Pinhoti 100

Way back in May Jeff asked me what I wanted for Mother’s Day. I said I wanted a registration for the Pinhoti 100. I’d been wavering back and forth and I figured a gifted registration would decide it for me. I told him I’d blog through all the training and become a famous blogger in the process. An investment in our future wealth, really. You see how that turned out. Jeff really should get better investment advice.

I wish I had blogged all the prep for this race because its the most fun running I have ever had! I could go back through the races and runs and all that I learned at each. So much went wrong and so much went right. Such an awesome journey in general. For now I’ll recap the most important part of this whole shenanigan. The people. After all there are two reasons to do an ultra. The people and the food.

For the second year in a row I convinced my brother, Ryan, to add an ultra on to the beginning of our family beach trip in May. Last year we did the Long Cane50k. This year we did the Swamp Stomp 50 Mile. As we ran the 50 mile I ever so gently began throwing out the 100 idea. Right about the 40 mile mark he asked me to not mention it anymore. Then a few weeks post-50 he was game again. We kept up with each other’s training all summer via text and phone calls. I knew he’d have me beat on hill skills with his Colorado training so I loaded up on miles to try to even it out.

In my geekiest of weirdo moves to date, I saw an opportunity disguised as an open invite to run the Art Loeb trail back in June and used it to creep my way into a great group of much more experienced runners. I showed up with the sprinter van AND Jeff and still managed to sucker them into being friends with me. These folks are entirely responsible for teaching me how to be a little less of a trail dumb ass. I can say with certainty that I would not have shown up at the start line without their tremendous help.  I look back now and wonder what in the world I was thinking when I registered and planned to train alone all summer. There are so many things I would never have figured out and so many runs I would never have done on my own.

In September when I was starting to believe this race was actually going to happen (thanks again to the newly stalked found group of training friends), I focused on finding a crew/pacers. Ryan’s girlfriend, Austyn, and Jeff were the natural crew choices. Mostly Austyn because she does the majority of the work while Jeff drinks tequila, does grunt work as assigned by Austyn and probably spends the rest of the time napping. With both of them I know I can be a cranky brat and they’ll (mostly) still love me. So then I had to think through my list of running friends and try to decide which of them might be the most agreeable to ridiculous ideas. And that’s how I came up with Kim, Karen and Monica. Kim and Monica I knew to be experienced on trail. Karen is a road runner that I occasionally trick into trails. All three are faster, stronger and smarter than me. All three are funny, resilient and strong. The training friends got me to the start line and the crew/pacers absolutely secured the finish line.

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Pacer Karen, Jeff, Pacer Kim, Pacer Monica – first person who tries to steal my pace team gets a kidney punch. You can steal Jeff though.

I trained from June to October, getting in at least one 50k run or race with the aforementioned magical new friends every month. I did a lot of back to back long-(ish) runs, as much trail as I could manage and aimed for 50 miles every week. I had one peak week at 75 miles (that number was padded by getting lost during a 50 miler). What it really boils down to is a) get you a pack of weirdos to train with and b) get you another pack of weirdos to drag you through the race. You need a lot of miles and a lot of weirdos. And you need to pick weirdos that are smarter than you. My training plan is finely tuned science and I just gave it to you for free.

Oh and c) you need cheeseburgers. But we’ll get to that.

Ok so we show up in Alabama on Friday afternoon. Eat some food. Grocery shop because we didn’t already have eleventy tons of crap and 7 people in the minivan. Pick up packets. Eat more food. Take the Tylenol PM and pray for sleep.

Saturday morning up at 3:45am, diet coke,  get dressed, lube the entire self in A&D ointment and hit the road for the 40 minute drive to the start. I ate a cookie in the car because, of all things, I’d completely forgotten to pack a breakfast. Luckily we had an entire grocery store worth of sugary junk in the van.

Ryan and I at the start line.

Ryan and I trying to look not-scared.

Bathroom line at the start was too long to get through and I hadn’t gotten things “worked out”. DISTRESS! Tried to push down that little bit of panic and locate the training friends. Found Annie, Jason, Bo and Angela milling about and made it a point to stay clumped near them, my security blanket made of people. That sounds very Silence of the Lambs but I’m not really going to make a blanket out of you guys. Promise.

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Angela, Jason, Annie and Me.

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What am I doing here?

At some point the RD says something and then people start moving. I assume this to be the start but I still look to Jason first. He’s been our den leader for the summer of training. I move when Jason moves. He moves so we go. Its 6am so we start off in the dark. First couple of miles is very bottlenecked and walky. Bo, Ryan, Angela, Scott and I end up in a group with Annie and Jason a bit  behind us. We chat easily and I’m feeling super excited and ready for this day.

We’d told the crew (just Jeff and Austyn for the first few hours) to skip AS#1 (6 miles) so flew through it. I’d been warned to mind the cut off times especially during the first 50 miles. We came into AS#1 with only 10 minutes to spare and this completely freaked me out. I flung my long sleeve top at Angela’s crew (sorry guys!), packed my headlamp back into my pack and we took off quickly. We fell in behind Bo again as we left, with Angela close behind.

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Keeping up with Bo just long enough to get photographic proof that we did.

I remember so much of these miles being very runnable and pleasant. Nice views, fun chats with others, etc. And then I had to use the facilities. But there are no facilities. And I needed the kind of facilities that I’ve never partaken of in the woods before, if ya know what I mean. My stomach starts feeling way off and my head hurts. We came into AS#2 (13 miles), Jeff and Austyn were there but no facilities. Jeff took my pack and went to refill it. He was doing it all wrong and I remember snapping at him pretty hard. I was so distressed over the bathroom scenario that I just randomly grabbed food from the crew bag, snatched the pack from Jeff and left. I’m a real prize of a wife.

Again runnable miles but I’m really not feeling so pleasant here. I feel clammy and dizzy and my stomach feels off. Everything is just a few degrees of wrong. This panics me, feeling so off, so early and I just go silent and broody for a while. As we approach AS#3 (18 miles) I just keep telling Ryan I feel sick and I need to use the bathroom and there won’t be one and I’m gonna have to DNF over the lack of bathroom. Zero to total terror on the Katie scale. As soon as we see the crew they are on us with offers us coke and food (that I’d asked them to have ready) and I’m just repeating “I need to poop” over and over. I can’t focus. I feel, get ready for it, like shit. So Austyn points at the woods across the road and says,”so poop”.  Um, buh? I am immobilized by this entire idea. Does a bear shit in the woods? Sure. But I am not a bear! Jeff just grabs my hand and leads me into the woods until I can find a private enough spot. Again, he is a lucky lucky husband. You know you are jealous.

So then..I poop.

And the joy that follows. Oh the sweet relief. I want to sing and dance and tell everyone of this wonderful event. And I do tell a few people. More people, in retrospect, than I should I have. I can tell by some reactions that I have again gone too far with conversational comfort levels. I’m sorry guys. It was just that big a game changer.

We blast out of there (so much lighter! sorry, had to) and we are now 50 minutes ahead of cut off. My stomach takes its time fully recovering but I can feel optimism returning. We see the crew again at AS#5 (27 miles) and they have cheeseburgers for us. The pacers have been delivered (thanks Dad!) to the van now. We are well over an hour ahead of cut off, stomach is rebounding, and we have had some nice stretches of good running. We chat and eat and everybody is smiling. Life is sweet.

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We’re running when we can, walking when we have to and never stopping. We hook back up with Annie and Jason in here for a while and chat some. I knock back some ginger ale (another first!) and it finally brings my stomach back to entirely good. Lot of walking up to Bald Rock but its quick, happy walking. Get into Bald Rock AS#7 (40 miles) just before 4pm to find a gorgeous view and our entire crew (now including my Dad and stepmom, bringing our crew total to 7 people). And a flush potty! Its getting cool but we opt not to bundle up yet. Put on some more A&D, grab some food and our first pacer, Kim. We hit the road and do some great running downhill, shimmy down Blue Hell and then more easy road running. Kim jumped in at just the right spot. We were happy and energetic but probably at the point where we would have started to relax too much in pace on our own. Kim is just speedy enough to encourage us without burning us out. She cranks it up and keeps us at a steady clip.

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Kim and Austyn doing their pacing and crewing.

It gets dark so we get out the headlamps and but still move really well. Come in to AS#8 (mile 45) two hours ahead of cut off and I feel bullet proof. Kim stays with us and we head to AS#9 (mile 52 miles). I never want to leave that station. They had grilled cheese and coke and Christmas lights and a TV. And wifi! I was giddy.

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Sunset…shits getting real now.

We see the crew again at AS #10 (55 miles) and Karen jumps in. We’ve got miles of good fire road. Lots of running and quick walking. Moods are good. Karen distracts us with lots of fun chatter. AS#11 (60 miles) at just after 10pm and we are getting cold. Real cold. Hips and back are tight so we get down and do some stretching. Can’t afford to stop long because the cold starts to seep in but we grab food and drink and head out still almost two hours ahead of cut. We’re slowing but its not been to severe yet.

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Yoga with Dad

I’ve been well aware all day that miles 68-85 are going to be the toughest. When my stomach was hurting or when we had to walk hills my mind would always drift to those miles. I would panic and think “shit if I cannot manage this right now how will do I that in the middle of the night”. I tried to remind myself to stay in the mile I was in but it got hard.

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So cold. Soooo Cold. SOOOOOOO COOOOOOOLD.

At AS#13 (mile 68) Monica jumped in so now we had two pacers with us. This was a decision made by the pacers (they had their own little secret pacer meeting on Friday night, complete with individual copies of the chart I’d made, I almost cried when I walked in on that and realized how hard these folks were going to be working for our goal) and it was genius. Monica towed us with her insatiable pace, minding the slipping cut off cushion ever so diplomatically, while Karen babied us and catered to our mood swings. Good cop and bad cop but Monica wasn’t bad..you know what I mean. Just as Kim had used our energy level to make the most of the runnable miles she had with us, Monica and Karen really drove us through the darker moments and built us back up as best they could.

So I knew these miles would be tough and they delivered. Oh did they delivery. We were walking so much. I was pausing frequently to stretch out my screaming back and hips. Lots of silence. Poor Monica did not get the happy runners that Karen and Kim had gotten. I started getting really confused about time of day and cut off time. We were walking so much and going so much slower and yet we’d come into a station and still have an hour before cut off. It made no sense so I decided people were flat out lying to me. At AS#14 (75 miles), after a loooooooooooooong, frustrating, switchback nightmare of a climb I was feeling a touch of the trail rage. I walked into the station and asked the guy (nicest guy in the world, lordy I wanted to be as happy as he was) for a grilled cheese. I could see they didn’t have them but I, like a total shithead brat, asked for one anyway. Then I flung my pack at Monica and laid down on the ground. I had been telling them all the way up the hill that I wanted to lay or sit down for three minutes. I could tell they were hesitant to allow it so I just went ahead and did it. Angry rebel ultra girl.

So I’m laying there looking at the stars and thinking, “I freaking dare anyone to be timing this 3 minutes because I will cut you!” and suddenly happy aid station guy is leaning over me and handing me a fresh, hot quesadilla and apologizing that its not a grilled cheese. I feel very small and petty about my fit throwing so I thank him a lot. I shove the whole quesadilla in my mouth (So pretty! Good thing I’m not here looking for a date) and ask him what time it is. And he tells me. So I ask him what time cut off is. And its 1.5 hours away. A normal person would be so relieved that after that long slow never-ending climb she is still  ahead. I just start angrily muttering that it doesn’t make any kind of sense at all. This poor guy is still standing over me trying to offer help and I just can’t get my shit together regarding time. I decide he is definitely lying to me but I get up, get the pack on and we head out.

Its cold and just keeps getting colder. Monica keeps trying to give me her jacket but I feel bad enough that she’s out here babysitting my sorry ass and I don’t want her to also be cold. Instead I treat her to an endless serenade of, “its so cold. my feet/back/everything hurts” waah waah waah. Karen is still there in mother role. Shushing any complaint and saying random soothing words. Ryan is feeling strong so he and Monica dash ahead and do some running while Karen lugs me through the woods. At some point I decide to try to run some. I make it 20 feet or so, trip gloriously, fling my arms behind me (what the hell!?) and dive straight into the ground.

I push up off the ground, flip over and instantly begin sobbing uncontrollably. The force of the fall drove my headlamp straight into my skull and my chin is throbbing from hitting the ground. Karen is there immediately brushing me off and trying to look calm. I’m dizzy and angry and so over it. I ask her if I am bleeding and she assures me I am just fine. No bleeding. We get up and start walking. I keep crying and tell her that it oddly feels good to cry hard. Its a release of all the tension. Also, my back had been giving me really persistent, annoying fits of pain most of the day and the face plant seemed to have corrected that. I go to adjust my headlamp and my hand brushes an enormous bump on my head.

“KAREN!! I’ve got a huge bump on my head!!”

“Yeah I know. You’re ok though.”

Karen has a game face that cannot be beat, people. I kept asking her if there was blood or if it was bad looking and she kept promising it was not. Said I looked totally fine. Game face, Karen.

We come into AS#15 (mile 79) and catch up with Ryan and Monica. I’ve been crying for the half mile or so since I fell, not like crazy loud but if I tried to talk or think of anything then I would just randomly start to cry. It was as if the impact had knocked loose what little composure I had left. Ryan and Monica give me funny looks but I assumed this has to do with the crying face and my slack ass pace. Somebody tried to put an ice pack on me and hand me food. Ryan hands me half a potato that only serves to confuse the life out of me. A potato!? WTF with this potato!!! I won’t tolerate any of it because I just kinda want to take my toys and go home. I’m sniffling and swatting at everyone. Monica, in part concerned that the AS guys might try to detain me over this injury, tells us we are tight on time and have to go now. So I go. But I’m a mess.

I spend miles 80-85 mentally rehearsing my DNF. I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t think we’re going to make the cut off at 85 and I just cannot take the sweeper chasing me down. I cry off and on and speak only to Ryan occasionally. At one point he and I are beside each other with Karen and Monica about 15 feet ahead of us. I go into full on conspiracy theory. I tell him they are whispering about us. That there is something we don’t know. There are secrets amongst us. He, being of similar sound mind and body, completely agreed. Its good we didn’t have the strength or we might have staged a fist fight right then. The angers. They were thick.

We suddenly hear the sounds of AS#16 (85 miles) and the guy behind me says we are an hour ahead of cutoff. I briefly perk up at the potential. And then we start the NEVER ENDING descent to the station. On and on and on and on we stumble down. We can hear it but still NO AID STATION. The guy behind me keeps calling out how much time we have til cut off. Its closing in on us and I don’t have the wherewithal to run. People start flying past us to get there. I’m just randomly spouting cuss words and crying. This is not happening.

Karen runs ahead of us into the station and warns them we are a nightmare. I come down and approach the crew and everyone is staring at me. Again, I assume its the crying, puffy eyes and general bitch-itude that is radiating off me. I  have forgotten about the head wound  because I still don’t actually know you can see anything wrong with me, KAREN. I’d stopped eating or drinking with any regularity back around 75 miles. I am shot out.

I’d just spent so much time dwelling on the plan to DNF. Now we’re in the AS and we have 23 minutes ahead of cut off. You’d think this would spur me into either calling the DNF or hustling to get out of there. Instead I just stand there dumfounded. The crew is suggesting food, offering warmer clothes (WE WERE SO FREEZING) and buzzing around like the most helpful of bees. I just stared blankly not sure what was supposed to happen now. Not sure that I cared either way. My Dad handed me his vest and I tried to put it on over my pack. Kim starts to gently tow me out of the AS. I turn and I see Ryan squatting down shaking his head “no” at me. He is done. He has been done. The fight is gone. He spent the same miles I did reconciling himself to the DNF. He is ready to be done.

And then I just snap.

“We’re going!”

No

“We are going. We have 20 minutes on the cut off. This is supposed to be super easy fire road. We’ll run it and build back more cushion. We are going.”

No

And then, I want to cry when I think of it now, he gets up and gets his pack and we go. I’ve never been so proud of my brother. And I’m relieved because the sum total of my motivational speech at this point is a screechy, high pitched, “We’re going!” that I just kept repeating.

I run ahead some to find a place for a potty break while Kim stays to make sure Ryan gets out of the AS in one piece. Kim catches back up and says Ryan is coming but told her to go ahead. I may forever wonder if I did the right thing at this moment but we just started trotting down the hills and walking up. I’d look back and see Ryan but he gradually got a little further back. I sent Kim back to him to make sure this was ok. He said it was. I still don’t feel 100% right about it. My brain just couldn’t think everything through right then. So we moved on.

The fire road had a lot of rolls and wasn’t  near as easy as I had promised Ryan to get him out of the AS. Every time it would roll up I’d wince and pray he didn’t hate my guts for this. At some point I turned around and who do I see but Jason! We hadn’t see him since we all came into the 4o Mile aid station together. I had heard Annie had gotten really sick and it broke me down to see him without her.

Jason joined Kim and I for a couple miles. My whole body just hurt so bad. I told him I was pretty sure I am a 50 mile girl from here on out. He assured me I’d change my tune in a few days. Then I told them both that I was pretty sure I was going to quit at mile 90 AS. Said I just knew I wasn’t going to make cut offs anymore. I couldn’t do the math anymore but I just knew my pace wasn’t adding up.

And then Jason and Kim saved the race. He looked at his watch and started spouting out the cut off times for the 90 and 95 mile stations and calculated the time I had to get to those spots. He kept saying all I had to do was get to 95 in time and I’d be fine. He said I could walk the whole thing and get it done. And Kim just flat out denied that a DNF would be tolerated on her end. I settled down and decided that this was gonna suck but it was going to happen.

We flew through the mile 90 AS and kept marching up the fire road. Jason finally took off because running felt better than walking for him. Then it was mile 95. The crew let me know that Ryan had decided to drop at 90 and Austyn was on the way to get him. That just broke me but nobody would let me dwell for long. Monica swept me up and out we went. She ran through the calculations again because math was suddenly very soothing to me. I began to have serious pain with one foot so we pulled over. I discovered a horrendous blister. Monica suggested I pop it. I had to confess that, while running 100 miles doesn’t scare me, the idea of popping a blister makes me nearly soil my pants. Without blinking she starts to remove her earring and says she’ll pop it. Pacers, they make the world go round.

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Changing shoes at 95 and asking,”Why do you all keep making unicorn jokes…”

We finally get to the asphalt road that I know makes up the last few miles of the course. I can no longer remember how long its supposed to be on asphalt and neither of us has a Garmin anymore. Monica suggests we try little running intervals. So we run to a trash can and walk. Run to a street lamp and walk. Each run gets a little longer as I just stare at her feet in front of me and space out of the pain.

A guy walking past tells us it is less than a mile. We both tear up instantly. I look at Monica and mention that we’ve been lied to on this course before (“This next stretch is all easy” “Its only x miles to the aid station” “You look great!”). Monica, the most well behaved of all my pacers, says to me, “If he is lying I will come back and kill him as my final act as pacer. I’ll just kill him.”

Well, I guess sometimes ya gotta break a few eggs…

But he’s not lying (which is good because I don’t think Monica could kill a guy with her earring) and soon we are on the high school track crossing the finish line. 28 hours and 48 minutes of  joy, pain, frustration, triumph, defeat, doubt, laughter and tears.

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Almost there

Like I said, I signed up (well Jeff did), and I trained but it took a village of the most priceless friends and family to get me to that finish line. I cannot tell you how much they will forever mean to me for their part in this.

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Oh and about 24 hours later I let Jason know that I might be a 100 mile girl after all.

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Race Recap: Thunder Road Marathon

Where to start, where to start. At the beginning, I suppose. I ran Thunder Road as my first half marathon two years ago and my first full marathon a year ago. A lot of local runners seem to avoid this race because its hilly. I love this race though.  I encourage everyone to support their hometown race efforts! I’m not from Charlotte and I don’t get out much so I still don’t know my way around most of Charlotte. Last year I did a bunch of training runs on various parts of the course and got the chance to see so much of Charlotte that way. As much as you can see from the pavement at 6am every Sunday but I take what I can get. So anyway, I really love this race. Which is why I can laugh about Thunder Road 2012.

I wasn’t going to run it this year. I wanted to be a volunteer or a spectator. Spectators, especially after about mile 18, always look like they are having way more fun I am. I wanted to hold a sign and yell encouraging things. Then I noticed an email the race director had sent out regarding this opportunity

http://www.runcharlotte.com/asu-performance.htm

Wait..you’re going to give me$200 and all I have to do is take these unmarked pills every day for a month, run a marathon and then give a bunch of blood before and after the race? Suh-weet. This is how, a couple days before Marine Corps Marathon, I found myself hitting the “register now” button.

You may recall that the last time I did two marathons three weeks apart that it did not end particularly well. This time would be different. I needed a long long run the weekend of Thunder Road anyway so I would be treating it as a supported training run. Slow and easy and fun. I wouldn’t be going all balls out for a time or anything. Good plan.

And then Marine Corps happened and I got sick at the race and sick in the week after. I didn’t run very much in the weeks between the two races. When I did run it was sluggish and achy. I don’t know if it was the dehydration at the race or the sickness that followed me home, but MCM was the first time since my first marathon that I really had a hard time recovering. I indulged in a few extra rest days and just basically slacked off. I almost backed out of the whole Thunder Road shenanigan but damn did I want my “$200 and additional fitness testing”! I also suffer from a pretty bad case of FOMO where running events are concerned.

Race morning I got up feeling good and looking forward to a nice long tour of Charlotte. Jeff came with to ride his bike along the course. He did this last year too and it was really nice to have him. He carried a handheld water bottle for me and would keep me company during the deserted second half of the race.

Speaking of company, this race was quite a social run for me. I seriously don’t know how I used to do all my running alone. This last year I finally broke down and started running with friends and now I am addicted. First my neighbor, Mike, and I found each other at mile 5 or 6. Mike was keeping a great pace and it perked me up to keep up with him for a while. We ran together until he split off to head to the half finish just past mile 12. It was so nice to have somebody to run and chat with for a long stretch. It took Jeff several tries to get a good picture as he rode past us. I like that we’re all in sync. I do not like how enormous my left hand appears to be..20121203-121315.jpg

So then Mike split and I was suddenly just over it. Nothing hurt. I had a decent amount of energy. I just didn’t want to do this anymore. So I started walking and being cranky and asked Jeff for my water bottle. He handed it over and wisely rode away from me. For whatever dumbass reason, I chugged about half the bottle of water at once. And then it immediately came back up. This made me angry. Jeff popped back up and I told him about the water. I told him I wished I had gone in at the half with Mike. He muttered something encouraging, took the bottle back and faded away again.

I see the bottle in my hand but I’ve yet to get that vaguely disgruntled look about me so I am guessing this is just before the halfway mark.

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I walk most of mile 12, ran over the mats at the half and almost immediately began walking again. I didn’t want to play marathon no more today. Jeff showed back up around the 14 mile mark. I stepped off the road onto the curb, stopped my watch and told him I was done. No big deal, I just didn’t want to run a marathon anymore today. It reminded me of this conversation on Office Space:

Peter Gibbons:  I uh, I don’t like my job, and, uh, I don’t think I’m gonna go anymore.

Joanna: You’re just not gonna go?

Peter Gibbons: Yeah.

Joanna: Won’t you get fired?

Peter Gibbons: I don’t know, but I really don’t like it, and, uh, I’m not gonna go.

Joanna: So you’re gonna quit?

Peter Gibbons: Nuh-uh. Not really. Uh, I’m just gonna stop going.

Jeff was, understandably, confused. I love running and I love running long. I wasn’t injured or sick. I was bored, burned out, lonely and feeling quitter-ish. He kept asking if I was sure.

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Yeah, I was sure. I wasn’t even upset. I just wanted to be done. So, even though we’ve lived in Charlotte for 7 years now and could actually see the city buildings near where we’d parked, he got out the map and started trying to figure out how to get back to the car. This took a while. Finally he pointed out that if I ran to mile 18 that I would be back a couple blocks parallel to where we’d parked. I do not know why I fell for this bullshit line. But I did.

Started my watch, plugged in my headphones and got back on the road. I was a little cranky about it but I also knew he was right when he pointed out that I did, after all, “need a long run today anyway”. Miles 14-18 gave me time to reflect on whether or not I really had good enough reasons to take my first DNF. I didn’t really have a good reason aside from I’d already survived an ass kicking, rough marathon three weeks prior and it had taken me 2 weeks to feel better afterwards. I was sort of afraid to end up with another rough recovery period over what was supposed to just be a training run. But when I really got honest with myself the truth was I was pissed off because I knew I didn’t have any fast in me at all this day and wasn’t sure I could take the ego blow of yet another crappy race time. That’s lame ass but its true.

Somewhere in this section of the course I ran into a friend from the training group I ran with for Thunder Rd Half 2009. He was there with a friend doing their first full marathon. I ran with them for a while. It was a nice distraction.

At mile 16 the aid station was handing out entire packages of Shot Bloks. Oh hello! Last year they gave you a couple of bloks in a cup. Eww. This was much better. I snagged two entire packages as I ran through. Free stuff = instant mood boost.

Jeff finally showed back up just before the mile 18 aid station. He asked how I was doing and casually pointed out that it was only 8 more miles to the end. He’s so good to me. Encouraging without being patronizing about it. I agreed it was only 8 miles and I’d regret it if I bailed now. I was tired and not going to get any faster but I knew I could get through to the end just fine. Plus, as I unloaded my Shot Blok stash into his backpack, I told him I was pretty sure they’d have more free Shot Bloks at mile 20! I was going to earn $200 and several packs of Shot Bloks off this deal. The look of confused pity he gave me at that statement was priceless.

The last 8 were pretty good. I ran up on a group of 5 people in matching shirts. Turns out they were the 4:45 pace group…except they didn’t have a single runner with them. Just the pacers.  Since I thought a group of pacers with no pacees is kind of sad, I joined them as their sole runner for a couple miles. I had an entourage, if you will. And I will.

We ran through several neighborhoods packed with people having block parties to support the racers. Then it got quiet again for a couple miles. Jeff showed up then and did some tricks on his bike to amuse me. Ran into another runner friend, Kim, and for some reason the first words out of my mouth were, “Kim, you hooker..” Apparently I left my manners at mile 6. Sorry Kim, I know you aren’t a hooker.

At the finish I was surprised to find a couple of friends and my mom were waiting to cheer me in. I felt bad that they’d been waiting longer than expected but was so glad to see them.

Jennifer even made me a custom Hostess sign! And brought Hostess products!

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Finished in 4:45:59. That pace group was dead on, apparently.

From the finish I had to go straight to the study tent, get some blood drawn and do some quick fitness tests. Then I was to come back to the tent in an hour and a half to do the bloodwork and tests again. Oy. They really made me earn that $200. In between testings, Jeff and I hit a nearby bar for some snacks. Imagine everyone’s wide eyes when the researcher unexpectedly (well I didn’t expect it but I guess I should have) what I had eaten in between the two blood draws. Ummmmm, “Couple mozzarella sticks, two diet cokes, some nachos, couple onion rings, some fries…and well shit I had at least half of a sizeable sampler platter of bar appetizers…”

All in all, I probably did not need to do this race but I did enjoy it in the end and I am so glad I didn’t quit when I wanted to. And I’ll probably be a sucker and end up doing it again next year.

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MCM Recap : Embracing The Suck

I left off with a foreshadowing teaser to warn ya that this won’t be pretty. Let me kick this off with some disclaimers.

First, the Marine Corps Marathon is a phenomenal race. It’s the largest race I’ve ever done, fourth largest in the world. This year they sold a record-breaking 30,000 bibs for the race (in a marathon history breaking 2 hours and 41 minutes). So it’s a huge undertaking and its handled so perfectly. You never felt smothered by the crowd or annoyed by overly long waits for potties or water stations. This race is worth every penny of travel and minute of training time. It would make a fantastic first marathon. The course has some minor hills for the first 8 miles and then its pleasantly flat until an uphill final mile and finish. Great scenery and a wonderful atmosphere all around. The crowds of spectators are huge and nearly constant. As rough a run as I had, I still loved this race.

Second, I trained really well for this race. I made a plan and followed it pretty well. My A-goal was to finish in under four hours. As the summer went on I knew I wasn’t really making fast enough progress towards that goal. I was hitting most of my mileage goals but really not pushing on speedwork enough. I struggled a bit. ; ; Then I rebounded and started hitting some good paces and feeling strong. I still knew I needed to tuck the A-goal out of the way and focus more towards the B-goal. B-goal was to PR, which would be to finish before 4:11. Up until the last few days before the race, I really felt that would be fairly easy to accomplish given my recent runs and the course.

And then there was a pox on my house in the last few days before the event.

I woke up on Sunday and my stomach was already sour and I still felt funky. ; It was such a huge let down to not be feeling good for this. I did my best to mentally chuck all goals into the trash and just focus on getting through it and having some fun. A jogging tour of DC, I tried to tell myself. ; Got dressed, fed and headed out. We walked the 2 miles to the start, got in a corral and made a couple potty visits. The crowd enthusiasm was electric. There were groups from every branch of the military and many law enforcement agencies. A lot of them were running in their uniforms, carrying packs and flags for the entire race. I even saw one guy in a really heavy looking red suit, possibly some sort of bomb squad thing? And I’m 90% sure he beat me. Probably by a lot. ; I was really happy to be standing at this start line with such a great crowd. There was a flag ceremony, prayer and an Osprey flyover and then it was go time.

Here’s that lovely first mile shot again.

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Yeah it really was that good right away! My legs were heavy, my stomach hurt and I was tense all over. I knew I was going to be sick before I even crossed the start line. It was just a matter of how far could I get before it happened. My pace never got anywhere near my goals. I kept a slow, steady chug and kept trying to distract myself by sightseeing and chatting a little bit with other runners. Overall, what sucked most is that it just felt like a constant struggle and all my recent long runs have felt damn near effortless. It was such a stinging slap. I really did my best to keep it positive even though the race pics quite clearly tell the truth.

We entered Haines point area and I got a lot worse very quickly and knew it was an any moment kind of thing. I remember crossing the mat at the halfway mark and then it sort of gets fuzzy. My stomach was churning and both legs, hip to ankle, were cramping intensely. Around mile 15 I saw a porta potty and made my move. I had some unsavory moments in there that I will spare you. The Marine medic who saw me careen into the potty and then waited outside was not so lucky. I felt some relief but was completely dazed when I came out. He asked me to come in to the medic tent and rest a minute. I declined. He insisted. Lather, rinse, repeat. I finally sat on the cot and then I actually said, “Oh wow, this is a nice cot” and considered staying a while. If they’d had Diet Coke, I probably would have.

I ended up in the medic tent for a short while. I was so embarrassed to have thrown up and landed there at 15 miles in. The guy pointed out that you could see various muscles spasming right through my skin. He seemed to find that odd. I also wasn’t sweating and I’m normally a sweaty beast. He decided I was dehydrated pretty bad. I believe I tried to argue that was impossible due to the grape juice thing. I know I must not have expressed myself well because he seemed utterly baffled by my entire grape juice story. My point was grape juice has to count for hydration, right!? He was giving me clear “okay, crazy grape juice lady” looks. They gave me salt pills, water and Gatorade and suggested I might be done. And I strongly considered it.

Problem was that I had no way of getting back to the start from there other than walking anyway. I guess I could have waited til the lag wagon came through in a few hours but that sounded tedious (and plus they didn’t have Diet Coke, I asked). I also didn’t have any money for a metro and I had no idea where a metro was anyway. And honestly, I couldn’t think of anything more mortifying than getting on the metro wearing a race bib in the middle of the race. I finally told him that my Sister In Law would be spectating at some point and I’d just go along the course until I found her. She could help me find the metro and she probably had money. Maybe she’d even buy me a Diet Coke.

I had pepto and gas-x in my SPI belt so I knocked those back and hit the road again. My stomach actually felt decent from here forward. My legs were shot from all the cramping. So the remainder of the race wasn’t near as rough as the first half. Exhausting and painful but not deathly ill. So, you know, more along the lines of a normal marathon!

Here I am somewhere in those middle miles, post medic tent I am pretty sure. Probably muttering something charming like,”Why? WHY? Why didn’t I pack a Diet Coke!? And Metro fare.” So glad the photographer thought this moment needed to be captured. I think I might make this my Christmas card.

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For the rest of the race I fell in with the familiar crowd of hobble/run/walk/shuffle types. At the start line we’re all lined up where we hope to finish. Around the midway point things have filtered out to reality. I haven’t ever lined up with a pace group. I just wait til we find each other, deep in the suck, around mile 18-22. Then I look around and I’m like, “What is up!? How is this shit treatin ya? Good to see you!”. I’m oddly social when I’m hurting. Usually I’m such a frigid, lone ranger runner but when the run starts to kick my ass I’m looking for company. Luckily I found plenty. My people. The Relentless Forward Motion ; crowd. I both love and hate the moment we all find each other and settle in. I love the camaraderie. I hate that it usually means I’ve burned through my push and have come to the “just getting through” part.

I LOVE this picture. The guy next to me is expressing what I am repressing. Me and green shirt are even all coordinated. I wish I had noticed him. We totally could have been besties. The woman next to him has gone full zombie. Blue shirt behind me is making a classic race face. We are the champions, my friends!

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Luckily, the spectators seem keenly aware that we need a lot of love through these final miles. Folks were handing out Halloween candy, Tylenol, beer, etc. You name it, you probably could have found a spectator in this area to give it to you. And the Marines? They were giving out donuts. Yes, thank you. Don’t mind me while I park my butt at the donut aid station for a few extra minutes. Donut aid station. How genius is that?

For as broken down as I was in this race, I can honestly say I did not have a bad day. For the first half I frantically watched the pace slip slower and slower on the Garmin and kept getting agitated. But then anytime I’d look around the course I’d see faces smiling back at me from t-shirts on other runners and spectators and on posters on the side of the road. Faces in uniforms. Faces with birth dates like 1990 and death dates in 2009. Faces with captions like “Running for my brother/husband/father/son”. Everyone should run this race someday because everyone should spend a few hours looking at these faces, paying reverence and feeling rightfully smaller in the world for a bit. I’d look at those faces, look at the taunting Garmin and be grateful for the perspective. I was honored to spend the morning in the presences of those faces.

I’d heard the finish line was an uphill ass kicker. I told myself I could walk anytime I wanted in the meantime because I was running the entire finish. No excuses. And I did! I ran the entire last mile for good measure (and in case of photography, who am I kidding?). It’s a gradual uphill for most of the last mile and then the last quarter-mile is a sudden, ridiculous uphill. I saw two people ahead of me collapse. Before I could even process what I was seeing, the guy next to me went down hard. Spectators caught him, thankfully, because I could not have. I’ve seen videos of people collapsing at a race finish but I had never seen it in person. It was absolutely crazy.

And then I was done. With a smile. Because who doesn’t smile at a finish. Maybe people who are regretting not stopping for donuts, I guess.

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The finish chute takes a while. You go through a line for medals. Then a line for food and drink. The Marines run it as efficiently as possible but there are a lot of people so it’s just a slow go. Then you walk forever and a day back to the area where you can find your family. You can see the families through the chainlink fencing but you have to keep walking to the very end before you can get to them. Its like a weird, refugee camp. I gave up on finding my family. At the first intersection I came to outside the gates, I sat down on the sidewalk and texted my location to them. Figured they’d either find me or I’d live there. Seemed like a decent enough place. Luckily they found me within 10 minutes. A short while later we found Karen and then we all got in line to buy finisher t-shirts because the free t-shirt you get for participation sucks. The t-shirt line took about an hour because it was being run by a shoe company instead of the Marines. I know the Marines could have sold t-shirts in less than 10 minutes.

Instead of space blankets, you get these nifty disposable jackets. You know I threw that thing in the washer and I will absolutely use it again as pre-race throwaway clothes. Cha-ching.

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And then we went back to the hotel, took showers and laid on the beds drinking champagne and watching Married to Jonas until another sister-in-law showed up to drive us all to dinner.

Trader Joe’s Almond Champagne chilling in the hotel room trash can. Told you I didn’t take a lot of pictures.

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A couple of days after we got home I finally did succumb to a rager of a stomach bug. My best guess on what happened race day was that my body was fighting back at me and all the roadblocks (grape juice, pepto, etc) that I kept trying to throw in front of the stomach bug. I think I threw my whole system out of whack. Turns out that bug was coming for me regardless. All the tomfoolery of fighting it just dragged it out and made it worse. Live and learn!

And for the grand finale, this is the traditional, world-famous for its ugliness, Marine Corps Marathon mock turtleneck. Nobody likes it but we all grin and bear it because its part of this race’s history.

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Well, actually, I guess I will just grin since I can’t actually physically bear it. Or, rather, ; it can’t bear my giant head. Whichever. I pulled really hard and this thing was not having it. Left a mark on my forehead for about an hour.

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That kid wandered in and wanted to know what the hell I was doing. I asked him to take a picture of me in my new shirt. He obliged.

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Ahhh, run get help! Mommy is stuck in the race shirt!

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This is the awesome medal. I love the medal. It has a spinning globe! It’s an action medal!

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Race Recap: Marine Corps Marathon 2012 – Foreshadowing

Where to begin..where to begin..

Well let’s flip to the middle of the book and sneak a peak before we go back and dutifully start at the prologue. This is a pic (that I stole via screenshot from MarathonFoto while I await my order) of me in the FIRST MILE of this marathon. I had to steal pics because I lost the ability to use my hands during the race and could not gamble with pulling my phone out to take pics. Do you see the desperation on my face? The T-Rex arms clenching up at my chest. My eyes are already shut. I am praying for a pothole to appear and snap my ankle so that I can be carried back to my hotel. First mile, my friends.

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And if that image doesn’t intrigue you to stick around and gut this out then I just don’t think we can be friends anymore.

Allrighty, so the marathon was on Sunday, October 28 in Washington, DC. Runner Friend Karen, Sister-in-Law/Spectator/Support Crew Extraordinaire Jeannine and I planned to drive up from Charlotte early Saturday morning, hit the expo, check into our hotel, grab dinner and get to sleep. That plan sounds so easy and smooth. Man, I love a plan.

What actually happened was a stomach bug hit my house on Thursday around 11am. In a full fledged panic, I remembered hearing about an old wive’s tale regarding grape juice and the stomach bug. I did some quick internet research and found several blogs that suggested great success in preventing the stomach bug by drinking three glasses of grape juice a day after you have been exposed. I went straight to the store and bought a gallon of grape juice. And I drank it. I drank a glass three times a day. I drank a glass anytime Jeff walked by me. I drank a glass anytime I got nervous. I drank a glass when I was bored. If three glasses is good, then constantly marinating your digestive tract is better.

Friday morning, my mom and Denny both displayed symptoms. Instant panic ensued. I chugged more grape juice, took a scalding hot shower, packed my crap up and fled to SIL Jeannine’s house a day early to hide from germs. (She thought I was kidding when I texted to ask if I could sleep over. Imagine her surprise when I texted her later…from her couch)

Now I never did get the stomach bug but I also never felt good on Friday or Saturday. My stomach was totally off and I was wiped out and achy all over. Not sick, just wonky. I kept chalking it up to nerves and taper hypochondria. To combat the off stomach feeling, I went out and bought some pepto, another thing I’ve never taken. And if one pepto settles the tummy then you just know lots of pepto is safest. I also bought smaller bottles of grape juice for easy travel purposes. Grape juice remedy, now in convenient purse size! By my estimate, I drank 1.5-2 gallons of grape juice between Thursday at noon and Saturday mid-afternoon. I know they say don’t do anything different before or during a race but surely they don’t mean a couple gallons of grape juice, right?

I should be some sort of internet doctor.

We got on the road around 8am on Saturday. Got up to DC around 3 and headed to expo, grabbed our bibs and then headed to the hotel. By the way, I cannot recommend our hotel enough. It was about a 2 mile easy walk to the start and a 1 mile walk from the finish. Metro is nearby if you want to use that for touristing purposes as well.

All right, that’s the messy disorganized whining. Next up, Race Day!

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Major Mojo

Last we spoke, I was on an upswing. I’d lost a bad toenail and had two great runs, one of them being a fantastic 20 miler that Sunday. I am so pleased to report that the trend continued all through this week. My pace has held up nicely all week, even for a 12 miler on Wednesday and my fastest trail pace ever on Thursday. By Friday, my legs were screaming for a well deserved rest day. Saturday’s 6 was just the right amount of easy speed. Sunday’s 14 was slow but strong, just like a long run should be.

What set it all off this week was Tuesday’s run. So let’s talk about that.

This past Tuesday I woke up and, as I always do, weighed myself. The number that greeted me really made me sad. I’m not sure why though. Its the same damn number that’s been there since coming back from my beach vacation in May. I shot up about 5lbs around that time and I’ve done flat out nothing about it. Alas, I am a girl so I weigh myself each morning to get my daily serving of self loathing. I mean how else would I know what mood to put on, right? So I stuffed myself into my running shorts and dragged my lardy ass on over to the greenway just oozing with self-hatred. It was all very Eeyore and so embarrassingly typical girl crap. Which made me even pissier about it.

My legs were pretty damn tired still from Sunday’s fast paced (fast paced for me…do I always have to put that disclaimer? yeah, because again I’m a girl and I always pause to think, “Shit, I can’t call it a fast run. What if a true fast runner reads this and deems me a moron”) long run and I was feeling fat and angry. It was starting out so damn well. I decided I’d just do my 6 miles slow and easy, fuck everything.

About 1-1.5 miles in I look down and notice I’m actually moving really well. So I decide, fuck it, I’ll just run as fast as I can til the 5k mark. Then I can easy run it back. I got to the 5k mark in 26:50 (8:40 pace). A new PR for me and much faster than I ever run. (I haven’t done a 5k in 10 years and I used to walk them but still I’m counting this PR.) So I hit pause on the Garmin and basically flop around trying to breath again. Truly shocked that I managed to move that fast on such a crap day.

My mind went to my BRR teammates and how inspired I was by them. They lay it all out there in a race and leave every bit of energy on the course. They told stories of pushing so hard they threw up at the finish. Of hitting the wall so hard they were damn near hallucinating. I tend to hit the discomfort zone and shy away from it, fine with feeling challenged but scared to delve too far into the uncomfortable zone. ; But race day effort and PR’s, both distance and time, require you to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. To push so hard that you just barely make it across the line with your last bit of steam. To gamble that you might yak.

So then I think. Hmmm.

Again. Try it again.

Reset the Garmin and take off as fast as I can back to the start point.

I thought about the BRR team and how proud I feel to call people like that friends. In that moment I wanted, even if just for that moment, to be as strong and ass-kicking as they are. So I kept pushing, kept the speed up. And holy God did it hurt. It was a steady stream self pep talk. Probably out loud, actually, but I really didn’t care.

My legs are so sore. They can make it.

I think I might throw up. You might, who cares.

I’m so tired. You can rest when you’re done.

This is too fast for me. But you are doing it.

What if I can’t maintain this all the way in? What if you can?

26:09 (8:26 pace)

And I didn’t even heave once.

And for the rest of the day I really didn’t give a shit about that extra 5lbs.

And THAT, ladies and gentleman, is a “Why you run” moment.

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Sacrificial Toenail

So last week I wrote a really long, whiny post about my crappy recent runs. Woe is me.

Well then the very next day I smacked my foot into something. Probably something that the kids left on the floor in a super convenient, surprise place. The impact was the final nail in one particular toenail’s coffin. This toenail had been barely hanging on for months. You can see it in this post. Its the middle toe on Ugly Foot. I won’t take a new picture. That would be too attention whore-y. Anyway, so the toenail finally popped off. And then the next day I went on a 12 miler with Carrie and it was a great run! Not perfect, but So. Much. Better.

Clearly that nail had to go. I hope you other toenails are paying attention. No more dead weight will be tolerated.

Also that day I got word that my second new Garmin has shipped. I’m eagerly watching the mail box.

Today I went out on my last 20 miler before MCM. I got a mile in before I noticed that the sky had turned black. A quick check of weather radar on my phone (seriously how did people run in, like, the 70’s or 80’s. No Garmins or iphones or compression socks or gu…*shudder*) showed a narrow strip of major storm about to hit me. I turned tail and ran as fast as I could back to the car. Witnesses probably thought I was running from the law. I was that fast. Made it to the car just as the sky opened up.

Half hour later I was back on the road. Despite being cold and wet and then having a fuel belt bottle leak its entire 10 ounces of water onto the ass of my shorts, I had the best 20 miler of the training cycle. Managed a 9:27 overall pace and it felt easy. Really easy. So now I’m excited for MCM again.

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Keyboard Diarrhea

Yeah. Dude. I just used diarrhea in the post title. Yuck. No worries though. Its just a phrase.

So I’ve been a bad blogger. I’d list out some good excuses but I don’t really have any. Plus, what is more annoying than a blogger who doesn’t post regularly? A blogger who make a grand apology about it and then goes right back to being a slacker. Again.

What’s been going on around here since my last post. Hmmm. Well I had a fantastic 20 miler and a handful of super fast (for me), really strong (for me) shorter runs. Then I had a 14 miler of pure hell. Then I went to Ohio for a wedding weekend and drank a lot and only ran once. On a treadmill. Slow and hungover at 2pm while watching a show about people who salvage junk out of abandoned buildings. Then I went back to drinking.

Came back from Ohio and headed out for a run with an old friend yesterday. I was so hopeful that the weekend of debauchery would have magically brought back the fabulous running mojo of a few weeks ago. You may be shocked to hear that it didn’t happen that way. That run was turrble. Just turrble. I hadn’t run with this friend since San Diego and I was ashamed of my performance. I drank a bunch of Diet Coke on the way home to soothe my soul. Then I ate a lot of this chocolate almond bark crap that Jeff bought at Costco (because he clearly hates me). So imagine my astonishment when, after all that fabulous nutrition, today’s run? Was just as awful as yesterday’s. Damn it. I just cannot win.

Also my Garmin broke. I think maybe that is where the run mojo streak came to a screeching halt. Damn Garmin. I sent it back to Garmin and they sent me a replacement. The replacement worked for one day. Then it crapped out entirely. Sent that one back and they sent me yet another one. Or so they said. When it still hadn’t arrived after four days I called. Its backordered. Until mid-October. Y’all I know this is a total first world problem but seriously if your run isn’t tracked by a Garmin…did it ever even really happen??

So that is the running update. I was feeling super inspired by my ass-kicking new besties from BRR. I started throwing down some speed and power. I started thinking maybe I could sub-4 at MCM after all. Then the Garmin broke and the wheels fell off. Then I went off the reservation with food and beer (and rum and whiskey and champagne and who’s damn idea was the red wine at that point!?). So I’m discouraged and bloated and chafed in new places. Super!

You recall my shit-hot new conversion van, right? Well I call it a conversion van but its actually just an empty van carcass. There is no cool shit inside yet. Can’t even take the kids for a ride cuz it ain’t go no seats, yo! Jeff does drive it around on random errands (such as “impersonating a deliveryman”). Anyway, I went out of town last month for the relay and while I was gone he bought that gorgeous piece of WTF. Its been parked in the third spot off to the side in our driveway. As out of the way as a 20.5’ long land yacht can be (I just went out and measured it so I’d report that accurately). Then I went away this past weekend to Ohio and he rearranged the parking situation so that the van is smack in the middle of the driveway and we all have to maneuver around it. And when I look out the window? All I see is van. You’re welcome for that awesome bit of “landscaping”, my neighbors! I’m going out of town at the end of this month for MCM. I fully expect to find the van parked in the living room when I get back.

In other news, we keep getting ants in the house. Not in the kitchen, mind you. In weird, foodless parts of the house and only when it rains outside. Apparently these ants can’t swim so they bum rush my house. Anyway, yesterday I woke up before dawn, grabbed my jammie pants off the floor and tugged them on. Went into the bathroom to..you know and what have you. I flip on the light and notice ants on the floor. Then I start feeling the bites. So I start doing the jump-dance-and-slap-yourself routine and screeching for Jeff. He comes in. I point out the smattering of ants that have been trifling with me first thing this morning. He promises to handle it and I head off to wake up the kid. We get downstairs and I am still feeling ant bites. And then I realize. The ants in the bathroom were scattered all over. They were not in a line. That’s weird. So I run back up stairs and double check. Hmmmm. Wait a minute. I go back over to my side of the bed. Perfect line of ants. Marching straight to where my jammie pants had been. Aiiiiiyeeeeeeeeee!! I rip my pants off and shake them out whilst cursing up a storm. Ants in my pants. I totally had ants in my damn pants. Dude.

So that there is a big ol mass of words and I’m going to slap a title on it and hit “Publish” and you all are going to agree that a stupid blog post is better than no blog post. And maybe I’ll have a better run tomorrow and I’ll come back just spewing sunshine and rainbows. Or else I’ll see ya in a month with a MCM recap.

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