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Archive for the tag “challenge”

#NotAllRaces: Music City Half Marathon Recap

Not all races are created equal. They all have the same bones: starting line, finish line, heartbeats, nerves, and an apparatus that times you. Everything else is a variable: weather, the course, the competition, how your body feels, aid stations (or lack thereof), gear you wear (or forget), the number of tolerable porta-potties (oxymoron?), and the post-race fuel available (I really don’t get why there isn’t chocolate milk every single time!)

Races are beautifully complex, and running one is a completely new experience each and every time. I love that and yet I wrestle with it. Last Saturday’s race was one I am still having some mixed feelings about. On one hand, I placed first in my age group by about three minutes and I didn’t pass out. On the second hand, it was a slower time than my last race that I didn’t even place in, it was one of the toughest races my mind has had to conquer (on a seemingly not-so-challenging course), and perhaps most frustratingly, I’m still sore in my hamstrings and lower calves, despite lots of time on the foam roller, lacrosse balls, and stretching.

It’s. Thursday.

Without much more melodramatic lamenting, here is how it all went down.

Race Day

I woke up at 6a.m. in order to get some fuel. I wasn’t hungry, but knew if I didn’t put anything else in my stomach then, I’d have to eat too soon before the race. So I choked down half a serving of oatmeal, stretched, gave myself a mantra (Run strong, run fast, run your best), and crawled back into my warm bed for 20 more minutes. After getting back up and guzzling a cup of coffee, I went on my way to Nissan Stadium in downtown Nashville, where the start and finish lines were. It was spitting rain, grey and ominous. I didn’t bring a hat to wear and I left my sunglasses in the car, dismissing any inkling the weather might change.

Within 15 minutes of getting out of the car, I found a comfortable spot in the middle at the chute. The excitement butterflies that usually visit my stomach at the start were there, but barely. I was disappointed; I love the pre-race butterflies. Did they sleep in? This worried me for a second until I got distracted by the gun going off. A symphony of watch beeps filled the air, and with no music, I set off with the crowd.

I felt good, strong and excited when I started. I charged up the first hill (a bridge) with ease and passed a few people. But then, within the second mile, I started feeling a twinge here, a tired muscle there, and is that a side stitch? Seriously? Way too early for me to be comfortable with. I told myself that this one was not gonna be as blissful as I hoped. Not all races can be the same. Run strong, run fast, run your best.

We ran through an industrial part of town before getting up alongside the Cumberland River on the greenway, which sounds nice, but it was kind of brutal. On one side, there’s a river…not exactly your soothing babbling brook. On the other side was the backside of office buildings and warehouses…not exactly your daydream vista. And we were running against the wind. I began digging deep in my psyche and convinced myself to get comfortable being uncomfortable, because with 8+ miles to go, this wasn’t gonna be a dream run. My splits were not indicative of how I felt, however. They were better, a much-needed confidence booster. Run strong, run fast, run your best.

As we looped back, we came into contact with runners still coming from the other direction. A runner coming from the other direction shouted to me, “You’re in the top 10! There’s one right in front of you!” What?! Despite feeling the burn, I felt a boost. Run strong, run fast, run your best. The sun had come out, did I mention that? Did I mention that the sun came out about a mile in, and I had foregone the sunglasses? Never doing that again. The sun beat into my eyes the entire way back, causing a dehydrated-induced headache. I had half a Honey Stinger waffle and water around mile 8, then took some PowerAde from an aid station at mile 10, to try and ward off the dehydration – knowing the damage was done. Run strong, run fast, run your best. My pace had fallen a little bit, and I struggled mentally and physically. I was not having fun. My mantra took a different turn. Run strong, run fast, run this b*+ch.

Woulda looked cuter with sunglasses on, but nope!

I tried to gain a little momentum coming back down the bridge, but as we ran around Nissan Stadium for the last .60, I knew I wasn’t going to make up for what I’d lost in the last 3-4 miles. Run…your…best. Seeing my husband about .10 from the finish gave me the kick I needed. 1:46:25 and I was DONE.

Post Race

I was so happy to be done with that race. Like, hallelujah. My mood changed when I crossed the finish line, got my medal and a water bottle. By the time Jacob found me, I had sat down and nearly finished the water, wanting more.

I felt disappointed not to have even beaten my time from February. My goal for this race was far from met – I wanted to run my original PR of 1:41. So, HA. HA HA HA.

When I got a print-out of my data, I saw that I was 1 of 15 for females, 25-29. I was shocked. This couldn’t be right. But it was! My mood lifted from there, and standing on the podium felt pretty nice. The race organizers, Team Magic, had nice prizes for those who placed and I appreciated the cup, new socks, gift card to Nashville Running Co. (my favorite) and some weird-looking things you put in your shoes after you run so they don’t smell. They’ve already been tested and given a thumbs-up!

Three things in common with these people: We just ran, we’re between the ages of 25-29, and we just were told to put our hands up over our heads for a photo-op. I had time to run to my car and get the shades.

The Takeaway

Not all races are going to give me the warm fuzzies. Since my last race went so well and filled up my soul so much, I had expectations that this race would do the same. When I struggled (and so early on), the warm fuzzies fizzled into doubt and disappointment. I fought hard to keep those feelings far, far away.

Races are all about struggle! Despite placing, I wasn’t fully satisfied with how I did, and that’s okay. I can learn from it. I take running seriously, but when my brain voluntarily changes Run your best to Run this b*+ch, I guess it’s telling me that not all races are considered equal; lighten up, sign up for the next one, and don’t you dare think you can live without your sunglasses. B*+ch.

 

SPLITS + DATA

8:16 // 8:02 // 8:07 // 8:18 //8:05 // 7:53 // 7:45 // 7:50 // 8:02 // 7:56 // 8:08 // 8:19 // 8:07 // 1:32 (.20) = 1:46:25

301 elevation gain

11 Reasons I love the treadmill (and you can, too!)

In the fitness/running world, ‘treadmill’ is often synonymous with ‘suck.’ FullSizeRender (2)

In the runners’ world, it’s affectionately nicknamed the ‘dreadmill.’ Clever.

There are multiple articles touting the shame you should feel for using the treadmill, why you should always run outside instead. There’s even a Pinterest page dedicated to the dreadmill. And that’s okay; I get it.

I’m a runner, that’s no secret. But what is? I love the treadmill. Especially this time of year.

Here are reasons why I love the treadmill (and you can too!)

1. I can completely zone out: Dial in my speed (7.0mph for a slower day, 7.2 for a normal, and 7.7-8.0 if I’m feeling fast); swipe to my go-to playlist of the week, and have at it. I don’t have to think about which route to take (which is good for an indecisive one like me), if I’ll get lost or go too far before I run out of fuel or sidewalk. I just plug in and go.

2. People watching. There is usually always someone entertaining at the gym to watch. The dancing dude with a bandana who’s probably rocking out to Guns & Roses, the old lady reading Home & Garden on the elliptical while her husband tries hopelessly to get in the groove beside her, old friends saying ‘hi’ to each other and shooting playful jabs… it’s good people watching while you work out. Entertainment enough. There’s also the mental wish list I make when I see cute workout clothes I want.

3. Pure safety. Nashville doesn’t have the safest streets (read: no sidewalks in a lot of neighborhoods). It’s safe to use the treadmill; I won’t get hit by a car or end up in the wrong part of town. Especially when I have to run at night and solo night running makes me uneasy, the treadmill can be a godsend.

4. Hill interval workouts. I can perfectly dial in my incline, set myself at a certain challenging speed, turn up my music and settle in to the discomfort. I can focus on challenging myself just a little better because I have control over the elements of my workout. I usually come up with my own pyramid workout, but if you need some ideas, this is a good place to start and modify to fit your goals and abilities.

5. The fan. With high and low settings, it’s dreamy and feels stupidly luxurious.

treadmill-racing6. It can push you, if you let it. Wanna push yourself to get faster? Set it at a certain speed and work on sustaining that speed for 60-90 seconds. HIIT workouts are the BOMB on the treadmill, taking the guess work out of pacing. If you don’t have a track nearby, the treadmill can be vital to work on your speed.

7. I can check myself out. Before you get all judgy, here me out: I can check my form in the mirror and see where I’m a little off-balance. Helps a ton, truly. You wouldn’t want to lift weights in a room with no mirrors all the time because proper form is important, right? Same with running. Take a chance to check your form.

8. I nerd out on the numbers. Sure, I have my Garmin when I run outside, but I love the data presented to me on the treadmill without having to slow down (heaven forbid, right?!). I can see my average pace, if I need to kick it up a notch, see how far I’ve gone, and my incline percentage. It’s the only time I love numbers.

9. Beverages. I’m talking Nuun water, coffee, tea… the cup holder is plain awesome. I’ve ran with all three before on the treadmill feeling spoiled for getting to do so. You just can’t run with coffee without looking like you’re late for something.

10. Asphalt sucks sometimes. Face it: constantly pounding the pavement can be not-so-friendly on your joints. Show ’em some love by getting on a more forgiving surface like the treadmill (or trails).

11. Because it’s better than not running. When I’m faced with running in the rain, sleet, bitter cold, sometimes I can turn on my beast mode and do it. But sometimes I just really don’t want to, or it’s unsafe. A lot of times, I can only run at night and stories of runners (read: women runners) being assaulted/kidnapped/even killed rightfully frighten me.  What am I gonna do? Not run? No, thanks. I’d rather keep my sanity. The treadmill is a privilege, really.TreadmillHC

I’m not saying every workout on the treadmill is sunshine and roses. More like fluorescent lights and sweat. But it gets the job done, at the end of the day, when I’d rather not be outside, which isn’t often.

Show the treadmill some soleful spirit instead of disdain. And stop calling it the dreadmill. Name calling is rude.

Happy running!

Race recap: Women’s Running Series Nashville Half Marathon!

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Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme, wake on up, it’s running time!

I’m the prodigal daughter of this blog, I swear. Every time I abandon it, something happens, and I come back to it with guilt and an intent to make amends. I’ll be better, promise!

What spurred my return this time is nothing Earth-shattering. It was a race I ran yesterday that kicked my butt into blog-gear. Big woop. But it was my first race since April (the Country Music Half-Marathon that I still should write about someday), and I trained for it starting in July when I was in Colorado. High altitude training FTW! and it was something that I wanted to do for myself, for the sheer joy of it, and because I like myself the most when I am running.

So, a race recap:

The Women’s Running Series Nashville Half Marathon and 5k benefited the Edith Sanford Breast Cancer Foundation. Its runners were predominately and predictably female, with the hairier sex sprinkled in here and there for support or pacing. No male would place – just women. This excited me because sometimes you just like running with others who understand the struggle of the just-right sports bra. The struggle is real.

The Expo was very well organized and skinny, but that was probably for the best. Had there been more exhibitors, I wouldn’t have had time to peruse them all anyway, and probably saved myself some money in the long run. The information about parking was only a little helpful; in Nashville, for most events that take place downtown, you can park at LP Field and walk over the Shelby Pedestrian Bridge. There wasn’t any literature affirming nor denying that. So, I told my boyfriend to park over at LP Field and walk over the bridge to come see me at the finish, but there was a game going on and he missed me. My fault for assuming, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only Nashvillian to do so. I digress.

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Nancy pulls of pink really well.

The Start was appropriately right in front of the Country Music Hall of Fame, with a beautiful burgeoning sunny sky. The temperature was perfect. I am definitely an early bird, and another reason I enjoy racing is because I’m surrounded by those who (generally) are early birds, too. I feel less weird and not-my-age.

I was really happy to see my fellow Girls on the Run buddy, Nancy! She is a coach for the GOTR group I volunteer with, as well as an elementary school counselor. She is always a source of warmth and happiness and reminds me of my Oklahoman aunt. We snapped a quick selfie before I tucked my phone into my FlipBelt (highly recommend) and the gun went off.

The course rounded down to 2nd street where we turned left to go up Broadway. I’ll never not love the sight of the neon signs of the honky tonks on Broadway, even at 7 a.m. when last night’s beer-soaked mats are laying out on the pavement to be pressure-sprayed off, because it’s Nashville and so hot right now.

Anyone from Nashville knows that if you go west on Broadway from the honky tonks, you go uphill. That was a gift to us within the first mile; the first of many. I tried to hone in my pace, knowing that adrenaline was definitely pushing it. I ended up pacing well in the long run with an average of 7:54, but made myself nervous from my first mile pace.

What I loved and didn’t expect about this race were the amount of energetic crowds out to cheer us on. Within the first mile we had two groups of motivators – one being an exceptionally cute cheerleading squad with an average age of 7. One group of college boys in Hillsboro looked like they had kept the party going from the night before and made sure that all the ladies running by were complemented and encouraged. Aaaand they were blasting “Eye of the Tiger,” to which I gave two thumbs up.

Throughout the course, happiness never eluded me. Different muscles started nagging and my feet were reminding me that I’ve maybe put too many miles on the Pearl Izumi N2s I was wearing. But the sun was shining. I was running. I was surrounded by strong, healthy, active people who wanted to make the best out of themselves by doing what we were all doing. I was struck with what seems to happen every single time I race: meaning, gratitude, and joy. I thought, more than once, “I don’t do this nearly enough.”

The hills we ran were a challenge. I’m not going to say, ‘I love a good challenge’ because it’s used too much and falsely and people should stop throwing that around willy-nilly. But I digress. I love certain challenges, and running up hills is one of them. Also finding the perfect combination of frozen yogurt and its toppings. As well as avoiding Target for clothes shopping. IMG_4991

The whole race, my Garmin was off from the course; I would hit a mile about .15 in front of the official mile marker. So, when I ran down 2nd street and saw my watch tick to 13.1 and still didn’t see the finish line, the Type A runner in me got a little, well, ticked, temporarily breaking me from my running-induced euphoria. But as the finish line came in sight, I cleared my head and kicked it into gear.

Expecting to finish around 1:45:00, I was very satisfied with my 1:43:43 (where my Garmin said I had gone 13.24!). Turns out my chip time was the exact same, so I must’ve zig-zagged a TON to make up for that extra mileage.

I juggled a banana, water, and granola bar while I took out my phone and found a tent where ladies were welcome to “freshen up.” The tent was complete with perfumed lotion, deodorant, cleansing wipes (for which my very sweaty face was grateful) and other things I don’t normally think of using straight after finishing a race because half the fun is just being dirty because you earned it. Anyhow, this was a thoughtful measure and a testament to keeping the race very ladylike.

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He’s way taller in real life.

I met up with Jacob who is always so supportive of and happy for me. I’ve done races before where I’ve had no one to cheer me on, which I am totally fine with, but whenever you do have support and encouragement from those who care about you, it makes a pretty huge love dent.

Being a lady event, there were mimosas instead of beers for each runner after the race. I felt fancy and silly drinking mine with a plastic champagne flute while Jacob just hung out and pretended not want one of his own. This race would definitely be perfect for groups of women who can all take part in the girliness of it together. I would do it again next year, and try to rope in some girlfriends, which is an awesome transition into:

MY NEXT RACE! It’s the Rock and Road Marathon Relay with three great friends in Nashville: Elizabeth, Erika, and Katie. We’ve already gotten to run together which has been a great way to spend time together and get a good workout. I hope we get to do it more before our race, and continue after because I’m of the opinion that combining good friends with exercising is like binging on ‘Scandal’ with wine. Only much healthier and less expensive.

STAY TUNED. THE PRODIGAL DAUGHTER OF RUNNING BLOGS IN NASHVILLE HAS RETURNED.

Struggles of seriousness and self-identity

I started training for my first half marathon a little over two years ago. By the time I crossed the finish line of the Horsetooth Half with a New Belgium beer waiting for me, I had already caught the running bug. I shopped at Fleet Feet. I wore running clothes when I wasn’t running. I subscribed to Runner’s World, learned about Plantar Fasciitis and how to pronounce it, and gleefully discovered a whole big world of sweaty, carb-scarfing people who loved running as much as I did. I began to identify as a runner, and quickly many who knew me did too, and I was really proud of it; I wore it like a badge of honor. Heck, I created this blog because of it, essentially.

Fast forward, and sparing you details, I injured my foot during marathon training with 7  weeks to go before my third marathon this spring. I took 11 days off of running and jumped into cross training: cycling, swimming, yoga and strength training. What shocked me was I didn’t miss running. My familiar, neurotic don’t-miss-a-training-run self was out to lunch in China.

I missed out on a few weeks of crucial mile-building for the marathon while waiting for my foot to get back to normal. As it stands, about a week out, I have decided the smartest thing to do would be the half marathon instead. I know better than to fight through 26.2 miles, even if my foot feels fine-ish now, without having built up the mileage the right way. Plus, to keep running healthy for the rest of my life without a prolonged injury is ideal.

The struggle doesn’t lie in the fact that, for the second time now, I’m switching from the full to the half marathon. I’m secretly (or not so, now that it’s on the record) relieved. The struggle is in how I self-identify.

The more I’ve cross-trained, the less I’ve wanted to run. The more I’ve explored cycling HITT workouts and shakti kicks and chin-ups, the more interested I’ve become in pursuing fitness goals outside of running. As a result, I feel like less of a runner, like I’m betraying my sport.

If I don’t self-identify as a runner because of my own subjective definition, then who am I? (Okay, anyone else picture Zoolander looking up at the stars and asking the same question before his matchbook-size cell phone rings?) I know there is more to me than my PRs and mile splits, but everyone is proud to self-identify somehow; it’s personal, and it can mean a great deal.

Recently I had a wake-up call through a conversation with my mother. She was giving me a thousand reasons why I shouldn’t be so hard on myself and I was coming up with a thousand and one reasons why I should. She finally said it, casually, but it was like a light switched on: “I think you take things too seriously. Your dad and I have talked about it,” she said. Instead of getting butt hurt, I laughed because I knew it was true. And not only true, but something so easy and relieving to change. I gauged the notion of taking things too seriously with my boyfriend too, demanding he not spare my feelings, and tell me honestly. He agreed with my parents. Confirmation received.

As a result, I’ve been (trying) not taking this whole not-feeling-like-running thing too seriously, but there is a little part of my brain that is knocking: “Whooooo are you?!” I know it’s silly to structure my self-identity around a certain number of weekly miles on my calendar, but I have for the past few years, and breaking away from that, like any habit, isn’t easy.

Next week, I will be thrilled and excited to run the Country Music Half Marathon. I will miss running with those I’ve trained with, and not being able to say I have three marathons under my belt. I’ll be excited about the carbo-loading, the celebrations afterward.

I may just do a cartwheel over the finish line or something fun and weird. That wouldn’t be taking things too seriously now, would it? Maybe I could find a new identity in just that.

Activation Confirmed: Training Beast Mode In Progress

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Shelby Pedestrian Bridge, 6:15pm, 18 degrees and windy. So?

It took 18 degree windy weather, 10 hill repeats over the Shelby Pedestrian Bridge in downtown Nashville, and a bum numb enough to eliminate all certainty that my running tights were still up to light a fire.

I’m nearly three weeks into training for the Country Music Marathon. Blame it on the “Polar Vortex,” too much “pop star in jail” media attention, less frequent sunny days or whatever, but I haven’t had the same fire I’ve felt for training that I had 12 months ago. It has left me cynical, unmotivated, and confused (because my Broncos are in the Super Bowl and shouldn’t that be motivation enough? Wes Welker! Eric Decker! OMAHA!) But I digress.

Unlike my purist runner self, I’ve taken 80% of my runs indoors when my iPhone tells me it’s colder than 35 degrees outside. I’ve ignored Training Beast Mode Angel on my right shoulder who says, “tough it out, Taylor. You’ve done this before. You’re a RUNNER.” Training Autopilot Angel on the left is louder, though: “yeah, but…” and I pop myself in the car and head to The Y.

I’ve found comfort in the temperature-regulated gym, predictable treadmill settings, and getting lost in the album Clarity by Zedd. I’ve chosen comfort over discomfort. I’ve settled for good enough over just plain good. Although I’ve completed my workouts, I’ve felt mentally weak and overall defeated.

I was dreading last night’s East Nasty prescribed workout: 10 hill repeats (total around 7 miles) with cold weather and wind. I waivered: I could always take it to the Y (again), leave my warm car and run inside to the warm gym, get on the treadmill, zone out and complete the work, and go home. But my East Nasty training group comes with an elemental dose of accountability. That group is always there, always showing up, and always putting in the work. When I miss a workout, they give me crap because they care. When I show up, they push me harder. This is something the gym doesn’t have. This is something that inspires courage, pushing limits, and getting out of my Y Comfort Zone.

Although my fingers and bum were numb from the beginning, about 15 of us showed each other (and ourselves) what we were truly made of. In comparison, there were about 50 people who showed up for the workout last week when it was a balmy 45 degrees. Each incline presented a new opportunity to shed any annoyance, any fear, any stress or frustration. Each decline offered reward, encouragement, satisfaction. The breath we saw pushed out from our own working lungs was gratifying.

We showed up. We started. We finished. And we crushed even more hills than we did the week before. Beast mode? Beast mode.

Digging deep (with help from accountability) I found some courage, picked it up, dusted it off and used it. That friction started a fire, and I can’t wait to run outside today. Forecast says a high of 28; Training Beast Mode Angel on my right shoulder winks and says, “You got this,” and Training Autopilot Angel on the left shoulder has nothing witty to retort.

Finding it

Dark grey skies illuminated into lighter grey skies when I woke up this morning. I poured my thermos of coffee, ate half an orange because I was apathetic (read: running late) to peel the rest, and totally spaced taking my pre-packed chicken breast and spinach salad lunch (danggg it!). Mick Jagger’s croon and Keith Richard’s riffs shook me awake (I was born in a crossfire hurricane…) as I drove down I-65 to the suburban elementary school where I volunteer twice a week.

The bright lights of the gym and the squeakiness of wet running shoes on waxed floors were my final wee jolt of energy before greeting the gaggle of 3rd through 5th grade girls who are part of Girls on the Run. They smile, yawn, stretch, and finally saunter to the middle of the floor and sit cross-legged in a circle. Today we learned about expressing how we feel to people who aren’t treating us very nice (I feel…when you…because…I would like you to…). And then we went outside.

Still grey.

I was sidelined this morning (a slight tinge in my left calf has rendered me super cautious), so I watched the girls run as I counted their laps, gave high fives, and caught their high-flung jackets in mid-air. I watched their faces as they passed, and I noticed they all had it: Confidence.

Some had it from the get-go (that girl needs a lesson on PACING). Some it grew with each lap. With others it didn’t completely shine until the end. But by the time it was over, when some had racked up 12, 17, 20 laps, each of them visibly felt better about themselves than before their hearts started pumping. Hands above their heads, catching their breath, and straightening their wind-blown ponytails, they all glowed.

Walking back to the gym was better than walking out; they smiled, giggled with each other, and weren’t complaining about how their shoes didn’t work right this morning so they just can’t run today so, sorry Miss Taylor.

Yes… I thought. This is what it’s all about. Dear Mick, you can get what you want, sometimes.

The reminder came from girls who have no idea who Mick Jagger is (except for maybe I’ve got the mo-o-o-o-oves like Jagger, which, ugh): The hardest part is digging down and finding it, but once you do, it’s a cure-all.

So find it. Hone it in, and use it until you can’t anymore. It will give you everything no self-help book, talk show host, or weekend seminar could ever give you (that’s all bologna anyway).

These little girls found it on a grey morning with the threat of raindrops in the sky and a lunchtime with no recess.

Your turn.

Race recap: Inaugural Asheville Marathon

I keep wanting to find the right word to define my first marathon experience. But I’ve always struggled with decisiveness and there are far too many diverse adjectives to describe what I went through yesterday to pick just one anyhow. So I’m not gonna.

It was fun, cold, frustrating, beautiful, thrilling, lonely, exhaustive, funny, windy, painful, challenging, inspirational… See what I mean? I could go on if you want.

The Inaugural Asheville Marathon was the hardest thing I’ve ever set out to do. Every inch of my leg muscles are angry at me this morning, I feel a cold coming on, and I’m really spoiled for getting to stay in my pajamas all day with bottomless coffee and movies. I think they call this a ‘marathon hangover.’ And I want pancakes (okay, not atypical).

As a writer, I want to hash out every detail of the race. But I think I’ll refrain from self-indulgence and give you the take-aways. I’m saving you from a novel, reader, even though it’s still pretty lengthy. I dunno, get a cup of coffee first?

The good, bad, and the ugly:

-It was 25 degrees with a 10 degree wind chill when I woke up at 5:30 am on Sunday, and there was fresh snow on the ground. Luckily I’m a Colorado girl so I wasn’t intimidated too much. Spectator Boyfriend is awesome for getting up with me when it would have been very easy to stay in the warm hotel room and meet me at the finish line later in the morning. He wasn’t any warmer than I was, and he was still out there cheering me on. Big props to him.

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-The race was held all on the Biltmore Estate. The views were breath-taking and I decided North Carolina and I should be friends. The course took us through forests and valleys, past a field of horses, big barns, and a massive vineyard. At mile 12, we passed a field of cattle who mooed at us, cheering us on. It made me smile.  Mile 6 took us right in front of the Biltmore Mansion. I couldn’t help but take a picture, albeit off-kilter (see below).

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-I threw off my jacket at mile 5 feeling fantastic and warm, only to feel stupid for doing so halfway through, when the real test began; the wind kicked up, and it became more of a trail race with lots of hills and chunky gravel. Luckily I thrive on that stuff, but I imagine other marathoners who expected pavement and dirt roads were probably not so thrilled to be mislead by the course description. The biting headwind was unforgiving for the last 13.1 miles, as if to really test your mental and physical strength. It did.

-There were only two times I questioned my sanity for choosing to race 26.2 miles, and both were when my head was down, fighting against the wind and calling it rude names.

-My playlist started out on the bluegrass side of things, with the first song of the morning being ‘Help You’ by Trampled by Turtles. Random, and absolutely perfect; it put the biggest smile on my face. When I needed to dig a little deeper, I switched over to my Rock playlist with heavy doses of Foo Fighters, old Neil Young, Tom Petty, and Jack White. For a final kick, I needed some dance music and finished on NERO’s ‘Crush on You.’

-I sucked down a mocha Clif energy gel at mile 14 (Okay, pause: Why aren’t they easier to open with numb fingers?!), and scarfed cookies from a water station at 21. In my handheld water bottle I had half coconut water and half water which proved to be a good combo. All of that was enough fuel for me and I never felt any cramps, side aches, or nausea. Victory!

-The volunteers at all the water stops were the best motivators! It was cool to have my name printed on my race bib, because perfect strangers were cheering ME, Taylor, on. I tried to thank them all in my zoned-out, marathon runner state. They were all very much appreciated.

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-We were cloaked in blankets immediately after finishing, which was about the best thing ever. My hands and fingers were numb, and I was sure I looked like death. It was confirmed that I didn’t look like death, nor did I have frozen snot on my face, which was surprising/a relief. My legs felt like Jell-O, and all I wanted to do was sit down right away. The tents were heated, but pretty small and packed. I scarfed down a banana, pretzels, a chocolate doughnut, and part of a muffin (carbs, I love you). We didn’t stick around post-race because I was freezing, probably a little cranky, and wanted a hot shower and a beer. My wishes were granted, and crankiness stopped.

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-Spectator Boyfriend had been to Asheville before, so he played tour guide and showed me the Grove Park Inn. It was built out of stone in 1913 and looked like it came out of a Brother’s Grimm fairy tale, but on steroids (so, very cool). After cleaning up, we went there for a victory beer, to enjoy the views and relax. I had the local Highland Kasmir IPA and highly recommend it because HOPS. Looking out over the Blue Ridge Mountains and drinking craft beer was my definition of a perfect post-race reward. I felt like I was back home in Colorado; it hit the spot.

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-I finished 7th in my age group with a chip time of 4:02:50 (my goal was around or below 4, so all things considered, I’m thrilled). My pace was 9:19, and I only ever stopped running for a bathroom break at mile 23.

It’s crazy: I’m a marathoner. I will never not be a marathoner for the rest of my life. I guess that’s life changing, isn’t it?

So, I’m not done. My next marathon (the Country Music Marathon here in Nashville) is in a little less than 8 weeks (seven weeks, five days to be exact), so I have until Saturday before I begin training again. This time I’m wishing for warmer weather, a sub-4 time, and no risk of frozen snot on the face. There’s a good chance of victory there. One thing’s for sure: I’ll miss the supportive cows.

Forecast: Rain, 18 miles, and a chance of gratitude

I wasn’t really jumping up and down about it.singing-in-the-rain-1

It was a long day on the training schedule (read: 18 miles), there was a 142% chance of pouring rain in Nashville all day, and it was a Sunday which meant my gym wouldn’t open until the leisurely hour of 1 pm.

Pull out the rain jacket, grab a towel and flip-flops for the drive home: It might get wet.

I met up with my group for marathon training who looked a little less enthused- but no less determined- to hammer out some mileage. Instead of a rock mix last week, our playlist would be a cacophony of squeaky wet shoes, swishing rain gear, and audible rain drops incessantly making themselves known.

We set off with a little less urgency than the week prior. Some had gear to (try to) protect them from the elements, others’ attire just shrugged ‘screw it!’ Mine was a rain jacket that was ditched after three miles. ‘Screw it!’

Running in the rain without music was unexpectedly entertaining. Instead of getting lost in drum beats, I got lost in the beats the rain made on the pavement, and the changes in tone when I would run over a wooden bridge or by a thicket of trees. I even heard frogs!

Without headphones, I was forced to pay attention to my breath and stride, and meditated over my endurance for another 14 miles… 10 miles… 5 miles. I was challenged to be more in tune with, well, me.

After a little less than three hours, I got back to the car and had a text from my best friend: “Please don’t tell me you’re running in this…” And I admitted my insanity: “Well I was, but not anymore!” Woops? I could see her rolling her eyes at me…‘Taylor!!!! Crazy girl…’

It wasn’t an idyllic situation at first, but I finished more challenged in a completely different way, and came away with gratitude. Challenges force us to grow, think, and feel, and if we don’t take advantage of opportunities in which to do so, what the heck are we doing here?

I won’t ditch the headphones for every run. It wasn’t that life changing. Next Sunday I have 20 miles, and if it is raining again on Sunday, I will have already rigged a way to keep my tunes waterproof. I’ll listen to a little classic rock, maybe some dirty rap, but I’ll give myself a couple of miles to hear what the rain has to say.

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