New Year Challenge – 31 in 31 in 31

First 7 days of 31 for 31 for 31

The first 6 photos of #31for31for31

I went into New Year’s Eve without a solid idea of what I want out of 2015 fitness-wise. I came out of New Year’s Eve with not much more clarity on how the entire year will pan out, but at least I had a goal for January. Over champagne (or was it the Moscow Mules!?), Asia and I made a commitment to run 31 times for 31 days in a row, in honor of our 31st birthdays (Mine was on Christmas, hers was in September – close enough!). The hashtag #31in31in31 was born!

The idea of the 31 for 31 for 31 challenge came from a friend of Jeremy’s who was at the same restaurant as us on New Year’s Eve. He’s currently on the Run Streak of a lifetime – he’s run nearly 400 days in a row! He said that his minimum run is always 3.1 miles and he takes a photo each time. Although I’ve never had the urge to do a Run Streak before, it suddenly sounded like a fantastic idea (finally – a healthy choice made while intoxicated). We basically stole his idea, but made it a little easier. We’d run 31 days in a row, starting on January 1st, with a minimum of 1 mile a day. We also decided we’d take a photo. Somewhere in there, I also challenged us to do at least a 1 minute plank every day.

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NYE 2014

Asia and I kept our commitment and went for our very first run (and first plank!) on January 1. We’re 14 days in now and incredibly, Asia and I have run EVERY single run together! After not getting to see each other much for the last few months due to her wedding and honeymoon and our trip to New Zealand, it’s safe to say we’re caught up. Luckily, we live just 1 block away from each other, so we simply meet at the corner to begin our run.

Although we said we’d do at least 1 mile, we’ve kind of mentally changed the challenge to a minimum of 3.1 miles and that seems to be the number we hit most weekdays. It’s nice because it allows us to wake up around 6 a.m. (rather than some of the scary 5:15 wake-up calls I had during CIM training in order to get in 8-10 miles) so it doesn’t feel crazy early. Because we haven’t been pushing the pace or going very far, running every single day hasn’t even been difficult physically – I don’t feel sore or tired, just rejuvenated each morning. The hardest part is getting out of bed!

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Having someone to run with has been EXTREMELY helpful in getting my butt out of bed and into the cold, dark morning. It usually gets light within a few minutes of running and we’ve gotten a few great sunrises! There’s pretty much no way that I’d be running in the morning without this goal and without Asia, so to say that this challenge was just what I needed is an understatement. Also, I’ve challenged us to make it to a 5 minute plank – definitely something I wouldn’t have done without a goal. So far I’ve gotten to 3.5 minutes – almost there already!

Carlsbad 5000 Event

Carlsbad 5000 Event

Although most of our runs have been just Asia and I, we have had some fun ones as well. The first weekend we did a 4 mile trail run with our friends who ran Ragnar Trail Vail Lake with us, and this past weekend we did the 5k fun run as part of the Carlsbad 5000 kickoff party. We even managed to get our plank in that day after the pizza!

Post Pizza Plank

Post Pizza Plank

Unfortunately Asia has a business trip in January so we won’t be able to do all 31 days together but we’ll keep each other accountable. I’m almost sad we’re nearly halfway finished!

Have you ever done a Run Streak or a Plank A Day challenge? How long did you do it for? What was the minimum you’d run or plank?

Kicking Off Another Year of Rock n’ Blogging!

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My favorite race of 2014 was San Diego Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon, so I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of the Rock n’ Blogging 2015 Ambassador group this year! This past Fall Competitor Group made it more official with an application process and accepted about 100 Rock n’ Bloggers across the US to help promote Rock n’ Roll (and related) events (read more about the program and about each of the ambassadors here) in exchange for race entries and other perks.

Two of the three races I’ve selected for my 2015 Tour Pass are the Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon and the Carlsbad 5000. The Carlsbad 5000 is one of the most famous events in San Diego. It’s a 5K on the coast which boasts an extremely fast course and an impressive number of professional runners. The cool thing about the race is that rather than all participants racing at the same time, there are actually 7 separate starts and races, including 2 completely separate races for the elites, who race last. That gives everyone an opportunity to witness the elites whizzing by! For example, my start time will be at 8:42 AM and will only be for women and men ages 30-39. You also have the option to sign up for the all day 20k, where you can run each of the age-group races!

Team DOODS (Formerly WODS - name change due to two marriages)

Team DOODS (Formerly WODS – name change due to two marriages)

Asia signing up for the race!

Asia signing up for the race!

Competitor Group hosted a kickoff event yesterday at a local brewery which included a 5k fun run, opportunities to register for the race and get a first glimpse of the 2015 finisher medals, a raffle and FREE BEER. Why wouldn’t we go!? Not to mention, Pizza Port, the brewery at which it was held, has some of the best pizza in town. Asia, Jeremy, Mike and I went together but we had a few friends there as well. I also got the chance to meet fellow Rock n’ Blogger Smitha, who blogs at Running with SD Mom.

With Smitha

With Smitha

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Asia (who is a member of the Oiselle Flock) and I both wore our Off the Grid Knickers and she got to wear her singlet for the first time. We didn’t take the run seriously (it wasn’t by any means a race) – just had fun and enjoyed the ride. It was really a great event and it made me even more excited for the Carlsbad 5000 on March 29th.

Have you ever ran an event like the Carlsbad 5000? Would you do the 20k or the 5k if you were me!?

My Year of Running

I know it’s a week late…but this was too good to pass up! 2014 was a very busy year for me running wise so these year end recap questions I found on Abby’s blog (thanks to Miss Zippy) were too tempting to pass up. I started the year with an ankle sprain and recovered in time for a lackluster marathon at Phoenix, trained hard in the Spring for a great race at RnR SD, had fun in the summer with triathlon, travel and Bird Camp and came back in the fall for a very rewarding marathon training season that was worth the disappointing finish at CIM. I learned a lot about running this year and I’ve come out of it a stronger, more well-rounded athlete.

Best race experience?

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San Diego Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon. Mike and I both rocked major PRs and we had runner’s high all day. Several friends came out to cheer us on (thanks Allison, Brooke, Asia and Jeremy!) and I had a blast running the race. I had a smile on my face for almost all of the race, but particularly when I got a crazy second wind about half way in and cranked it to the finish. Mike even ran with Meb for about 9 miles which was pretty exciting!

Best run?

During CIM training I had several long runs with segments at goal pace, but it was definitely the 20 mile with 15 @ 8:05 average that really rocked. It was a beautiful solo run and a total confidence booster! I was giddy all day afterward.

Celebrating the best 20 miler of my life!

Celebrating the best 20 miler of my life!

Best new piece of gear?

I love my grey Oiselle Lesley Moto Tight. I’ve worn them all over the place this year – running, Pilates and hiking volcanos in New Zealand!

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Apparently you’ll have to zoom in to actually see the tights but this photo was too good not to share! (Mt. Cook, New Zealand)

Best piece of running advice you received?

This is a hard one! I’m definitely the type of person who reaches out to others for advice, so I’ve gotten a lot of it this year. During CIM someone commented on my blog with a tip for marathon racing involving breaking the race into smaller segments to make it easier to handle mentally. I used this tactic in CIM and it worked well!

But on a less technical note, some great advice I’ve received is to run in the moment. To not focus so much on the end goal and instead enjoy the journey. Although I’m not always good at following this advice, I certainly see its value.

Running trails with new friends at Bird Camp - running just to run with no goals

Running trails with new friends at Bird Camp – running just to run with no goals

Most inspirational runner?

She’s not just a runner (although she’s damn good at it), but my former coach and now Kona finisher Maria Simone is my inspiration. She  worked really, really hard and suffered some disappointing setbacks on her journey to her Kona qualification but kept pursuing her dream and eventually achieved it. She truly has taught me to never give up!

If you could sum up your year in a couple of words, what would they be? Fall down 9 times, get up 10.

What was your favorite running moment of 2014? What running advice did you receive this year? 

New Zealand Final Days – Alpine Crossing & Underground Cave Exploring

Mt. Cook

Mt. Cook

We’ve been home for 4 days now. It simultaneously feels like the trip flew by and like we’ve been gone forever. Either way, it’s safe to say that this has been the best vacation of my life. I’ve been to over 25 countries, and it’s safe to say that New Zealand is my favorite. I’ve always said it’s hard to pick a favorite country because each has it’s own allure, whether it be the flavorful food (Italy, Thailand), the exotic culture (Vietnam, Indonesia), the kind people (Germany), the breathtaking architecture (Prague, Budapest or anywhere in Europe really), ancient ruins (Cambodia, Belize) or the gorgeous landscape (Costa Rica). New Zealand took it home in most of those categories and got bonus points for being incredibly easy to travel in,  very safe and perhaps most importantly for someone with the bladder the size of a pea, more fully-stocked public restrooms than you could imagine. It’s safe to say that Mike and I will be back to explore even more.
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The last few days of our trip were pretty action packed and also included a fair amount of driving. One thing I didn’t mention about the driving here (besides the fact that it’s on the left side of the road) is that nearly all of the highways are simply two lane highways which run straight through each town along the way. The speed limit is at most 100 kilometers an hour (we got really good at doing math – I usually convert using some multiple of a 10k which as a runner I know is 6.2 miles) but in most towns it can slow to 50k or so.  On top of it, a lot of the roads are windy, so the going is slow (no traffic though!).
Green view from our car window

Green view and sheep from our car window

Luckily, the scenery is entertainment in itself and it seemed like around each bend I would be mesmerized by another fantastic view, whether it be rolling verdant hills that are such a bright shade of green you can’t believe they’re real, a yellow flower dotted field full of grazing sheep or deer, a canopy of gnarled jungle-like branches, or a stunning cliff alongside a roaring river or windy blue ocean.
On the 27th of December we drove a port on the top of the South Island and hopped onto a 3 hour ferry to the North Island. The ferry itself was unremarkable but the views were pretty great (surprise surprise). I had hastily booked us a hostel in Wellington, the Capitol of New Zealand and our ferry’s final destination, without reading the reviews. We were staying one night and I needed something cheap and close to all the action with parking, and this hostel (Park in the City) seemed to fit all of those criteria.
When we arrived, we were horrified by the state of the hostel – there were what appeared to be crack dealers hanging outside the front door and in the dank lobby and a female receptionist with a thick foreign accent greasy hair greeted us coldly. Our room was almost as bad as the lobby (we later read that the elevator often gets stuck so it’s a good thing that we were on the 2nd floor), and smelled like someone had burned incense to get rid of a scent which resembled what I’d imagine a house built in 1850 and left untouched for 150 years would smell like. This was the only hostel I booked where we had a shared bathroom and unfortunately for women, this was a communal restroom to be shared with the men on the floor as well. The restroom was disgustingly dirty and we almost immediately decided we would spend as little time as possible in this shit hole of a hostel.
We ended up having a nice evening in Wellington, making up for the cheap cost of the room by going to an absolutely delicious italian dinner at swanky restaurant and then heading out for drinks afterward, ending the night with a shared street waffle. We went straight to bed when we got back to the hostel but were woken up at 3 a.m. by a few guys loudly partying in the hallway. Just before I was about to tell them to shut up, one of them punched a picture frame on the wall and it shattered. At first I thought this might mean they’d go away, but instead, they came back with a vacuum cleaner and were yelling and hollering for longer. Mike came out and asked them to keep it down and they shouted at him, blaming him for tracking glass into the communal bathroom. Needless to say, as soon as we woke up the next morning we packed up and got out of there! Later I read the reviews online and realized that we weren’t the only ones who would rank this hostel as the worst we had ever stayed at!
We found a yummy place called Fidel’s (named after Castro) for breakfast on the infamous Cuba Street in Wellington and then spent the majority of the afternoon driving to our next destination, the Tongariro National Park. When we arrived at our hotel (which thankfully was far more clean and accommodating), we arranged our transport to and from the hike the next day, took a walk and had dinner and called it and early night.
New Zealand has quite a few “great walks” (the Milford Track being one of them), but most of them are designed as multiple day hikes. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is known as the best single day hike in the country. It is a 19.4 KM trek (about 12.5 miles) with a few optional bonus tracks, one of which we took to the summit of Tongariro, the formerly active volcano for which the track is named). In total, we hiked 14 miles over about 8 hours with about 3,000 feet of climbing. It was a challenging hike but not much, if at all, harder than the Mckinnon pass day of the Milford Track. The biggest difference was that we were NOT at all alone on this trek, as we often were on the Milford and basically every other hike we’ve done on the trip. At times we felt like one of millions of ants crawling over the Mars-like terrain. The views on the hike were spectacular and unlike anything I’d ever seen so it was worth the lemming feel.
Tongariro

The crazy terrain of Tongariro

No filter...seriously!!!

No filter…seriously!!!

Up and up and up!

Up and up and up! (note our fellow lemmings behind us)

Near the summit

Near the summit

The best part was the optional 3k out and back hike to the summit that very few others took. It was also the most dangerous of portion of the track and there were a few times where I was very aware that one misstep could send me sliding over a cliff and not coming climbing back out. We celebrated our adventure that evening with a great meal at The Station which was formerly a train station, now converted into a fine dining restaurant.
On December 30th, we began the longest day of our life (literally – it would be 45 hours in length). We left Tongariro in the morning and arrived in time for our 12 p.m. Waitomo Caves adventure. When telling others were headed to New Zealand, pretty much every person told us we must visit the Waitomo glow worm caves. I had found a tour company which not only allowed you to see the constellation-like glow worms from within a cave, but was 5 hours of adventure starting with a 105 foot abseil/rappel down a tunnel  into the cave and included tubing down the underground river and traversing it on foot.
Abseiling training

Abseiling training (Mike and I are the ones on the right missing the high 5)

Abseiling down the cave

Abseiling down the cave

Mike on the zip line

Mike on the zip line (with awesome go go boots)

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The rappelling was quite a rush and definitely harder than I remembered it being. The highlight was definitely the underground zip line!! I was the first to go and had no idea what to expect – I got hooked up to the line and we all were instructed to turn off our headlamps. The cave ahead of me was dark but also illuminated with glow worms. The guide pushed me off and I flew into the darkness down the cable, screaming and laughing until I hit the end and was flung back. It was a rush and SO fun!!! The tour included commentary, snacks and the finale was climbing up two waterfalls and through various small caverns to finally emerge on solid ground again.
The whole group inside the cave

The whole group inside the cave, glow worms up above

The end!

The way out

Luckily the tour concluded hot showers, soup and bagels and the opportunity to purchase our photos on a Zip drive and we were on our way by 5 p.m. to make the final trek to Auckland International airport. We stopped along the way for dinner at a small town and then dropped the rental car off and checked into our 12:30 PM December 31st flight, which arrived in Honolulu at 10 a.m. on December 30th. Time travel is possible thanks to the international date line! We will arrive in San Diego at 10 p.m. on the 30th. What a day!
On the Milford Track

On the Milford Track

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Seriously best oatmeal ever

Seriously best oatmeal ever

Mike and I have both agreed that the Milford Track guided tour by Ultimate Hikes was the highlight of the trip, but we can’t choose another favorite. Everything was just great about this trip. We literally had 3 mediocre meals the entire time – every time we ate, it was delicious. Every city we went to had well-marked  hikes everywhere (and along all the roads we took to get there were more opportunities to hike or pull out for a scenic photo) so adventure with a view was always at our fingertips. The wine and craft beer was plentiful. The people were welcoming and generous (at Mount Cook a guy literally stopped his car and got out and asked if he could take a photo of us when we he saw us taking a selfie! The photo he took is the first on this blog post). I also fell in love with all the sheep. I want one for a pet (fun fact- there are about 2x as many sheep in New Zealand as there are people). Of course the travel is always better when you’re doing it with someone you love and Mike is my favorite travel partner. All of the beauty and adventure wouldn’t have been as sweet without him.
So that’s it…now that the bucket list has been checked…where do we go from here?! For once, I’m actually not already planning my next big trip. Just waiting to see where the road takes us.

2014 Goal Review – the Year of “Almost” (plus reflections on CIM)

2014 was quite a year of fitness! I ran 2 marathons, 2 half marathons, a 10k trail race, 3 5ks, and a 15k for fun, along with a sprint and Olympic distance triathlon. I almost finished P90X3, but all of the aforementioned races got in the way. I did a lot of Pilates and some yoga, but mostly this was the year all about running.

And I did get faster. I PRed at the marathon, the half marathon, and the 5k. I took 1st place woman in a 5k and 2nd place in my first trail run (both small races but a win is a win!). Despite a lot of progress, I didn’t achieve my biggest goal for the 2nd year in a row – qualify for the Boston Marathon.

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To review, my goals for 2014 related to running were:

1) Qualify for Boston

2) Run a sub 1:40 half marathon

3) Run my first trail race

I almost qualified for Boston. As we all know, I collapsed within yards of the finish line and ended up walking over it with help of my husband and volunteers to finish in 3:35:26.

I almost ran a sub 1:40 half marathon. I came in 1:40:03 at San Diego Rock n’ Roll.

At least I did run that trail race!

2nd Place!

2nd Place!

Am I disappointed that I didn’t achieve all 3 goals? Of course. My ankle sprain in January set me back for the Phoenix marathon and my body decided to call it quits within seconds of qualifying at CIM. The 3 seconds that stood between me and a sub 1:40 half marathon don’t really bother me – although I”ll still chase that goal, I’m satisfied with how close I am to it.  But of course, I’m sad about falling short of Boston again.

1:40!

1:40!

In the days following CIM, I went through a range of emotions. Disappointment. Anger. Comfort. Doubt. Fear. Pride. Respect. Love. I’m disappointed in the outcome, angry at my body for the way it reacted to the circumstances, comforted by the kind words of family and friends (including all my virtual blog/twitter/instagram friends!), I’ve doubted my body’s ability to finally achieve my goal, I’ve feared trying again and failing, I’ve been proud that I stayed mentally strong during the race and that I didn’t give up, I respect the marathon distance and those who have successfully conquered their goals for it even more, and probably most surprisingly and also importantly, I’ve fallen even more in love with the marathon.

One thing I’m not feeling is regret. Yes, I think there are probably some things I could have done differently that may have caused an alternate outcome, but I don’t regret the choices I made or how I trained. I have no idea if going out a little slower, doing more hill work (specifically downhill repeats to get my quads used to the 1,000 or so feet of descending we did over the course of the race), listening to my body’s protest and slowing down just a little bit more in those last 2 miles, or drinking more water or eating just one more Gu (but not electrolytes – I took 3 salt pills and also drank nuun on the course so I don’t think this was an issue) would have helped. I’ve even wondered if I had calmed down could I have somehow forced my legs to work!? Could I have rolled or crawled to the finish line? The answer is probably no, but all of these things bounced around in my head in the days following the race.

Despite these thoughts, the truth is, the joy of running is in the journey, not the outcome. I loved training for CIM. The beautiful sunrise runs, the adrenaline producing speed work sessions, the breakfast training brainstorming sessions with Mike, the satisfying exhaustion of my legs after a successful long run. I learned more about what works for me as a runner, and I am now faster for it. I walked away with a nice marathon PR and I had a great year. I didn’t achieve all my goals but I did make progress. I made new friends along the way and I enjoyed the ride. And for that reason, I’m happy with 2014.

Running with my buddy Brooke

Running at ACTIVEx Triathlon Camp with my buddy Brooke

Thank you to everyone for the incredibly kind words following my unexpected and heartbreaking day at CIM. You all have made the day much easier to swallow and I’m thankful for that. 

Cheers to 2014 and Hello 2015!

Christmas in New Zealand

Christmas is my favorite holiday, and not just because it’s my birthday. I love everything about this time of year and I especially love spending Christmas Day with my big extended family (usually over 30 of us at Christmas Dinner). I’ve spent Thanksgiving, Halloween and New Years abroad but never my precious Christmas Day. This year was the first year ever that I was going to miss my normal traditions, and I admit, it did make me a bit sad but I know that there are many years to spend Christmas with my family to come.

We left Kaikoura early on Christmas Eve as we’d made a reservation to rent bikes and do the “Taste Trail” in Nelson. We arranged for it for this date knowing that everything would be closed on Christmas and that many of the wineries would probably also not be open on Boxing Day, which is a national holidays here. We arrived around 11:30 AM and rented two bikes and set out first looking for a winery or brewery with food since we were already starving. Unlike our wine tasting and biking on Waiheke island, there was a nice flat and protected bike path for us to ride on.

After about 20 minutes of riding we found a brewery to have lunch and pints at and then headed over across the street to a cheese shop where I purchased 2 cheeses for us to have on Christmas. Afterward we went to the local berry stand but the line was crazy (berries are big for Christmas desserts here) so we kept going. We stopped a winery and had a tasting and then got back on the bikes for another 45 minutes or so until we found a small boutique winery for another tasting. We were tired and hungry so we settled up with a glass of our favorite wine from the tasting and a bread and dip platter and hung out for about an hour, listening to Christmas music before getting back on the bikes for a ride home. We had estimated it’d take us less than an hour to get back but thanks to a nasty headwind, it took nearly an hour and fifteen minutes and we were a few minutes late returning the bikes. Coming home was definitely a workout and we were pretty tired by the time we found our hotel in Nelson (after stopping at a grocery store along the way).

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I booked us a nice hotel with a full kitchen inside for Christmas and that evening I cooked us dinner and we ate on the patio before heading to the church steps for Christmas caroling. We had no idea what to expect and when we arrived a group of women were selling carol music books and candles for a donation and there were people sitting all over the church steps and eventually on the ground as well. We took a seat and enjoyed an hour of Christmas carols intermixed with a bit of New Zealand history, a Maori dance, prayer and a comical interview of a group of small children who expressed their impatience to open their Christmas presents the next day. It was a great way to spend a holiday away from home.

Time for Christmas Carols!

Time for Christmas Carols!

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On Christmas morning we slept in, made pancakes and eggs for breakfast and then headed out on a hike up a hill which contains a monument signifying the center of New Zealand. After the hike I made us a cheese and fruit board to enjoy on our sunny hotel patio before we headed to the local beach for a bit before dinner (80 degrees on Christmas!). Dinner was a treat! Not many restaurants are open on Christmas and I had made us a reservation in advance at the Boat Shed, a small fine dining restaurant on the water. They serve a set 7 course Christmas dinner and we enjoyed every bite of it! Although we don’t eat meat or fish often, we definitely make exceptions to try out local dishes and this was one of them. Out of the 7 courses, I think the only thing we didn’t really enjoy was the Christmas cake! Luckily there were two dessert courses and the first was delicious enough to satisfy so it wasn’t too disappointing when we didn’t like the final dish.

Pancake breakfast  -our new Christmas tradition, 2 years in the making

Pancake breakfast -our new Christmas tradition, 2 years in the making

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First 7 course meal for both of us

First 7 course meal for both of us

Again, we slept in on Boxing Day, made breakfast and then headed out for a cup of coffee in the city center. We weren’t sure that anything would be open but we found that almost all the shops and restaurants were bustling with people. It seems that New Zealanders like to shop on the day after Christmas too! After coffee we went on a 2.5 hour hike on a trail near town which was pretty steep but worth the climb. At one point we were on a fairly narrow path when up ahead a large group of sheep were running toward us! A runner on the path coming the other direction had scared them but then as soon as they saw us, they got spooked again and half of them ran off the path straight up a steep hill into the trees and bushes. The other half continued up another path and we ended up following them to another summit and getting some great photos of them. Their little butts are so cute!

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Baaa

Baaa

When we returned to town we headed straight for a brewery/bar which was having a deal on beer samplers and pizza, so of course we had to oblige. After an afternoon of laundry and relaxing we headed out for Thai food dinner and back to the same brewery to watch a live band.

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Next we’re heading to the North Island via a ferry – the trip is coming to a close with only 4 full days left. Mike and I agreed today – 3 weeks is definitely a long enough vacation to officially relax and forget the worries of home.

Glacier Town and Whale Village

I wrote this last night but the internet was too slow to load so some parts may be out of context now. 

After our morning white water rafting on Saturday, we picked up our rental car in Queenstown and hit the road. Mike was a little nervous to drive

on the left side of the road and probably more nervous to SIT on the right side of the car, but he did a great job of navigating the crazy traffic in Queenstown to get us out of the city. It was definitely an adjustment for me as well to sit on the left side of the car, but clearly nothing like it would be to drive on the “wrong” side of the road.

Our friend James from our Milford Trek tour let us in on a great secret – instead of purchasing the navigation system from the car rental company, we simply purchased a New Zealand SIM card and a prepaid plan so that we would have access to the internet and local phone calls while on the road. This meant that not only could we easily get directions from anywhere, if something were to happen, we’d also have access to a phone to call for help. Definitely a relief.

The 3 hour drive to Mt. Cook took us about 4 hours, as we took our time, stopping about 4 times. We stopped at two scenic lookouts, 1 fruit stand (to purchase avocados, oranges and chocolate covered almonds!) and the grocery store to pick up supplies to cook at our hostel. After eating every meal out (although on the trek we made sandwiches and overall the meals were really healthy so it didn’t necessarily feel like we were always eating out), we were looking forward to cooking something of our own. Most hostels have a kitchen but I’ve actually never cooked my own dinner on the road (in Asia it was way too cheap to eat out to think to cook your own meal so they didn’t have kitchens).

So many sheep and gorgeous views during our drive

So many sheep and gorgeous views during our drive

Once we arrived in Mt. Cook village, which the guidebook promised overlooked the tallest mountain in New Zealand, which also happens to be a glacier, were a little disappointed that the view wasn’t as epic as we hoped. Later, we learned it was definitely due to the fact that it was raining and overcast. We had a beer (a New Zealand IPA -the best beer we’ve had here yet) at the hostel’s cafe which overlooked the glaciers, did our first batch of laundry of the trip, and then cooked our dinner in the very crowded hostel kitchen where the other tourists battled us for pots, pans, silverware and counter space while eyeing each other’s food like we were all contestants on Top Chef. It was not the relaxing situation we had imagined but we survived.

The next day everything changed in Mt. Cook. The sun was trying to break through and although we still couldn’t see the peak of Mt. Cook itself, the surrounding glaciers and mountains beauty shone through. We decided to run the Hooker Trail (plus the 2.5 miles or so from our hostel to the start of the path), the most well known hike in the area and also the longest, as our first run back after CIM, as it had been nearly 2 weeks since the race and we were itching for a run. It was seriously the most beautiful run of my life. Although we did have to slow and walk some sections due to other people on the path and stairways, we ran the majority of the approximately 8 mile trail. We did stop and take photos of course, ran slow and took our time, savoring every moment. We were out there for nearly 2.5 hours and it was an absolutely great start to the day. At first my legs felt a bit heavy but at some point early on, I started to feel good. It just felt amazing to be running again.

This isn't even the trail in Mt. Cook - just the path from our hotel to the trailhead

This isn’t even the trail in Mt. Cook – just the path from our hotel to the trailhead

We headed to a late lunch and then explored the Hermitage hotel, one of the most well known hotels in New Zealand for it’s epic view of Mt. Cook (our hostel had the same view for 1/4 the price…but, let’s keep that our secret). We made a dinner reservation for that night at the fine dining restaurant at the hotel and then went back and relaxed during the afternoon. That evening the clouds disappeared just in time for our romantic dinner with a view and we finally saw the peak of Mt. Cook.

Dinner at the Hermitage

Dinner at the Hermitage

The next morning we were due to drive to our next destination, but first we headed to another valley near Mt. Cook for about an hour hike, with the best part being the amazing view of a glacial lake with Mt. Cook (again, unshielded) in the background. Then we made the 6 hour drive to Kaikoura, a small beach town on the East coast known for epic whale and dolphin watching. The 6 hour drive turned into 9 thanks to our various stops in small towns as well as Christchurch for lunch. The views were spectacular for nearly the entire drive and the countless cows, sheep, horses and deer (they farm deer here) kept us company. We explored Kaikoura when we arrived in our favorite way – by taking a walk and then ending up at a local pub where we shared a beer sampler and dined on the catch of the day and fish and chips (Kaikoura is known for great seafood).

 

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Scenes from the drive

Scenes from the drive

Mt. Cook in the distance - from the car as we drove away

Mt. Cook in the distance – from the car as we drove away

Because we didn’t book in advance, we weren’t able to do the dolphin swim that was recommended (apparently you can swim with up to 200 dolphins). In the end, we had a wonderful day and didn’t regret missing it. Our only full day in Kaikoura was spent first with a short run (50 minutes or so including stopping for pictures) on a path near the beach in the morning, coffee at a cafe near the beach (I actually haven’t been drinking coffee since Auckland so this was a treat!), a walk, lunch on an outdoor patio at a cafe serving amazing vegetarian food, and then a drive down the coast to find a beach which apparently didn’t exist.

The greatest surprise was after we returned from our beach hunt, we ended up at the end of the peninsula which was supposed to have seals. We saw a path and headed up it, thinking it was just to a look out, and ended up on this amazingly beautiful cliffside trail that wound around the peninsula, often cutting deep through wheat colored fields (we did see the seals from afar) We kept walking for nearly an hour before deciding to turn around – nearly pinching ourselves the whole way. It was simply stunning.

Kaikoura Peninsula Walk

Kaikoura Peninsula Walk

Now we’re just about to make ourselves dinner at the hostel (this hostel has 3 kitchens and about 1/4 of the occupants so it’s much more peaceful to cook here) and then get an early night before heading to Nelson for Christmas. We have some bikes booked tomorrow (which is Christmas Eve) to ride around New Zealand’s most famous wine region for tastings and a family style Christmas dinner reserved for Christmas Day. We’ll be sad to be away from family on my birthday and Christmas (we miss you all and wish you were here!), but we know there will be many more holidays spent together.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Action Packed Queenstown and the Awe Inspiring Milford Track

Wow. I am seriously still in awe of how incredible New Zealand is. Queenstown and the Milford Track both went above and beyond my expectations. The last week has been truly a week to remember!

We left a very rainy Auckland last Sunday and arrived in incredibly warm and sunny Queenstown. The flight attendants literally had to tell people to not take photos as they exited the plane onto the tarmac. We had landed in a stunning valley next to a lake, surrounded by mountains and no one could stop looking. Once we arrived in town, we quickly learned that this was truly the “first day of summer” for Queenstown residents, as there had been very little sun for months and now it was finally here. We lucked out to say the least!

Our flight had been delayed 2 hours so we were starving and headed straight to Fergberger, Queenstown’s famed burger joint which has a line out the door at every hour of the day (and it’s even open til 5 a.m.). Stacey, who reads my blog and is from New Zealand, recommended it to us and we also read about in our guidebook. Apparently everyone else did too as the line was, as warned, out the door. The burgers (and fries) were absolutely to die for and we ate them out on the steps next to the lake, watching the boats and birds.

View from the top of the Queenstown Gondola

View from the top of the Queenstown Gondola

After lunch we took the Skyline Gondola up the steep mountainside, passing by a bungie jump and mountain biking trails along the way. The views from the top were spectacular, especially given the beautiful day we were having. We also purchased two rides on the luge, which I had seen on the Amazing Race at some point and had always thought looked fun! You take a little chair lift even further up the mountain and then get in little plastic sleds that slide down a winding track. It was really fun!

 

Luge Track

Luge Track

That evening we had our pre-trek briefing for our Milford Track tour. There are only 2 options for trekking on the Milford Track – complete it as an “independent hiker” and carry your own gear and food, or pay the price for a guided, luxury tour. We splurged and chose option 2 and it was worth every penny! More on that later. That evening we had a really amazing indian food dinner and headed to bed – before the sun went down. It stays light until past 10:30 PM here!

Sunset over the lake in Queenstown

Sunset over the lake in Queenstown

The Ultimate Hikes Milford Track guided walk is composed of 5 days – Day 1 is driving to Te’Anu (3 hours or so), a 1 hour boat ride and then a short walk to the first lodge as well as a 1.5 hour guided nature hike. Day 2 – 4 are full hiking days, 9-13.5 miles per day and Day 5 is simply a the Milford Sound boat cruise and the drive back to Queenstown (5 hours).

When we arrived at the lodge on the first day, we realized that our money was well spent. We had our own private ensuite room with a cozy bed, a hair dryer, fancy shampoo and conditioner and electricity from about 6 a.m. – 10 p.m. every day. There was a place to wash our hiking clothes each day and a drying hut to place them overnight so they’d be nice and warm and dry in the morning. We were hardly roughing it! Our room in each of the lodges was very similar. All lodges have a dining room and lounge and each one had a Christmas tree! We were served a hot breakfast every morning and a 3 course dinner every night. When we reached the lodge each day we were greeted with cold drinks and cookies, the bar was open for beer and wine purchase in the evenings and there were appetizers served during happy hour. Yes….it was certainly not camping ….and it was amazing!!!

View of the lodge on Day 3 from our room

View of the lodge on Day 3 from our room

After settling in on Day 1, we took a group picture with the 41 other “walkers” (which reminded me of the Walking Dead every time we were called that) and our 4 guides. We then went on a wonderful nature hike which ended at a waterfall. Our guides explained the history of the area and pointed out various plants and birds that we’d be encountering on our trek. It was unknown to me before this time that New Zealand was an island solely inhabited by birds for almost its entire history. It wasn’t until the British started to introduce new animals to the country that it ever had anything like deer. That’s the reason there are NO snakes in the entire country!

 

Mike outside our first lodge on the first big day of hiking

Mike outside our first lodge on the first big day of hiking

The amazing weather followed us for Day 2 of the trek as well. It was already warm and sunny when we got up. The trek was 10 miles that day with a few option side tracks, including one to a wetlands area. Although this was a luxury tour, we did have to carry our own packs with our change of clothes and shoes, toiletries, daily lunch and snacks, water, etc. Carrying a fairly heavy pack was hard to get used to at first and that was definitely the biggest challenge for me on day 1, since the trail itself was mostly flat. 10 miles of trail walking with a pack is definitely harder than my easy 10 mile morning runs.

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We hiked through mostly forest during the first half of the day and later in the day it opened up a bit more. We crossed countless bridges and stayed close to the river. Although our group seemed large, we found ourselves walking completely alone for a large part of the day, which made the shaded forest paths seem even more magical. Toward the end of the trek we had the chance to go for a swim in a swimming hole – Mike made it all the way in but it was basically ice-melt water so I convinced myself to at least get halfway in, figuring it was a good ice bath.

MIke filling up our water bottles from the river - all river water is safe to drink!

MIke filling up our water bottles from the river – all river water is safe to drink!

Day 3 was the big day – although we’d only hike 9 miles, we were heading up and over Mackinnon pass, an ascent of about 2,000 feet and a descent of over 2,500 feet. We stuck to the front this time and walked the first portion with one of the guides, an energetic 18 year old Australian guy whose knowledge of the track made him seem much older. A group started to bunch up as we made our way up the 11 switchbacks to the top, but no one spoke as we all were huffing and puffing. The view from the top was spectacular and we stopped for warm drinks (the guide carried them to the top for us!) before heading on another 30 minutes or so to the lunch hut at the top of the mountain (which has a bathroom that overlooks the valley – nicknamed the “Loo with a View”).

Climbing up one of the switchbacks

Climbing up one of the switchbacks

We made it to the top!

We made it to the top!

Our 2nd night lodge is in the valley behind Mike

Our 2nd night lodge is in the valley behind Mike

As we runners know, going down is often harder than up. The descent was technical and challenging but I enjoyed it quite a bit. We had started to make some friends on the trek and had a good time chatting with them on our way down. Once we arrived at the lodge, we were tired but were told that the optional 1.5 hour (including return) trek to Sutherland Falls, the world’s fifth largest waterfall, was worth the extra effort. It definitely was!

One of the most beautiful waterfalls of the trek

One of the most beautiful waterfalls of the trek

Day 4 was the longest day of walking, with 13.5 miles to be crossed before the finish. This walk was abundant with river crossings (with the requisite bridge) and short climbs and descents over rocky paths. A large majority of the paths wove through stunning, vibrant green forest covered in a thick coating of moss. Every view was incredible. By lunchtime, my legs were definitely tired from the cumulative miles but we continued until we reached Mile 33.5 at aptly named Sandfly Point (so.many.little.flies). We waited for the rest of the group and then headed over to the Milford Sound on a little boat where we made our way to our final lodge.

Moss covered forest

Moss covered forest

We did it!

We did it!

Mike at SandFly Point

Mike at SandFly Point

The view from our room was simply incredible. Just as we thought Ultimate Hikes could get any better, we opened the door to our room which had an incredible view of the Milford Sound. That night we had our final celebratory dinner and were each given a finisher certificate with our group photo from the first day. Although those 41 people and 4 guides were strangers that first day, they felt like friends now.

View of the Milford Sound from outside the lodge on the final night

View of the Milford Sound from outside the lodge on the final night

The boat cruise around the Milford Sound on Day 5 was just the icing on the cake. It as raining and foggy, our good luck weather having worn off, but it was still stunning. We stayed on the top deck for the duration of the 2 hour cruise, enjoying every whip of the wind and rain drop on our faces.

Milford Sound from the boat cruise

Milford Sound from the boat cruise

I tried my best, but I can’t even fully describe how beautiful and surreal the Milford Track was. There is something truly humbling about being surrounded by such an incredible display of nature’s best work. There’s also something to be said for disconnecting from work, email, social media and the world for 5 days and fully immersing yourself in nature, as well as dining and walking with strangers who become friends, swapping stories and learning about new cultures simply through the art of conversation.  The trek was an excellent example of why I love to travel so much.

Once we returned to Queenstown and wished our new friends goodbye, we had just about 24 hours left to enjoy the city. After a relaxing evening wandering the streets, stopping to listen to street artists playing music, dining on fish and chips on the sea wall, and sharing a cup of gelato, we finished up our trip with an exciting white water rafting trip this morning. I had never been white water rafting and was a bit nervous as they kept talking up how dangerous the rapids can be (which were Class 4-5), but it turned out to be just fine. It was incredibly exciting but not too scary – only one person fell out of our boat the entire time (another boat did completely flip though!). Our guide did let us jump in and float down the river for a bit and it was exciting without even falling out first!  Whitewater rafting was a rush and a great way to say goodbye to Queenstown, the city of adventure.

The only photo I got of white water rafting since we weren't able to take our cameras (obviously). But it sums it up very nicely.

The only photo I got of white water rafting since we weren’t able to take our cameras (obviously). But it sums it up very nicely.

The New Zealand Adventure Begins…

5 years ago today I had just returned from my backpacking journey through South East Asia. I spent 4 months learning about the world and myself while traveling through small towns, large cities, and even tiny villages, learning the art of mastering a squatter toilet and saying “yes” to every adventure that knocked on my door, from dining on a still-beating snake heart to learning to ride a motorbike the morning before I set out on 8 hour journey on one through the winding roads of Vietnam with a group friends I had just met two days prior. While in Asia, I started a blog to document my travels and keep in touch with family and friends at home. It was this blog that helped me fall back in love with writing and made the decision to start this one much more obvious.

Aloha!

Aloha!

Waikiki Sunset

Waikiki Sunset

 

 

Now here I am with Mike, nearly 5 years since we met (we met 3 months after I returned from my trip) and on another adventure with him. As I write this, we’re on our 4th flight in one week. We’re headed to Queenstown, the vibrant New Zealand city in the South Island known for bungee jumping and adventure. We started our journey last Sunday after the marathon, heading home on an evening flight from Sacramento to San Diego. We spent one day at home and work before packing an even larger bag and boarding a flight to Honolulu, Hawaii on Tuesday where we spent 24 hours on a paid vacation layover thanks to a mistake made by Hawaiian airlines (we were supposed to leave for our trip Wednesday).

 

Mike and Sam's husband AJ paddling out for a morning surf

Mike and Sam’s husband AJ paddling out for a morning surf

It actually turned out to be much better having the layover since the flight to Hawaii is 6 hours and the flight to Auckland was another 9. We got into Honolulu in the afternoon, took a walk, laid on the beach for a bit and then had cocktails during sunset at the restaurant at our hotel. Our flight on Wednesday wasn’t until 2 p.m. which gave us a full morning to enjoy the 80+ degree weather. Ironically, my oldest friend (circa kindergarten), Samantha, was also on the island with her husband and son, George. Sam lives about 2.5 hours away from us in California now which means that we haven’t actually gotten to see much of each other because of the daunting obstacle of LA traffic. So somehow it made more sense to do a meet up in Hawaii. We spent the morning at the beach where I learned the lesson that 2 year olds do not make for a relaxing beach day – luckily I didn’t mind.

 

The 9 hour flight to Auckland actually went by pretty quickly thanks to the long list of free in flight entertainment. We left Hawaii on Wednesday afternoon and arrived in Auckland on Thursday night, losing about 23 hours of life thanks to the international date line. Luckily on the way back, we gain an extra day.

I was instantly brought back to my backpacking days in SE Asia when we checked into our “ensuite” hostel room in downtown Auckland near midnight on Thursday. Our rock hard full sized bed with accompanying twin bunk was squished into a room far too small and the sink (which I later learned is apparently not just a problem in hostels) was barely large enough to was our hands, let alone our faces!

We spent a rainy Friday exploring New Zealand’s largest city, lingering over breakfast and coffee (yes, coffee – trying not drink it daily but it’s definitely one of our favorite parts of vacation!) and then walking around as much of the beautiful city as we could. One thing I must say about Auckland is that it a sophisticated city. The streets are immaculate and all of the cafes, shops and eateries are very trendy. The food is absolutely delicious – it’s a very international city with no real emphasis on any one type of cuisine. We found an absolutely delicious casual vegetarian cafe for lunch, ate a mind-blowing street waffle in the afternoon, drank delicious local craft beer in the evening and ended it with an amazing Asian fusion dinner (Indian naan for appetizer, Indonesian Nasi Goreng and Thai Curry for the main dish). It was a day of delicious food!

Saturday was the highlight of the trip so far with a day trip to Waiheke Island, which is just a 40 minute ferry ride from downtown. Waiheke is known for its unspoiled beauty and abundant wineries. Waiheke is most commonly visited (by tourists anyway) via a tours and we almost booked a tour when the guy at the tour desk mentioned that you could just hire bikes and ride to the wineries. Perfect!

We started the day with a 2 hour hike from the ferry station through an absolutely stunning route featuring dirt and beach trails. We arrived in one of the larger towns on the island and continued our trek for about another hour, heading down to Blackstone beach and saw the endangered bird who migrates all the way from Alaska to be there! After the hiking we had an amazing vegetarian lunch (starting to realize that New Zealand is VERY vegetarian friendly) at a cafe overlooking the beach.

 

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After lunch we rented 2 mountain bikes (the rental shop actually rarely rents these bikes – they specialize in electric bikes due to the rolling hills on the island which make it pretty hard to ride comfortably) and headed on quite a journey. The roads were very hilly and winding with basically no bike path, but all of the cars were good about avoiding us (lucky for us). It had started to lightly rain after lunch but it didn’t bother us because we were generating enough heat on the massive inclines so it actually felt pretty nice.

 

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We rode probably 45 minutes or so before we found our first winery and stopped in for a tasting of 5 wines. The tasting area was absolutely adorable, nestled among the vines. The woman who gave us the tasting gave us a very thorough run down on each pour and was very nice to talk to. We felt a little scrubby in our hiking/biking gear but felt no judgments here! We ended up purchasing a bottle to go, which waived the tasting fee.

After the tasting we set out for more riding, passing one winery that appeared to just be a restaurant, not a tasting room. Eventually we ended up at an absolutely breathtaking winery on a hill which not only had a nice tasting room, but a gourmet restaurant and an event venue (a wedding was taking place). We felt a little more scrubby here, but one of the fellow wine tasters asked if we were the ones on the bikes so we felt like our appearance was a bit more acceptable in a nice place. Everyone who asked about our bikes throughout the day was impressed that we weren’t using the electric powered ones!

We had been out for nearly 3 hours now and the other wineries were starting to shut down due to weddings and other private events. We made our way back in more rain, cycling for about another 30-45 minutes before reaching town. We immediately sought out food and had dinner and drinks at a laid back, but hip restaurant overlooking the water. We made our way back to the ferry by 7:15, for a 10 hour day on Waiheke Island! It was absolutely perfect and a great way to end our stay in Auckland.

More photos to come once we download them off our old fashioned cameras. For now, you get the iphone versions!

CIM Race Recap – My Legs Stopped Before My Heart

The human body can accomplish amazing feats. Stay in motion for 17 hours to complete an Ironman. Create a human being and innately understand without practice how to give birth to it. Defy odds and heal without a known cure. Unfortunately, just as it can surprise us, it can defy us. Yesterday, my body betrayed me in a way I never imagined.

The race started off pretty great. Everything leading up to the day was perfectly executed and my legs felt fresh on race morning. The weather forecast was nearly ideal with a temperature in the low 50s at the start and projected high 50s at the finish with low winds. I made it to the start line with a near perfect training cycle behind me, loads of confidence and a fit, healthy body that I knew could get me 26.2 miles in 3:35 or less.

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The adorable sign our friends and weekend hosts Greg and Tessa made for us

The adorable sign our friends and weekend hosts Greg and Tessa made for us

Fellow Oiselle Birds at the Start

Fellow Oiselle Birds at the Start

I started right ahead of the 3:30 pace group but didn’t have an intention of actually running with them, at least not to start. However, once we started going and my legs felt really good, my breathing light, I kept my word and raced easy, just as planned. It just so happened that my easy also was just about the same pace as the 3:30 pace group (who I believe go trapped back behind the crowd and had a slow first mile) and by mile 2 or 3, I was running right with them.

I didn’t listen to music at the start was and simply enjoying eavesdropping on conversations around me. Breathing was easy, legs were light. I closed out the first 5 miles at an average pace of 7:59, which I knew was a bit aggressive BUT given the course profile (100 feet of loss in those first miles, although these are quite a few rolling hills) and the fact that I thought I could possibly run closer to 3:30, I went with it. My Dad and Step Mom made it to Sacramento for the race and I saw them with their awesome motivational signs at mile 2 and mile 4 and was amped and feeling great.

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Around Mile 5, the course gets a bit more hilly, with an equal amount of climbing as descending, and I also had to slow for a water re-fill somewhere so  my pace slowed a bit. I let the pace group go ahead, knowing I wanted to run my own race anyway. I slowed in the next 5 miles as we constantly ascended and descended the hills. I hit the 10k mark and thought of those tracking me at home, specifically Asia and Jeremy, and knew they’d be happy that I was ahead of pace.

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My legs were feeling it a bit by Mile 8, but my breathing was still light. I had one pretty slow mile which felt like a lot of climbing (Garmin data shows it wasn’t much more than any other mile though). There was an aid station on the hill at Mile 8 and I slowed to fill my water bottle which lost me some time. Just as I’d planned, I kept with my feeding schedule of 1 Gu per 35 minutes plus 1 salt pill per hour. I stayed within each mile and was enjoying latching on to smaller groups and then moving on as either they or I surged ahead.

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My thoughts were very positive and I remember thinking as I got to mile 10 that I couldn’t believe how much better I felt than at OC and Phoenix, despite running even faster. I kept imagining the BQ bell that we’d seen at the expo that was going to be waiting for me at the finish line. I couldn’t wait to ring it and finally achieve my goal.

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Around Mile 10 or 11 we passed through Fair Oaks which was jam packed with spectators. This was definitely the best I felt in the race, likely due to the caffeinated Gu I had taken not too much earlier. I was giving high fives, smiling and loving the race. Every time I heard someone ring a cow bell I thought about ringing that BQ bell. The miles just flew by, but my pace definitely slowed a bit. I found myself consistently running 8:05-8:08 splits and my average pace started to creep up.

I hit the half marathon mark at 1:46:24 and I knew that Asia would be tracking me and excited because I had said that my goal was to run the half marathon around 1:46 (My Step Mom Denice had told me the day before to imagine Asia running with me and I actually used this tactic quite a few times in the race!). I myself was thrilled because this meant if I maintained this pace I was 4 minutes ahead of 3:35. A nice cushion indeed.

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The rolling hills continued. Every time we went down, there seemed to be yet another hill to climb up. The miles started to get harder, but I was still keeping each and every one under 8:12. I focused on staying within the mile, repeating my mantras, telling myself it was my day. I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed that although my splits were still under 8:10 it was tough to keep them there. The 3:30 dream was probably not happening but I knew the BQ was mine for the taking. When it hurt, I reminded myself that if marathons were easy, everyone would do them. If qualifying for Boston was easy, everyone would qualify. This wasn’t going to be easy and I knew it. Time to get to work.

This is when those long runs with long segments at marathon goal pace really came in handy. When there was 14 miles to go, I reminded myself of my successful long run with 14 miles near goal pace. If I could do it then, I could do it now. Just as forecasted, there was now a slight headwind, so I was trying to draft off people when possible. I kept focusing and marching on. At one point a spectator yelled to me and told me I looked so fresh, like I was on Mile 1. My confidence grew. This is my day. I repeated it to myself over and over throughout the race.

Before I knew it, I was at mile 16. I thought of my normal 10 mile route and I really believed that I could do it and that I would not hit the wall. I heard the 3:35 pace group coming up on me because spectators would shout “3:35!!!” and I knew that they were ahead of schedule, so I didn’t let it bother me. I’m not sure exactly when I got enveloped into the group, but once I did, I knew I couldn’t let them out of my sights.

I ran toward the front of the group and not too long after I joined, the pace leader said to me, “Do you run ultra marathons?” I said, “No, why?” and he told me that I have a very efficient gait. More confidence boosts. Let’s do this Mr. Pacer.  This is my day.

Somewhere in here, the cramping started. It started in my right shin and moved around to my foot and calf as the race progressed. I noticed my gait was altered but tried to shake it off.

Mile 20 has an arch over the timing mat which is constructed to look like the wall. You literally “run through” the wall. I think this is also where the photographers were set up and as I neared, I pointed to my 3:35 pacer and smiled. My Dad and Step Mom were also right at the Mile 20 marker with their sign now showing “You = BQ” and I nodded and smiled enthusiastically. What wall!? I thought. I had totally forgotten about the cramping during the welcome distraction.

Time to get to work, I thought, as the miles got harder. I stopped paying much attention to my watch and just focused on hanging with the group. I wanted to get over the bridge (the last hill before it’s all flat) and get to the numbered streets (they start at 54 or so and the finish line turn is at 8). I was feeling so confident that when we got to the bridge that I said loudly, speaking to the small group of women runners in our 3:35 group, “Ok ladies, let’s do this! Let’s ring that BQ bell.” They were all so in the zone that no one responded (hah!). I took that as a sign that I was feeling better than them, but I just hoped that it lifted their spirits!

I started feeling progressively worse, but not terrible. The cramping got worse and moved up my leg. But, I was still with the group. I was still at this point plotting when I’d break away. I thought I could still bust out a fast final mile. I’m not sure when it happened exactly, but I think it was very near Mile 24 when things got HARD. The pain went from manageable to nearly unbearable. Not just the cramping, but my breathing. My legs felt like bricks were tied to them. It took every ounce of energy to keep going but I did.

My pace slowed, but was still under 8:20. The pace group inched ahead slowly but was still in my sights and I knew they were ahead of pace by nearly 2 minutes. The cushion was getting more narrow, but the BQ was still within grasping distance. I kept bribing myself by reminded myself that I only had 20 or 15 or whatever it was, minutes to go and that it would all be worth it. Ring the bell. BQ. Make all the training worth it. Pain is temporary, pride is forever. Don’t give up. Don’t give up. Don’t give up.

Pain Cave

Pain Cave

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The pain got worse and worse. By the time I was near Mile 26, I felt like I was in a dream. The pain was surreal and unyielding. I remember wondering if I would faint or puke at the finish line, or both. I saw my Dad on the course and I couldn’t even acknowledge him. I could feel my form going to hell and I tried to correct it, to stay light, a few times but my body kept wanting to go back to whatever felt best. I wanted to be done SO bad but the end was so near. Ring the bell. Ring the bell.

I made the left turn onto 8th and then there is another quick left to the finish chute. At this point the males and females separate with the females on the left and males on the right. I was right behind a girl who got confused over where to go, and slowed and faltered a bit, causing me to change my gait to avoid running into her and also to dramatically slow. As I started to go again, my legs started to feel like jello. The finish chute was 50 yards or so and I could see the finish line. The clock still showed 3:34 (and I was a minute behind the gun time at least). I didn’t know it, but my husband Mike was just beyond the finish line (he also ran and finished in an amazing 3:20!) and was watching me, holding my medal, ready to put it over my neck.

And then, I stopped. My body didn’t want to go any more. It had enough. I literally stopped in my tracks and fell to my knees. Mike said he’s never seen anything like it – the way my body moved and fell. I tried to get up, but I couldn’t. My quads literally felt paralyzed. I tried again to no avail I let out a moan and yelled “Nooo.” My face writhed in misery. I knew, then, I had lost it and my heart was literally breaking.

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Heart literally breaking.

During Ironman training, I watched the YouTube Video of Paula Newbie Frasier as she collapsed within yards of the Ironman finish line and lost her first place prize just as she was about to capture it. She lost control of her body and here I was, in the same position. It was probably the most surreal experience of my life.

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Mike approaching to help

An absolutely wonderful woman who was just behind me stopped and tried to help me. I keep thinking about that woman. I hope I didn’t ruin her BQ dreams too. She moved on after realizing I was a lost cause. Soon two volunteers approached to help me up and then Mike ran over to me and he and one of the volunteers helped walk me across the finish line, but it was too late. The clock had turned and I had lost my chance.

I later heard from my family, Mike and Layla who was handing out medals at the finish line, that the whole crowd was rooting for me. They had literally just been announcing that all the women crossing the finish line were Boston Qualifiers and I know that many people must have realized that I was about to achieve the goal only to have it ripped away by my disobedient body.

As soon as I crossed the finish line, I was placed into a wheel chair and moved into the medical tent. I held my face in my hands, but didn’t cry. I had the foresight to stop my watch but didn’t learn my actual finish time until later. 3:35:27. Just 27 seconds between me and that BQ. Looking at my Garmin data later, I was not moving for a total of 2 minutes in the final portion of the race, 30 seconds of which was due to the fact that I stopped my watch late. That means that I gave away 1.5 minutes to the clock and my finish time would have been around 3:33:58.

Once inside the medical tent, I was swarmed by nurses and being asked questions to make sure I was still with it. They pricked me and checked my blood sugar, which was apparently fine. They moved me to a cot and forced me to eat pretzels and drink Nuun. The thought of Nuun was making me sick since it was the last thing I had in my water bottle, so I told them I would just take another salt pill. All I wanted was plain water – it sounded so good. I felt hot and asked for ice packs which I put on my legs and then on my head. I felt like death.

Eventually, I started to feel better. I joked that I was going to be trending on YouTube and that I was like Paula Newby Frasier or Julie Moss. A wonderful volunteer nurse named Amy took care of me and told me jokes (they were pretty good) and nursed me back to health. At one point a series of seemingly endless cramps moved from both feet up my shins and calves and quads and Amy forced me to stretch out my legs and breathe through the excruciating pain.  I called my mom and as soon as she picked up I started crying. After I let it out, I started to feel better.

I failed – again. But this time it wasn’t my mind, it was my body. I literally gave it my all, and it wasn’t enough. I can try to think of what went wrong, but there’s no point. Every time I think about those moments, and try to imagine why I couldn’t get up or wonder if I had done something slightly different that wouldn’t have caused the collapse or if I had tried crawled to the finish, or had I just had enough time banked that I could have done it despite it all, I just come back to the same answer – what is done is done. I pushed myself to my limits. I gave my best. What else can I ask for? When I wrote my goal post for this marathon I said other than qualifying, I wanted to run a race of proud of and never give up, and that’s what I did. My watch tells me that I ran a 8:11 average including the collapse and that’s a Boston Qualifying time in my mind. I am (almost) at peace with what happened. I might not get a pass to Boston, but I did it. I stayed positive 99% of the race, I pushed through the pain, and I didn’t give up. And that’s something to be proud of.

And it’s a damn good story. One Mike and I will probably be telling for the rest of our lives.

There was celebrating to be done - 5.5 minute PR!

There was celebrating to be done – 5.5 minute PR  and my 5th marathon finish. Mike’s 4th marathon finish! Oh…and COFFEE!

So thankful for my Dad and Step Mom for their support!

So thankful for my Dad and Step Mom for their support!

Thank you to everyone who has supported me as I trained and prepared for this race (I read your blog comments, emails, tweets, Instagram posts, etc over and over before the race)  and for everyone’s kind words in response to the crazy outcome. Thank you most of all to Mike, my amazing and supportive husband, who knows what to say to make me feel better and whose love is more important to me than any qualifying time.

In the words of Eminem…. Til I Collapse.

In case are curious, here are my splits. Despite hitting a wall at 24, I barely slowed. I ran a consistent race and I’m proud of that.

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