soon we found ourselves running past the marathon starting corrals – all empty.  It was surreal to see the corrals silent, with all the runners gone.  Maybe someday I’ll be standing in one, ready to race the full.

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And before I knew it – the end!  The last little bit of the course was an evil, heinous – extremely steep – uphill, so no pictures from that part.  I went through the finishers’ corrals, collected my medal, and found my cheering squad – Steve, the kids, and my mom.  It was hot, exhausting, and completely exhilarating and inspiring.

Are you a runner?  What’s your favorite race?

50 Yard Finish 5K and a Father’s Day Hike

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Another weekend, another race!  I’ve been having fun with the local 5Ks this spring and summer – that’s about all I’m up for these days, what with two small kiddos to wrangle (and no time to train for a longer distance) but lucky for me, Buffalo has some great options at the 5K distance.  I was particularly excited to see that the 50 Yard Finish was a 5K this year.  Longtime readers may remember that I ran it in 2014, its inaugural year, when it was a half marathon.  Last year, the race organizers shortened it to a 10K, which I skipped.  This year the race was under new management and was run only as a 5K.  Perfect for me right now!

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The one negative?  It was run over Father’s Day weekend.  Steve is a really good sport about carting the kids around to races and entertaining them while I run, but it did seem a bit cruel to make him kid-wrangle while I ran a race on his weekend.  But he was totally into the idea – perhaps because this is the race that allows spectators to wander around the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills, while they wait for their runners to cross the finish line?  Well, for whatever reason, my race support team was willing, so I signed up.

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The start line was outside the parking area, and I lined up toward the back of the pack, since I am still figuring out the logistics of training with two small kids – I knew I wasn’t going to be setting a PR, since I was (as usual) woefully undertrained.  We crossed the finish line right on time, and not fifteen feet over the line, I stumbled and rolled my ankle badly.  Well, I’m off to a great start.  I briefly considered staggering over to the side of the road and quitting, because it HURT.  But I decided to keep running and see what happened, and by the time I’d made it a half mile I felt better, so I kept going.

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No pictures from the course itself – with only a 5K to cover, we stayed on the roads near the stadium, which aren’t the prettiest.  When the race was a half marathon, we ran through the very picturesque Village of Orchard Park, but this time, we didn’t have enough road to take us that far.  Which was okay with me… before I knew it, we were rounding a corner back into the stadium complex.

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This is when the race gets hard!  You think you’re almost to the finish line, because dangit, you can see the stadium, but nope… first you have to take the long way around the field house complex.  Oof.  But I jogged along putting one foot in front of the other and before too long, I was entering the long tunnel into the Ralph.

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And there it is – the coolest finish line in Buffalo!  I’ve said before – I’m not a football fan; don’t have the patience, but even for someone who couldn’t care less about the sport, it’s pretty cool to finish a race on the 50 yard line of a major league football stadium,

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My buddy was pretty interested in my medal.  Steve said that it was handed to me by the Buffalo Bills’ kickoff kicker.  Who knew?!  Clearly I did not deserve the honor of getting my medal from a pro football player, because I had no idea.  In my defense, it was hot and I was looking for water.  And I’m a hockey girl.  Forever.

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After the race, we headed over to Chestnut Ridge Park, which is nearby.  (Old friends may remember that we’ve hiked here once or twice before.)  We decided to try a new hiking configuration: Nugget in the backpack (which Peanut has named “the U.S.S. Dignified”), Peanut walking on her own, and me pushing the empty stroller as backup in case of an obstreperous preschooler.  Well, we made it about 100 feet before Peanut had an epic meltdown over I-don’t-know-what and insisted on riding in the stroller – okay by me.  But even in the stroller, it wasn’t her day, and we ended up turning back.  Guess she’s not quite ready to give up the backpack yet.

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But not to worry – on Sunday we redeemed our hiking weekend with a long walk down a new-to-us trail at Sprague Brook Park.  Peanut was back in the backpack, and much happier.

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And Nugget was in the Ergo, which he still apparently finds quite comfortable, since he fell asleep – again.  He has not yet made it through a Sprague Brook hike without nodding off.  I’m thinking something about the park is very soothing for him, because he doesn’t usually do that anymore.  Well, it is a very relaxing park.

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Happy Father’s Day to Steve!  I hope you had a great weekend – I sure did.  You made it special for us, just like you make every day.  We love you lots and lots.  We got a good one.

How did you spend your Father’s Day weekend?

EVL Happy 5K and Mother’s Day Weekend Recap

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What I really wanted for Mother’s Day this year was a fun weekend, spent mostly outdoors, with my three favorite people – and I got exactly that, starting with the Ellicottville Happy 5K on Saturday morning!  Ellicottville is a beautiful town about an hour south of us, sitting right at the base of Holiday Valley, the biggest ski area in WNY.  I’d been wanting to visit for some time now – ideally during ski season, but really anytime – but I’d never done more than just drive through it on my way to or from D.C.  So when I heard about the EVL Happy Half Marathon and 5K, I thought a race seemed like the perfect way to see the sights.  I am nowhere near half marathon ready, but I can usually count on my legs to bang out an impromptu 5K, so I signed up.

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The race started with packet pickup at the ski lodge.  It was a weird and surreal experience to see the slopes without (much) snow, and to walk through the lodge without dodging piles of slush.

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I really need to come back here with my snowboard!

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Packet pickup started at 8:30 and the 5K didn’t begin until 10:30, so we had a lot of time to kill.  Nugget was less than enthused about the whole project.

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Peanut had fun, though.  She enjoyed throwing rocks at this little stream (which I’ll bet is absolutely beautiful in the winter!).

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Finally, we were off!  The half marathoners started about 30 minutes before the 5K, but we finally made it over the start line.  I was a little nervous, since EVL is quite hilly – it is a mountain town, after all – but the race organizers nicely sent us down the one flat stretch of road in the area.  Well played, race organizers!

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Their motivational signs were also on point.  (Another one I liked, although I didn’t snap a picture, said “This is a lot of work for a free banana.”  Ha!)

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Finally, after a very hot three miles (not a lick of shade on the entire course!) I saw this welcome sight.  Don’t worry – there was a path around the bubbles.

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Collected my medal, then it was out to lunch at the Ellicottville Brewing Company (I had a salmon Caesar salad and we split a sweet potato appetizer that was THE BOMB), and home for a relaxing afternoon.

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The next day was Mother’s Day itself, so of course we started with brunch – although we were in line at 9:00 sharp, so it was really more like breakfast than brunch.

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I love the brunch at Betty’s.  We shared a blueberry pecan scone, and then Steve ordered a mess of scrambled eggs and veggies, and I had my favorite dish – the smoked salmon eggs benedict.  (It was a very salmony weekend, now I’m thinking about it.)

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After breakfast, we had been planning a trip to the children’s museum because the weather forecast looked a little gloomy.  But with no naps the previous day, and more sun than expected, we adjusted our plans to stay closer to home and hit the hiking trails instead.  To Tifft!

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No matter how many times I go, I will never get tired of these beautiful wetlands.

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There were other moms and babies on the trail, too.

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And dads and babies!

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It was such a fun morning.  I was so happy to be out in the fresh air with my favorites.  So grateful for my little family…

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After a short hike, we headed home and everyone got comfy.  Some of us got comfier than others.  Nugget, as expected, only took a catnap, so he and I ran a few errands together in the afternoon, and then picked up Chipotle on our way home.  Not exactly a traditional Mother’s Day dinner, but it sure tasted good.  The best part of the day, of course, was spending it with my sweeties.  But a close second was the gift that the kids gave me (organized by Dad)…

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He had a custom paper cutout portrait made by PurplePaperPeople – can you believe it?  I think this might be one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received.  I welled up when I saw it, and I can’t stop looking at it even two weeks later.  I think the likeness is incredible, and I can’t get over the detail.  Happy Mother’s Day, indeed!

I hope all of my mom friends enjoyed their days as much as I did!

Finn McCool’s 4 Mile Odyssey

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(Source: Finn McCool.)

So, continuing my documented poor decision-making when it comes to running, last month (man, am I ever behind) I checked another box off my list of dumb things I’ve been wanting to do – I ran my first obstacle race.  Yeah!  And what would have been a fun, albeit slightly silly, escapade was probably downright stupid when you throw in the whole postpartum, exhausted, toddler sleep regression thing.  I was not exactly at my best when I walked up to the start line – night after night of four hours of sleep really takes it out of you.  Nugget had a particularly rough night the night before the race – I was up with him for hours, crashed with him on the couch around 3:00 a.m., and actually fell asleep nursing at 4:30 – yawwwwwwwwn.  But I had plans to meet up with friends at the start line (I’d only registered for the race after confirming that I could run with a group, because I knew I would need help with some of those obstacles) so off I went.  And I was excited – nervous, but excited.

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(Source: Finn McCool.)

I met up with my group – two friends from (our dear departed) Stroller Strides, plus one husband.  (Having a guy in our group was key – he gave all three of us lots of boosts and help with the obstacles.  Thanks again, dude!)

We crowded into the starting corral and immediately decided to skip the first obstacle.  The map doesn’t show it, but there was some sort of bounce house rope climb thingy about fifteen feet after the start line – what?!  None of us felt like stopping and waiting in line four seconds after the start, so we ran around it and headed for the first obstacle of our course – a slip ‘n slide!  I was so excited about the (three!) slip ‘n slides on the course.  I haven’t done one of those since I was a kid.  I ran and bellyflopped and laughed my butt off.

We headed through a couple more obstacles and eventually skidded to a stop at the end of a long line of runners waiting for the “lily pad” creek-crossing obstacle.  The creek-crossing was, to describe it poorly, a line of foam mats floating on top of Cazenovia Creek.  We were expected to run across them and jump from mat to mat.  So not happening!  Every single runner was falling into the creek.  This got me excited, since it was hot and sunny and a swim sounded GOOD.  I made it over the first two mats before face-planting on the third, and falling off on my attempt to leap to the fourth.  I actually went over my head in the creek, which felt awesome.  What was not awesome was running on waterlogged shoes for the rest of the race, but that was inevitable.

From the creek-crossing we headed through a network of trails, stopping occasionally for obstacles like a cargo net, tires and more slip ‘n slides.  I skipped several obstacles – I gave most of them the old college try, but some were just not happening in my current postpartum weakling state.  (Next year I’ll do more strength training going into this event.)

Eventually our group split up.  Our married couple teammates headed on ahead, while the other mom and I ran together and talked.  It was good to have a friend on the course, pushing me to keep going.  My buddy is a smoking fast runner and she kept up a stream of motivation – I was so grateful to her.  Eventually, though, I told her to go on ahead.  The strain of running with waterlogged shoes and clothes was getting to be too much for me, and I hated the thought that I was holding her back.  I told her I’d see her at the finish, and off she went, while I dug deep and did my best to finish strong.

The final obstacle was a gigantic mud pit, over which ropes were strung to keep the runners on their bellies.  I plopped down on my hands and knees and squelched through the mud, ducking under the ropes.  Finally, after getting basically covered in mud, I popped up and squished the final few feet to the finish line.  I looked like I’d been bathing in mud, which I guess I kind of had?

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Worst.  Spa.  Ever.

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I headed to the “hose shower” – which was basically standing around in a bunch of mist and really didn’t get me very clean at all – then collected my super cool pint glass and my FINNisher’s medal and squished my way back to my car.

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So, this race was a BLAST.  It was hard and it took me for-ev-er (don’t ask for my time, because I don’t know it! – definitely over an hour, though) but it was such a good time.  I drove home (listening to my favorite Another Mother Runner podcast, natch) with the biggest smile on my face, and told Steve that he has to do this event with me next year.  I mean, how many chances do you get, as an adult, to slide on your belly down a slip-n-slide, run over foam mats floating on a creek, scale a cargo net, and roll around in mud like a piglet?  It’s basically a must-do.  And yeah, it was outside my comfort zone (way outside) but I’m SO glad I did it!

Now to see if my running shoes are salvageable…

Have you ever run an obstacle race or mud run?  Did you manage to stay clean?  Ha!

John Beishline Memorial 5K

Hi, friends!  I hope my American readers had a safe Memorial Day weekend and enjoyed spending some time with your families.  We spent a low-key weekend around here, with a hike at Knox Farm on Sunday and a visit to the Aquarium of Niagara on Memorial Day itself. But before we could get to that stuff, I had a 5K to run on Saturday!

Memorial Day weekend is also the weekend of the Buffalo Marathon.  Last year, you may remember, I participated in the marathon as part of a relay team and had a fantastic time.  This year, my team went our separate ways: two of our runners from last year signed up to run the half marathon as individuals (and crushed it!), one is nine months pregnant, and then there’s me – too recently released to activity after Nuggetpalooza to train for a 10K.  But I still wanted to participate.

This year, there was another option: the inaugural John Beishline Memorial 5K, run on the day before the marathon and half marathon.  Beishline was a former race director of the Buffalo marathon and a respected member of the local running community.  This was the first year the marathon weekend included a 5K option (and there was a challenge option too, for runners who wanted to run the 5K on Saturday and the marathon on Sunday).  Somewhat on a whim, I decided to sign up.  On race morning the whole family headed out of the house at the crack of dawn; I’d told hubby that he and the kids were not required to attend the race, but I think he found the prospect of pushing Nugget in the stroller while wearing Peanut in the child carrier somewhat less daunting than dealing with the two of them at home!  So we all went together, and they waited in the car while I ran into the convention center to grab my packet and t-shirt, and then it was go time.  I figured I’d be slow, so I lined up near the back of the pack.

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Shania Twain sang the American and Canadian national anthems, and we were off!

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I started out with an easy pace I hoped I could hold for most of the race.  I would have loved to run the entire distance, except for the aid station, but I knew that was probably unrealistic.  I set a low expectation and told myself to run as much as possible and keep the walking to a minimum.

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One of the first sights of the race was Shea’s Performing Arts Center, a Buffalo institution.  Hubby and I attended Mythbusters Live here back in 2013, but haven’t been to an event since.  I snapped a quick picture that doesn’t do the building justice at all.  It’s a beautiful place.

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As we headed up Franklin Street, the road began to slope noticeably uphill.  I wasn’t surprised by this – after all, the race (a loop course) is all downhill once we make the turn onto Delaware, but we had to get up to that elevation somehow.  So, yeah, I was expecting it, but man did it hurt.  My legs were just not willing to get with the program.  I tried to run the hill as much as I could, but I took several walking breaks.

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We hit an aid station where I grabbed a cup of water, and shortly after that, I saw the mile 2 marker.  (Somehow I’d missed mile 1.)  I tried to pick up the pace for the last mile, but my legs just weren’t having it.  It was funny – usually I have a harder time breathing but my legs feel strong.  With this race, it was just the opposite – I was breathing comfortably the entire time (well, I wasn’t exactly pushing the pace) but my legs felt like lead.  I’m sure that carrying some extra baby weight (nine months on, nine months off) had something to do with it – that and the fact that I haven’t been able to figure out a training schedule yet, so I wasn’t really prepared for this race.

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Still, lead legs and all, I slogged through the last mile and even found a slight kick when I turned into the finisher’s chute.  (The pic above is from the other side of the finish line; I was too busy waving at hubby, Peanut and Nugget and trying not to stop and walk as I ran through the finish line.)

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Check it out – a finisher’s medal!  Most of the 5K races around here don’t offer finisher’s medals, and I don’t expect them from such a short race.  This one was a cool bonus.  I’d be lying if I said the finisher’s medal didn’t motivate me to sign up for this race.

Final time: I haven’t the faintest idea.  Slow.

I had mixed feelings after this race.  Not about the race itself, which was impeccably well-organized for an inaugural race (it probably helped that, while a new race, it was part of an established marathon weekend).  It was a blast being back to the running community.  I’d missed it so much during my last few months of pregnancy and the early postpartum period, and I was beyond excited to be running again and participating in a race.  But the lead-legs feeling was unpleasant, and it really drove home for me just how much work I have to do to get ready for the summer and fall racing season, especially if I want my marathon dreams to become a reality.  I’ve simply got to figure out a way to get out and train.  It’s really hard for me to tear myself away from the kids right now, and getting up early feels like torture – Nugget has been up at 6:15 like clockwork, and I’m not sure how much earlier I can push myself to get out of bed, especially when I’m up with him from about 2:30 to 4:00 a.m. every. single. night.  But there has to be a way, and I need to find it, because as it stands right now I’m not going to be ready for my June 10K, let alone an October marathon.  I’ve got some thinking to do.  And some running.  Mostly running.

Did you run a race over the weekend?  How’d it go?

Buffalo-Niagara YMCA Turkey Trot 2014 (Plus, Thanksgiving!)

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‘Tis the season!  The Thanksgiving-to-Christmas season is one of my favorite times of the year, and running in a Turkey Trot is one of my favorite ways to kick it off.  I’ve run races on Thanksgiving Day most of the past five years: Buffalo in 2010, Troy in 2011, skipped 2012 (still recovering from Hurricane Peanut), and Buffalo again in 2013 and now 2014.  Getting some fresh air and exercise feels so good before starting the holiday revelry.

I wasn’t sure I was going to run this year.  After the GBTC Cross-Country 5K felt so tough, I was a little bit unsure of my current ability to get the distance done again, plus about two more miles on top of that (even on pavement and at least half downhill).  Then I came down with a case of the don’t-wannas when I decided I’d rather be home, warm and dry, than wake up early to run in the cold and snow.  Then, in the middle of the night before the race, I woke up with a hideously painful leg cramp – a fun new symptom for this pregnancy.  (In my twenties, I used to get horrible charleyhorse cramps almost every night, but they went away after I started hydrating better.  I had leg and hip pain for awhile with Peanut, but more of a steady ache than a sudden raging cramp.  I am super displeased that the charleyhorse cramps are back.)  The cramp was so bad that I was jerked screaming out of a dead sleep, and poor Peanut was terrified.  (Yeah, we’re bedsharing now.  Don’t judge.)  It was really starting to seem like the universe was telling me to sit this one out.  Once I calmed my angry calf down, I went back to sleep and promised myself that I’d revisit the race in the morning.

When hubby woke me up my calf was still pretty tender and felt very tired, but I could walk and run on it and I already had my race t-shirt so I decided I really ought to saddle up.  I grabbed breakfast – steel-cut oats with peanut butter and a little maple syrup – and drove myself into the city.  The race is a five-mile (approximately; it’s 8K, which is 4.97 miles) point-to-point, so my finish line parking spot was miles from the starting line.  Hubby and Peanut nicely followed me to my parking spot and gave me a lift to the starting line before heading to Wegmans to run some last-minute errands.  I wandered up to the very back of the pack just as the gun went off and found myself starting with the walkers – fine with me, since I was looking to take it extra-easy on pace, between my tender calf and just being, you know, all pregnant and stuff.  About nine minutes after gun time, we crossed the start line and I settled into a steady pace running four minutes, walking one minute.

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One of the best moments in the race is running under the “New York Central” bridge, when all the runners shout “Woo-hoooooo!” in unison.  I didn’t partake in the shouting this year – all my spare oxygen is earmarked for Nugget – but I enjoyed hearing the fun as I ran through.

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Leading with your bump is always a solid race strategy.

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I was doing really well running four minutes and walking one until about mile 2.5 when my phone gave out.  This has happened before (I’m long overdue for an upgrade – maybe next weekend I’ll make the time) and I knew I had plenty of battery power but the phone was refusing to cooperate because it was cold.  While I’m entirely sympathetic, I was annoyed that not only could I no longer take pictures, but my timing capabilities were disabled for the moment.  (I know where my Garmin is, but the charger is still in a box somewhere – ah, the joys of moving with a toddler and no time to unpack.)  So I switched my strategy to “running on instinct” until my phone warmed up inside my sleeve.  I tried to walk when I needed, while keeping the breaks to a minimum.  My new “running on instinct” strategy also forced me to be more mindful of why I wanted to walk – was it pregnancy-related discomfort, in which case I should absolutely dial it back, or was it general runner stuff, in which case I should push through if I could?  Most of my walk breaks were due to my legs being tired – Nugget was just fine, lulled to sleep by Mommy’s run – so I did attempt to keep a lid on the laziness.

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Finally, a little before mile 4, my phone was warm enough to snap a few pictures again.  I kept my “running on instinct” strategy, though, and planned out my walk breaks based on distance (run to that flag, then you can walk to that light post) instead of time.

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Before I knew it, I’d rounded the last corner onto Franklin and was headed for the finish line!  I found I had some gas in the tank, so I poured it on and passed about ten people before crossing the finish line.  Woohoo, done!

Final time: 1:11:31.  I’d say that was decent for a five mile run-walk with a 24-week baby bump along for the ride.  I’ll take it!

After the race, I immediately headed for my car where I threw back some water and drove straight home to this face:

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Peanut is into accessorizing, so she’s wearing a “13.1” SweatyBand as a necklace.  Appropriate, for race day, don’t’cha think?

Because of scheduling issues (coughnaptimecough) we were unable to attend the family Thanksgiving celebration this year.  We were really bummed about this, but what can you do?  Toddler naptime is sacred, and we’ve messed with it enough times to know what a bad idea that is.  So even though hubby and I were both really down, we resolved to have a fun Thanksgiving, just us three at home.  Hubby worked on the turkey while Peanut and I handled side dishes and pie.  And by “Peanut and I handled side dishes and pie,” I mean I handled side dishes and pie while Peanut colored at the kitchen desk (all over a note from school, which luckily I’d already read), built herself a fort and climbed like a monkey on the kitchen island stools.

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(While wearing my “Color Runner” sweatband – never used, by the way – as a choker, of course.  Until I took it away so I could try to get some decent pictures.)

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Mission… accomplished?

I put Peanut down for her nap and then hurried downstairs to make the most important part of Thanksgiving dinner – pie!  Whenever I cook or host, I always have apple-cranberry pie from the Williams-Sonoma Savoring America cookbook.  It’s my favorite.

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You can tell it’s a standby when the cookbook pages are splattered and stained.  It was every bit as good as I remembered from the last time I cooked Thanksgiving dinner, years ago.  (I swear I’m not lazy, just a mom.)

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We sat down to our Thanksgiving “smalliday” with plates packed full of turkey, cranberry sauce (added after the picture was taken, don’t worry), mashed potatoes (courtesy of Wegmans!), sweet potato casserole and roasted Brussels sprouts (I promise they’re amazing).

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Peanut ate turkey with gravy, sweet potatoes, and even tried two Brussels sprouts!

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It was a THANKSGIVING MIRACLE.

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Happy American Thanksgiving to all of my friends.  I hope that, if you were celebrating last weekend, you had a wonderful time soaking up the day with your families or friends, great food, and football if you’re into that sort of thing.  If you Turkey Trotted, I hope you killed it.  (The race, not the turkey.)  And I hope that you had time amidst the trotting and cooking and general craziness to pause and think about what you’re thankful for.  I’m thankful for hubby and Peanut, a warm house, a good job, food on my table, and you, my friends.

Greater Buffalo Track Club XC 5K 2014

Last January, my dad made a New Year’s resolution to run (at least) one 5K race each month.  He’s stuck to it diligently and I even got the fun of running with him in the Schenectady Strawberry Fest 5K back in June.  To get in his November race, he suggested that we run together in a race out here in Buffalo – if I felt up for it – when he and my mom visited two weekends ago.  I’m still getting out there, although it’s more of a run-walk for me, and I’m trying to get in a few more events before I hang up the running shoes for the duration of my pregnancy, so I was all in.  The race we chose was a new venture for both of us – our first cross-country 5K!

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The race was held at Hoyt Lake, an area where I used to run regularly when I lived in the city (before creepers started targeting female runners – including a family member of mine – and I decided it wasn’t safe to run there anymore).  I was thrilled to get the chance to run there again.  It’s a beautiful park and I wish it was a safer place for women to run.  I knew I’d never have a better opportunity to run there than as part of a race group.  Plus, the idea of running a cross-country 5K, since it was something I’d never done before, was appealing.

We all lined up in the woods near the intersection of Lincoln Parkway and Rumsey Road.  That’s the start line, above – pretty low-key.  The gun fired and we took off running through the fallen leaves.

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The course was set by flags.  If you saw a blue flag, you ran straight.  A red flag meant “look left” and a yellow flag meant “look right.”  The course was well-marked and we were always able to see the next flag ahead – although sometimes we had to look around for it before we spotted it.

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Hoyt Lake boasts a pretty running path (again, wish it was safer, because it’s so nice there) but we didn’t use it.  Instead, we were running over grass and mulch, and through mud and leaves.  Occasionally we got to pound a gravel trail for a few feet and that felt like luxury.

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There’s my dad running strong.  He looks a little mystified, though – he’s probably searching for the next course flag.

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There were a few very steep hills on the course, including two beasts that we ran twice each.  (That’s one of them above, and trust me, it looks much more benign than it actually was.)  Dad is faster than me on a good day, but he very nicely stuck with my trudging pregnant pace.  We kept to a pretty tight regimen of four minutes running, one minute walking, but we walked up the tougher hills even if we were otherwise in a running interval.  Even the 4:1 ratio felt tough, and I’m thinking of scaling back to 3:1 for the Turkey Trot this week.  (I may or may not decide to do that.  The Turkey Trot is all on pavement and mostly downhill, so even though it’s almost two miles longer, it should be easier than the cross-country 5K was, with the wet, uneven ground and piles of leaves drifting around the course.  We’ll see how I feel on Trot day.)

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I have seriously never been happier to see mile marker 2.  Mile 2!

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Finally, at long last and after my slowest time ever, by a long shot (about 45 minutes – ouch!) we saw the finish line.  We ran through a little corral of parking cones, and we were done.  I have never been happier to finish a race.  Even my brutal day running the Biggest Loser Half Marathon at 11 weeks pregnant felt less strenuous.  (Again, pavement.  Oh, and ten fewer weeks of baby growth to lug around.)

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Done, and pretty darn happy to not be running anymore!  We stuck around the finish line and chatted with some of the other runners who were milling about.  One lady had run the cross-country 5K as her first race ever!  Major props to her.  If this was my first race, I would have concluded that runners are nuts and I want nothing to do with this sport, ever again.  It was seriously that tough.

And yes, I did wear a “running for two” shirt so that it was perfectly clear to everyone why I was taking walking breaks and plodding along during my run intervals.  Can’t have people thinking I’m always this slow!  But honestly, as miserable as I was during the race, I was so happy that I was still out there doing events, even slowly, at 21 weeks pregnant.  When I was pregnant with Peanut, 21 weeks was the point at which I was placed on activity restrictions for the first time (the bed rest would come later).  This time around, I am lucky enough to have a clean bill of health from the 18 week anatomy scan (fingers crossed things continue to go well) and permission to keep running as long as it is comfortable and enjoyable for me.  I’m just happy to still be out there.

Have you ever done a cross-country 5K?  Did you think it was insanely hard, or am I just a wimp?