Chicago Marathon Race Recap

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At the expo! (and nervous as heck)

I was so nervous the day before the Chicago Marathon that I actually thought I was going to throw up several times throughout the day. I was hanging with Shannon and my husband Stephen most of the day and I think they can both attest to the fact that I was a nervous wreck. I wasn’t just running a marathon, I was running a World Major Marathon and for some reason I was putting all of this crazy pressure on myself.

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Shannon and I fangirling over meeting Steph Bruce at the Picky Bars booth

Also, just to clear the air – I was also making a lot of excuses for why it had taken me so long to sign up for a full marathon. The truth is, I just never really wanted to. I didn’t even like racing until a few years ago, and I’ve been lacing up for over fifteen years. So, that’s the reason in a nutshell. No excuses. I just didn’t want to. And then I did.

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Flat Stephanie: Oiselle, Goodrs, Zensah, Honey Stinger, Nuun, Aftershokz

I woke up Sunday morning feeling better than the day before. I had accepted that I was going to run it and so it felt like there was nothing left to think about. I couldn’t quite get all of my Picky Oats down, but I knew I’d be hungry so I brought a Honey Stinger waffle to eat with me while I waited in my corral.

Stephen walked me down to my gate entrance. It actually wasn’t as busy as I thought it was going to be, but once I left him (and my foil blanket – always save these, people!) at the gate I had to wait about an hour to use the bathroom. I met two really nice women in line who quelled my worries and were excited to hear that it was my first shot at the marathon. By the time I got into my corral, we had maybe fifteen minutes left before our wave started. I found Dodie lined up as well (it was hard to miss those Girl Code Spandos) and seeing a fellow Volée member reminded me that this was just another race, just another run.

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PA Volée before the big day!
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Volée Meetup – thanks Chi birds for hosting!

I stripped off my clothing pretty quick before we started. I had a toss shirt from the 2017 Mud Hen Half Marathon  and a pair of men’s fleece camouflage pajama pants that I bought on Target the day before. (They were big enough that I could easily slide them over my running shoes, and were only $14.99. I figured it was worth it considering how much the weather had changed from when I first packed!) I forgot my gloves in the hotel room but I’m actually really glad that I didn’t bring them along – I would’ve gotten rid of them quickly and I think having them in my Pocket Joggers would’ve annoyed me.

The one thing that I was aware of but unprepared for was the fact that my watch would absolutely not work for the first few miles. Everyone told me this and for some reason I thought they were exaggerating, or thought that it would sync up after the 5k. Well, no. My watch was off about 4 miles (Garmin thinks I ran over 29 miles) and never managed to sync up. I had no idea what my pace was the entire race…

BUT,

This didn’t freak me out as much as it could’ve because my amazing coach Christina had the forethought to have me start paying attention to my HR months ago. So I switched my watch face over to HR and watched it all 26.2 miles. I stuck to my race plan (easy, light, smooth; walk the water stations) and couldn’t believe how even my pace was at the end. I was actually really proud of myself for that – She told me to trust the way it felt, and it worked!

(Speaking of pace – just to be clear – time is not something that really concerns me. I ran it a little slower than I thought, but I know what my mile, 5k, 5-miler, and half marathon times are… and sometimes I can be pretty speedy, other times I’m not. AND THAT’S OKAY. So for those of you who messaged me asking what my time was – I’d really encourage you to worry less about that and see the big picture. Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.)

I felt fine for the first 5k, and then all of the sudden… my knees started to hurt. Like, really, really hurt. THIS freaked me out more than anything – I NEVER have knee pain when I run. The only thing that I can attribute it to is the fact that we spent most of Friday and Saturday walking – even though we tried to keep it low-key on Saturday we ended up getting more steps in than we had planned on.

Something that I’ve been practicing is inhaling and then sending my exhaled breath to relax the place that’s bothering me. Christina mentioned this to me via text a few days before the marathon, and it had come up in a recent yoga class. Breathe into the discomfort. So that’s what I did, sending a little love to my knees for the entire race. Because yes, they hurt the entire time.

I saw Stephen 7 times during the race. SEVEN TIMES! Husband of the year, honestly. I saw him at miles 1, 3, 8, 12.5, 21, 23 and the finish. I also saw the amazing Chicago Volée Birds at Cowbell Corner miles 17 and 24, and each time I saw someone it gave me new life. Seeing Stephen with his bright orange Goodr sunglasses gave me a little burst of energy each time. Seeing his face was half the fun – he would get weepy and ask me how I felt and tell me he was proud of me, every – single – time. It was really sweet.

So anyway, I’m running along with my annoying knee pain, seeing Stephen in the crowd… and around mile 9 I’m like, well shit, I have to pee. Bad. I knew the bathrooms would be crowded, but the lines were insane. At this point I had waited so long that I really didn’t have a choice – so I stood in line not once, not twice, BUT THREE TIMES because apparently I am the most hydrated marathoner there is. I toured those port-a-potties at miles 9, 17, and 21? (I think) and luckily made it to the end without having to stop again. I did carry my handheld the entire time (I thought for sure I’d toss it) but the volunteers were kind enough to fill it up for me, and so why not drink it? Having to pee is better than the alternative, so I’ll take it!

I got my Goose Island shot of beer at mile 23, and Stephen was luckily there to snap a photo. I wanted that beer so bad. SO BAD. It tasted like golden nectar as I drank it. I only had 3 gels but I was totally over them, and I had half a Honey Stinger waffle and didn’t really want that either. BUT THE BEER. When they handed me a beer at the finish I practically chugged it. Carbs, baby!

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Cheers!

At mile 20 my Aftershokz died. This annoyed me because there battery life is supposed to be 8 hours and I was nowhere near that. I had listened to Lizzo for the first 15 miles (no, not joking) and had switched to my running playlist after that. During Halsey’s Nightmare the little buzz sounded and they turned off. I stopped by the sidewalk and pulled my phone out of my Flyout bra because I was certain something turned them off – but nope, they were dead. I was getting tired, and I thought… How am I going to run the next 10k without any music?

And then, my race mantra kicked in. “Be anxious of nothing and grateful of all things.” I heard Roberta Groner say this on the Ali on the Run podcast episode when she recapped her 6th place finish at Worlds in Doha. It really struck a chord with me, so I wrote it on my hand for the marathon. I’d flip the script every time I got nervous.

My knees hurt!
That’s because you’re crushing it.

It’s so windy!
At least it’s not raining.

My headphones are dead!
Let the cheering crowd fuel you.

So I pulled my Aftershokz off and started to listen to the cheering crowd. I wrote my name on my bib so people could cheer for me, and SO many people were shouting my name. It was amazing. In hindsight, I’m so happy that the headphones died. I was able to celebrate my first marathon and take in every sound, including my feet moving one step at a time. I’m getting teary just thinking about it – it was truly magical.

My BFF Nicole and I have this convo a lot about how we talk to the dead when we run. She actually brought it up first, saying that during her first marathon she asked a lot of relatives and friends who have since passed if they would help carry her. I’ve been talking to my dad on runs since he died, and when she told me that sometimes she talks to him too it reminded me that as runners we’re not above asking for help from anyone who might be listening. So around mile 22 I said a silent prayer that I wanted to finish strong.

People have asked me if I hit a wall – and I was prepared to, thinking it might happen around mile 22 or 24. Truthfully? I don’t think I did. I was tired, but by the time I finished… I probably could have run at least another 5-8 miles. I’m sure that sounds crazy, especially with how badly my knees were bothering me. But I was in a really good headspace, even to my surprise. I can be so negative with my self-talk sometimes – I am so incredibly proud that the switch decided to flip on race day. I just kept reminding myself what a badass I was, how far I’d come.

And so I left mile 24 behind. Then 25. Then 26. And I cruised into the finish line, my arms raised to the sky, thanking whoever was listening for encouraging me to believe that I could do it all on my own. Because – let me be really clear here – getting to the starting line took a village… My family, team, friends, coach, Stephen, and everyone who encouraged me along the way.

But the second I crossed the starting line? That was all me. I did it.

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kudos:
Stephen, Shelley, Mom, Christina, #dopevillage, Oiselle Volée, PA Volée, Nuun, Honey Stinger, Zensah.
I crushed it, y’all! x

Note: While I have linked to several of my favorite products in this post, they are NOT affiliate links. I literally have no idea how to do that and am more interested in just sharing stuff that I love. Enjoy! 

Product Review: WIN Sports Detergent

Disclaimer: I received WIN Detergent to review as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!

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I’m ashamed to admit it, but you know what suffers the most when I’m in the middle of a hard training cycle? Laundry.

It has actually gotten to the point where I have [over] 7 sports bras – one for every day of the week [and then some] – that way I don’t have to worry about doing laundry during the week when things are hectic. Here’s the problem with that: I can’t be bothered to do laundry midweek, so my sweaty running clothes lay in a pile with my other sweaty running clothes for 1-7 days, depending on when I finally cave and carry the laundry basket downstairs to the laundry room.

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Tie all of my laundry issues in with the fact that I tried to “Kondo” my life (and drawers) this winter, and it seems like a recipe for disaster. Thankfully, in walks WIN Sports Detergent.

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Here’s what I love about WIN so far:

SMELL: 
This seems like a no-brainer, right? I opted for the “Free & Clear” version of WIN since I am super sensitive to scent and tend to have more sensitive skin, and was pleasantly surprised with how it smelled like absolutely nothing but somehow managed to make my clothes smell like a million bucks. I actually admitted during a #BibChat one night that I have pretty much assumed my one running rain jacket was lost and gone forever to the smell gods. Given, it’s a rain jacket that you’re supposed to sweat in, but after I washed it with WIN I couldn’t believe how much better it smelled. WIN removes sweat, oils, bacteria, and salts from clothing – so that musty, “I’m a Runner” smell was gone, and I was thrilled!

SORTING/FOLDING:
Because WIN is designed for sport-specific clothing, I decided that I would stick to that to get the best experience while using it, meaning, I washed all of my workout clothes separately from everything else. Yes, this meant more laundry. But because WIN recommended washing everything on warm/hot water and drying on low heat, I wanted to see exactly how well it worked. Remember when I said we Kondo’d this winter? Well WIN actually helped me with that, too! Having all of my running clothes in one load kept me better organized and helped me to stay on top of my folding. Small victories, people. Small victories.

THE GOOD STUFF:
WIN is Septic Safe, Color Safe, Biodegradable, is NOT Tested on Animals, and Contains NO Phosphates.

WAIT, YOU WASHED YOUR STUFF ON HOT?
Okay, fair enough that we circle back to this. For years I’ve always washed my stuff on cold, permanent press and hung dry. When I read the WIN bottle and saw that I needed to wash it on Warm or Hot I cringed a little inside. During #BibChat WIN addressed this and said that the heat is part of the recipe for what gets the smell out. This makes sense, right? So on my first try I decided to go with Warm, and guess what happened? Absolutely nothing, other than getting the smell out of my clothes! My clothes did not shrink. The colors did not bleed. I did not need to buy an entirely new running wardrobe. So there, I’m a Warm water convert!

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The code WIN4RAVE is still available to use if you purchase WIN through Amazon, so I highly recommend that you head on over and check it out for yourself.

You literally have nothing to lose – except for the stink.

happy trails and miles,
x Stephanie

 

 

 

Product Review: Stunt Puppy Nano Bowl

Disclaimer: I received the Stunt Puppy Nano Bowl to review as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!

Stephen and I have way too much gear. We know this to be true, as we recently organized our basement (aka, The Gear Room) and discovered that not only did we have multiples of several things (tents, sleeping bags) but there were several things we hadn’t used in years, especially since we got the camper.

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Bridger, on the other hand, is a different story. While organizing The Gear Room, I set aside a bin for “Bridger’s Stuff” and started to lay out all of the things that he needs for a successful road trip. His hiking pack, booties (for emergencies only, in case he tears a pad and we need to bandage it), his first aid kid, his sleeping pad, his water bottles, outdoor toys, bones for by the campfire, light-up collar… and then I noticed how many bowls we have. It seemed like Bridger had fallen into the same routine we had of over-buying gear, but for different reasons: We have multiples for seasons and trip-types, Bridger has multiples because we couldn’t find one that worked for him.

Enter the Stunt Puppy Nano Bowl. Here’s what I’m loving so far:

Size: 
The bowl folds up into a tiny little square, and has an elastic band to either wrap around itself or wrap around the leash for safe-keeping. (HACK: I always have a carabiner handy and found myself clipping it to things like my work bag – I know, having Bridger at work is awesome – for easy-transport.) It holds 3.5 cups of water, and held Bridger’s 2 cups of dog food easily.

Construction:
This sucker isn’t going to tip. While the material is soft and packable, Bridger wasn’t able to bulldoze it over while eating out of it, and it never seemed to slump or sag. The Nanopore Waterproof Membrane (non-toxic, chemical-free) also didn’t hold any of the oils from Bridger’s dog food (salmon and sweet potato) which is a GAME. CHANGER. Salmon makes his coat nice and shiny (and it seems to be the protein that he digests the best) but normally any bowl with a cloth bottom would absorb the oils from his food and trap them until it came in contact with another surface. I had an awful experience one with an old bowl being near my leather wallet in the same bag. (HACK: Baby powder solves this problem.) I was pleasantly surprised that the Nano Bowl didn’t do this, and even tested it out. No oil seepage!

Style:
My only quip is that I wish it came in more colors! I do love the gray though and am always a big fan of gender neutral product colors (yes, even for dogs). I absolutely love the look and feel of the product – especially the elastic strap – and am really happy that I’ve found something that folds up small enough to not be a nuisance in his pack.

I’ve even noticed how this bowl has helped me reduce waste at work! I normally would bring his dog food in a plastic baggie and empty it onto a paper plate when I got to work. I would never think of doing this while camping, so why was I doing it at work? Instead, I brought his food in a reusable baggie and brought the Nano Bowl along with me. It motivates me to enjoy meals with him outside when the weather is nice!

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While Bridger’s not a chewer, I love that Stunt Puppy also offers “My Dog Ate This” repair services for only $4. It definitely makes me want to continue buying from this company knowing that they stand behind their products, even when it’s your dogs fault!

Check out www.stuntpuppy.com for Collars, Leashes, IDs Outerwear, Harnesses,  Lifejackets, and of course, the Nano Bowl!

Special thanks to Bridger for being my Stunt Puppy Test Doggo. He was happy to oblige. 🙂

happy trails and miles,
x Stephanie

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Product Review: Shady Rays Sunglasses

Disclaimer: I received an Shady Rays to review as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!

Remember my last blog post in which I detailed our trip to Charlotte to pick up our new truck camper? Did you happen to notice anything wildly stylish from my brewery pictures…?

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That’s right, I was lucky enough to test out a pair of Shady Rays Signature Series Sunglasses! (Hint: Be sure to read through to the end for a discount!) 

I thought that the Shady Rays were packaged nicely and liked that they included a sticker with the order. My husband will be the first one to tell you that I’m a total sucker for a brand sticker. I can’t wait to slap it somewhere!

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My first time wearing the sunglasses was at Birdsong Brewery in Charlotte. It had been pretty dreary in PA so this was my first opportunity to test them out in the sun. I immediately noticed (and loved) how the lens color didn’t distort my actual vision. Polarized sunglasses should make everything look brighter and crisper – and they did!

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After a couple of short runs, I finally was able to wear them for a race. I had a 5k on the books and was hoping to PR (spoiler alert: I did!) I was really putting the Shady Rays to the test because in addition to the sunglasses, I was also wearing a hat AND AfterShokz, so I had a lot of stuff happening behind my ears. Here’s another spoiler alert: THEY DID NOT BOUNCE! 

Aside from the frame color and the lenses, I really love the design and how light they are. They’re incredibly stylish and versatile and I was happy that I was able to translate them from hanging out at the brewery to running.

Here’s the other thing that’s awesome: Shady Rays is a pretty fantastic company. I’ve been trying to be more conscious about the companies that I’m giving my money too, and Shady Rays passes the test: Not only do they donate 10 meals to fight hunger per order, but they offer free lost or broken replacements and stand behind their product 100% with a lifetime craftsmanship warranty. This little tag told me so once I took them out of the box!

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At $45-60 a pair, I can definitely see myself purchasing more in the future! I have the Signature Series in Emerald Ice Polarized and am loving the Golden Timber Polarized and the Black Glacier Polarized.

So it’s clear that I am loving Shady Rays, and now you can too! Shady Rays is offering 50%  off any 2+ pairs from the Shade Shop with code “RAVE“!

Can’t wait to hear what you think – but you heard it here first, you’re going to love them!

happy trails and miles,
x Stephanie

 

 

 

 

 

 

Six States in 24 Hours

We bought a new truck camper!

A couple of years ago exactly to the day, we purchased our first slide-in pop-up truck camper. After deciding that we wanted to go the truck camper route, my husband found a 2008 Palomino Bronco for sale through Craig’s List, and the best part was that it was located less than a mile from the auction. After two visits, we decided to make it ours.

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our first truck camper, a 2008 Palomino Bronco

Stephen took me camping for the first time in September 2011 at Monagahela National Forest in West Virginia. It was the start of what would be a three-week road trip throughout the country, with our final destination being Jackson, WY, where we putting down some temporary routes. I’ve been hooked ever since.

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tofu stir fry – my first camp meal!

Since then, we’ve spent quite a bit of time in our tents. We even flew our gear out to Colorado (twice!) so that we could camp in Rocky Mountain National Park after we had moved back to the east coast.

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sunset in RMNP

We came to a crossroad when we welcomed Bridger into our home (and our hearts). For one, our three-person car-camping tent and two-person backcountry tent weren’t going to fit two adults and a 90lb dog. On top of that, Stephen traded in his hatchback for a truck and I was still driving a Honda Civic. As you can imagine, it had become pretty difficult to camp out of a truck cab or a tiny car with all of the gear – and now we were trying to add a dog to the mix!

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Bridger’s first “hike” at 10 weeks old

I originally wanted a tow-behind trailer, which is a camper that we would tow with the truck. Stephen argued that not only would be a lot to maintain, but it would be a pain to haul for long distances. I, of course, was deep into Pinterest at this point and planning for a glamorous and photo-ready tin can that people would snap photos of when we stopped at rest stops. Yeah, Stephen reeled that in pretty quick.

Now that we’ve gotten a ton of use out of it, I can safely say that getting a truck camper was the best decision for our family. It allows us to take the camper anywhere that the truck would go, meaning that we can park in a normal parking spot without worrying about if we’ll fit (which comes in handy when you’re passing through a city and want to stop at a local brewery!) We also didn’t lose the capability of four-wheel drive, which was something that we realized would be really important. It’s also easy to maneuver (to both setup and drive) so Stephen has been able to easily take it on solo fishing trips.

Above all else, the truck camper looks badass as heck.

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pulled right up on the beach in Camden, Maine 

We’ve used it for weekend trips in Pennsylvania, Vermont and Ohio, and have taken it on two major road trips that lasted for over two weeks. This fall, we decided we were ready for an upgrade: We wanted a Four Wheel.

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the last night of our summer 2018 road trip (16 days) 

Four Wheel is what I would consider the leader in truck campers, and because we are gear-heads who like shiny new things, we set a goal for ourselves that we’d get one “one day.” They are pretty expensive to buy brand new, so Stephen has always periodically checked for used listings. A couple of weeks ago, he found the exact model that we were look at – the Hawk – for sale in South Carolina. You NEVER see them for sale on the east coast, and we had always assumed we would have to drive out west to pick one up if we ever found it. We waited a little bit and talked about it, knowing that someone could scoop it out from under us if we waited too long. After a few missed ski-weekends, cabin fever set in and we were already longing for spring camping and fly fishing trips. Stephen messaged the seller who confirmed that it was still for sale, and at 3pm on Friday, Stephen said, “Looks like we’re going to South Carolina tomorrow, baby!”

Normally this would stress me out – and don’t worry, to an extent, it did make me a little anxious – but we didn’t have any weekend plans except for running and [hopefully] skiing, so I was excited for a change of scenery. Because it’s so expensive to board Bridger, we decided to bring him with us – yes, we brought Bridger to his first hotel! We also had the opportunity to visit Richmond for work, so we decided to combine the trip into one.

We arrived in Charlotte around 2pm on Saturday, choosing to stay there since it was the closest major city to where the camper was in South Carolina. We immediately went to Birdsong Brewing Company at the recommendation of one of our good friends who used to live in North Carolina. Her suggestion was a total winner, especially because dogs were allowed on the patio and it gave us a chance to soak up some much-needed sunshine and let Bridger socialize after being stuck in the car for eight hours. We had a couple of beers and helped ourselves to shelling some peanuts, and then went to Little Sugar Creek Greenway to walk Bridger. I’m so impressed at the Greenway System that North Carolina offers – it’s a beautiful park system that runs through various neighborhoods. It was lovely and scenic and gave us a chance to stretch out and enjoy the beautiful weather. (Sorry, PA friends, but it was 60 and perfect.)

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we love dog-friendly breweries!
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Little Sugar Creek Greenway

After our walk Stephen and I stopped at Amelie’s Bakery at the recommendation of a Oiselle Volée member who had been to the area before. Another winner! It was a cute café decorated with French-style antiques, which obviously is a way to intrigue Stephen and I. We each had espresso and Stephen ordered the iced cinnamon pull-apart bread which they served warm. It was gone before I took my first sip of espresso, but from what I understand, it was delicious.

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gilt, gilt, gilt!
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mid-day espresso

After that we went to Heist Brewing Company, where we had more beer and finally some food. We shared the Brussels sprouts and Stephen got the chicken and waffle tacos. Yes, the taco was the waffle.

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Still hungry and accepting that we would eat our way through Charlotte, we then went to Mac’s Speed Shop to try out the local barbeque scene. We’ve had some pretty good barbeque this past year with trips to both Dallas and St. Louis, so we wanted to see how North Carolina stacked up. It was good, but it wasn’t Texas or Missouri good – sorry! Hush puppies were served instead of bread, and we decided to split a combo platter. We got brisket, pulled pork, ribs, and chicken as well as Mac n’ Cheese and collard greens. The collard greens were a little too sweet for me, and the chicken was best part of the platter. Full and exhausted, we headed to the hotel.

We stayed at the La Quinta by the airport because they were the only pet-friendly location within our budget. I’ve never stayed at a La Quinta before so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised with how clean the hotel was. For some reason I was worried that by accepting pets it wouldn’t be up to my standards (used to work in hotels, after all), but it makes more sense that they are extra-diligent because they welcome pets.

Bridger, on the other hand, hated the hotel. He could not wrap his head around the fact that we were staying in a room and didn’t have free roam over the entire property. He also couldn’t figure out that the door led to a hallway, so when he needed to go out he would stand by the full-length mirror and swat at that. The airport La Quinta was also quite the happening spot on a Saturday night in Charlotte because people were partying on our floor until 5am. Imagine a protective lab hearing people outside of the room banging on doors and playing music and using their outdoor voices; Yes, he barked several times. I was so upset at the time, but honestly, it really wasn’t our fault. He was definitely confused and rightfully so. It was fun for the night, but big dogs don’t belong in hotel rooms!

Running on just a few hours of sleep, we loaded ourselves in the car and drove the thirty minutes to South Carolina to pick up our new toy. The previous owner, Scott, was incredibly helpful and helped us figure out how the new camper would fit on the truck with the old system in place. I hung out with Bridger and Scott’s dog, Copper.

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Time to run! I needed to get a long run in, so after the camper was set on the truck we went to McAlpine Greenway so that I could get 75 minutes in. Bridger got a nice long walk and I got to explore new views. I liked this greenway even better as it ran through marshland and had wooden boardwalks connecting the paved paths over the waterways. It started to drizzle at the end, but I got over 7 miles in while listening to the Devon Yanko interview on The Morning Shakeout podcast – highly recommend.

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My post-long run fuel was courtesy of Cowfish, a fusion restaurant blending the All-American cheeseburger with… sushi. Yes, sushi. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it! I didn’t dive in since my cravings are very specific post-running, but Stephen got their bento box which has a mini burger, friends, sushi, edamame, and cucumber salad. I had a yellowfin tuna sushi sandwich. I wanted to try more food, but I was already so full.

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After a family nap and watching The Office in bed, we went to our last restaurant in Charlotte. Bakersfield was an industrial style restaurant with Edison bulbs shining and old western movies playing. We had margaritas, chips+salsa, and tacos. We eat out together all of the time but this definitely felt like the ‘date night’ of our trip. This may have been my favorite stop!

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Bridger was a champ for night two. He slept through the whole night and never stirred once – probably because the hotel was nice and quiet. We woke up bright and early and headed back out on the road with our Starbucks and new camper in tow. (Well, not in tow. Ha!)

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I’m so happy that we have our new truck camper and I can’t wait to plan our first adventure with it. Our next step will be getting our old truck camper cleaned up and for sale so that we can pass it on to someone new for new trips and trails. It still has quite a bit of life left in it, and even with our new setup I’m going to be sad to see it go! It’s got a ton of stickers on the back and I’m pretty sure that I’m going to miss them the most. But don’t worry – I already have a new sticker layout in mind.

happy trails and miles,
Stephanie

Runner’s World Half Marathon Race Recap

Just focus on the feeling of being back.

That was the thing I had to keep telling myself over and over again after mile 6. For 7 more miles I continued to repeat that over and over again, the weight of each bounding stride telling me to stop moving and walk off the course. Needless to say, this run was a mental mudslide for me. I felt like I was trapped in my own thoughts.Continue reading “Runner’s World Half Marathon Race Recap”

Streak Running: What I’m Doing, Why I’m Doing It, and Whether or Not I Care if You ‘Unfollow’ Me (I Do)

Raise your hand if you know what streak running is. (No, it doesn’t include nudity.)

Streak running is when you decide to run for a certain period of time for a certain length of time. For instance, one mile every day for a month. Or, ten minutes every day for six months. You get my drift.

Runner’s World hosts streak runs two times a year – once in the spring, and once in the fall. The fall #RWRunStreak goes from Thanksgiving Day to New Year’s Day. That’s 40 consecutive days, for those who can’t do quick calendar math (but who can?) and the idea is simple: It’s really freaking cold, there’s not a lot of daylight, comfort food is flowing, holiday stress is surging, winter pounds are packing. We all know this routine.

I was first introduced to streak running in 2006 or 2007 when Runner’s World ran their first feature on Raven. Yes, Raven. Robert ‘Raven’ Kraft of South Beach has been running 8 miles a day for over 40 years. 125,000 miles later, he has a cult following of people who flock to run with him and hear his story.

So flock we did.

When my sister first found his profile in Runner’s World, she cut it out and hung it above her desk. I was 19 or 20 – she was 28 – and I was both fascinated with her dedication to running and also Raven’s commitment. Before Kara and Shalane and Deena and Des and Paula — there was Shelley and Raven.

My sister and I have run with Raven twice – and there would have been a third time had we not have forgotten about the time change. He is at the 5th Street Lifeguard Station every day at 5:20pm waiting for you to arrive so you can start the run promptly at 5:30pm.

Here’s a summation of what I learned from Raven (and my sister, really): Celebrate running. It’s not about the destination, but the journey. The experience is everything. Surround yourself with people who also celebrate running because those people are fun. Running is fun.

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If you finish the 8 miles with Raven, he gives you a nickname. He also remembers the nickname, years later, when you come back to run with him. “Why do you run?” He asked my sister. “For the ice cream,” she answered, obviously joking but also explaining that she pairs the joy of running with the reward of ice cream. My sister became ‘Ice Cream’.

I don’t remember how we got started talking about it, but Raven soon learned that I like to shop and spend money. ‘Big Spender’ was born. (My father loved this, and got a kick out of it every time he thought that a man who barely knew me was still able to give me this fitting nickname.) My mom, for her playfulness and love of all things Peter Pan, became her very own version of ‘Tinkerbell’.

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Poutine, Raven, Ice Cream, Big Spender
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We invited Raven to my Shelley and Dave’s wedding which was on the same date as his birthday, but he obviously couldn’t come – streak running, remember? 

I love running – and I loved running with Raven – but I remember thinking that streak running seemed a little obsessive. What about those days that you just didn’t want to run? Or when it snowed? Or when you were on vacation? I was maybe 21, after all, and my social life was the most important thing to me. I had only ever run 5k races, maybe an 8k or 10k at most, and even though I proclaimed ‘I’m a runner!’, it was still somewhat limited to thirty minutes before strength training.

As I got older, my relationship with running quickly changed. While finishing college, I ran the same route like a loyal churchgoer, planning my days around those three miles. When I moved to the beach, I would wake up early in the morning before it got too hot and run along the seawall, taking in the salt air and the harmony of waves and gulls. I learned how to run without music or a watch and simply for the act of moving. I signed up for races, still starting small and then working my way up, and made running a practice that I gravitated towards the same way that yogis take to their mats or artists take to their easels. Running in the mountains will always be my greatest spiritual practice, past herds of pronghorns and sagebrush while Stephen pedaled his mountain bike in front of me. I experienced hail, snow, wind, and the hottest sun I could remember all in one run, and had never been more grateful.

 

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I lived in this Adidas running skort while I lived in Wyoming. I wore it running, hiking, and – obviously – to the brewpub. 

My relationship with running was fractured shortly after my father died. (More on that, here.) I felt like God had betrayed me. I was left on this earth with two legs, and for what? To run these silly miles? To boast my mobility? It seemed unfair. Little did I know running was the one thing that could heal me. I coped with each mile added to my treads, with every split and heartbeat and stride. It became my place of worship, my prayer mat, a safe haven for all that I was feeling. I felt foolish for ever treating running like anything else.

Someone once called me a “crazy zen runner” after I told them that I wasn’t concerned with mileage and splits. The truth is this: Of course I’m concerned with mileage and splits. I love hitting a PR. I love looking at my watch and feeling like I can fly. But is that what it’s all about? Heck no. My half-marathon PR took place on a day when I lined up for the race and gave myself a simple task: Think about what you can learn about yourself over the next 13.1 miles and remember that the next 13.1 miles aren’t what defines you. That’s the thing. The miles that you run don’t define you. But whatever you’re sorting through while you’re doing it? That’s what I’m doing it for.

So when I saw the #RWRunStreak, my initial thought was: That’s cool. Maybe I’ll do that. My second thought was: Daylight? Food? Holiday stress? Whatever. I still have to work through Grief.

My dad’s birthday is on November 3rd. He died on January 12th. It’s a weird time for me; He was diagnosed with cancer and died within three months, and in that time he celebrated his last birthday, last Thanksgiving, last Christmas, last New Year.  I still think about these things. I think about how fast it all happened; How I wasn’t there for those three months (how he would have wanted it, probably), how I wish more than anything that we could get those three months back but simultaneously hate that he had to suffer for three long, slow months.

So, yes. Combined with the issues of daylight, food, holiday stress, and all of the other reasons why people might streak run – I’m also thinking about grief. How some days are still hard, how the holidays might always be hard, and what that means for moving forward. Balancing the idea of moving forward with a kind remembrance.

You see where this is going, right? I’m doing my own run streak.

I’ll be running for at least fifteen minutes every day from November 3rd until January 12th. I’ve already have had several questionable moments, like when it’s raining and I’m cold and sniffly. Or when I get home from work at 8pm and didn’t have a chance to run before work or during (#runch). Or when football is on the tv and the house smells like vanilla and all I want to do is curl up next to the doggo who is snuggled on my bed. (That last one is seriously hell.) But honestly? Running makes me a better person. I’ve known this since the beginning of time. Running has healed me in ways that I never could have expected. I shouldn’t just lean into running when things get tough. I should lean into running because I am tough. 

Will I make it? God, I hope so. That’s sort of the catch when you put things on social media. Which brings me to my next point: Have you ever scrolled through Instagram or Facebook and seen something that prompted you to scoff and roll your eyes and mumble something mean under your breath? I used to do it when I saw photos of yogis doing a handstand on the beach in a skimpy bikini. I’ve since unfollowed those people because those photos and the ‘#namasteallday’ weren’t serving me. I really hope that you don’t look at my photos and see something that isn’t serving you. I’m not here to put your laziness on blast, but I am here to shine a light on what you might need right now. Do you need to go out for a five minute walk? A short run? A massage? A yoga class? I’m not asking you to do it every day. But here’s the thing: If I’m showing you that I can do hard things because I’ve been through harder things (Should that be my official slogan? Thinking out loud here…) then I really hope you take this as an opportunity to lean in to whatever you’re going through. Maybe it’s holiday stress. Great. Lean in to that discomfort. Hold space for yourself, be compassionate, kick some ass. (Another slogan? Hmm.) Promise yourself that you’re going to manage that stress and come up with a way to do it.

I don’t know if running through the next two months is going to be the perfect solution to grief, stress, eating, or winter blues. It’s probably going to be tough as hell.

But running has taught me that I am always tougher than I give myself credit for.

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The End of the Golden Year, The Start of Something Good

Holy crap, I’ve been alive for thirty years.
That was my first thought when I woke up on July 29th.

My 20s were filled with so much growth and change. I started that decade off with my first real break-up, the ending of a friendship with one of my best friends, and the changing schools, majors, and cities.

I dusted myself off, graduated from college with honors, loved my tribe of friends hard, and opened myself up to new (but not always better) relationships.

I was appropriately reckless – the kind that allows you to make mistakes and choose to grow, grow, grow – and I have my friends to thank for being young and reckless with me. I thank God every day that social media wasn’t a thing.

I deepened my relationship to God – my God, the one who loves us fiercely and unconditionally and without judgement – and found a way to practice gratitude daily.

I landed my first “real” job post-undergrad, and worked harder than I knew was possible because I knew it meant something to be great at your craft.

My boss at that job politely asked me to not fall in love with a new staff member. He was tall, blonde, and handsome. I politely declined, and after meeting him ran home to tell my roommate that I believed I would marry him someday.

That tall, handsome man and I loved each other hard. We also loved our independence. It’s a hard balance to learn in your early 20s – showing up for the kind of love that is deep and all-consuming while staying true to yourself and all that you hold dear – but in the end we agreed that a love that requires work is the kind of love we both wanted.

He convinced me to move to Wyoming. You’ve all heard this story by now… No plans, no jobs. A packed car and the feeling that we could conquer anything. What you don’t know is that the time spent in Wyoming is the most precious gift of time that I have. My whole world changed while I watched steadfast mountains stand firm in their crooked arch toward the heavens.

The night I left to embark on the road trip before our move was the last time that I saw my dad upright. I remember knowing deep down in the core of my bones that something was wrong- but I didn’t recognize that feeling until after it was confirmed. This will later teach me to question everything: Every ache or anxiety or twinge deserves a second glance for fear of actuality and reality. It’s a sixth sense that can’t be trusted, but it’s there, like a cat stalking me from the shadows leaving me to wonder if it’s a purring house pet or a starved mountain lion.

I was a few months shy of my 25th birthday when my father passed away. Death and grief and immense sadness are hard lessons to learn. I encountered them in the middle of my third decade on the planet, feeling so small and childlike and like I never wanted to get any older for fear of more lessons that resembled this one.

The tall, handsome blonde and I eventually moved home and planted roots, thinking about our futures and what we wanted out of life. I completed a graduate program, got engaged, bought a house, welcomed a dog into my world, and got married in front of all of my friends and family. I’ve traveled to the most beautiful places that this country has to offer – our public lands – and savored every step, breath, moment.

I spent the next five birthdays raising money for the American Cancer Society. A ton of money, actually; Close to $5,000 thanks to all of the people who loved my dad, and who also love me.

I’ve binge-watched tv; googled far too many companies, schools, jobs, locations, and symptoms; overused the hashtag and spent far too much time fussing about my appearance on social media; obsessed and agonized over my physical appearance, weight, and athletic performance; allowed several friends to not respect me and to take advantage of me; tried crazy diets and cleanses to see fast and unrealistic results; sold myself short in more ways than I can count or would like to admit; and didn’t always wear sunscreen.

I’ve also spent endless hours reading beautiful books on my couch in my cozy home; googled things that fulfill my curiosity and bring knowledge; allowed myself to share my story and words through social media in hopes that it resonates with someone, anyone; found a way to love my body and respect what I do have – like two legs – and rekindle my deep and meaningful relationship with running; told off and ended friendships with those who don’t respect me and take advantage of my goodness; found a way to eat food that nourishes my body and supports my existence on this planet; and appreciated the beauty of what I bring to this world, because as Brené Brown says, I’m the only one who can bring it.

I’ve also invested in hats and good sunscreen. I still worship the sun, but my skin no longer does.

I haven’t always gotten things right. But I’m starting to think it’s more important to focus on the fact that I haven’t always gotten it wrong either. I’ve figure it out, I’ve learned. Sometimes I hated doing it- but I survived. I survived so many things. More than that, when I look back on it, it seems like I thrived. My father passed away and I woke up every day and thanked the mountains for standing firm when I felt weak. I found a way to still express gratitude even when I felt so low. I hope that I continue to do that forever because those are the moments that save us, that lift us back up into the light so we can focus our shine on something else.

These past few weeks have been hard. I’ve been mopey and nostalgic about leaving my twenties, like it’s a good book that has finally come to an end. I’m missing my youth and the days when I didn’t notice the crows feet along my eyes.

But here I am, Thirty. I’m no longer pining for a race that I’ve already run. I’m approaching today – every day – with the same doe-eyed wonder that I had at twenty. Now that I know what it held for me, would I do it all over again? In a heartbeat. But I don’t have to. I don’t have the time. I’m on the first page of a new book. Thirty. It does sound good, doesn’t it?

I notice my crows feet the most when I see a picture of myself smiling in the sunshine. That’s got to count for something.

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