Guest Post: From a Half to an Ultramarathon

Seriously. I really did just go there.

Today’s post comes from one of my best friends, Kristen. She is a simple, 25 year old who isn’t passionate about much besides cats, Christmas, craft beer, Disney, food, and running! (And some might say making alphabetical lists!) When she’s not pounding the pavement with me, you can find her at Dogfish Head or at home with her cat attempting to cook. I wish I was joking. 

She has been my biggest influence in running and I could not thank her more. She is patient when I am moving ridiculously slow and when I want to walk. She encourages me to keep pushing, to keep moving, and to sign up for more races than I can count. I remember when I saw on Facebook that she had completed her first half marathon and thinking there was zero chance I would ever be able to do that. Little did I know that her finishing a half marathon would inspire me to compete in my own.

A big hello to Sarah’s readers! I was seriously stoked when she asked me to write a guest post! My first thought was, yes, someone is *finally* asking me to talk about my love of running instead of just putting up with it (hi mom…and my coworkers…)

If you told each one of my gym teachers spanning from kindergarten to high school that I’ve just finished an ultramarathon, they’d collectively blink their eyes, look at you in disbelief, and insist you have the wrong person. “Kristen isn’t a runner,” they’d say. “The furthest we’ve seen her run is from the gymnasium to the school buses to go home.” The girl who feigned mysterious stomach aches, her period, chicken pox (without the rash, of course), ebola, mad cow disease, and any other off-the-wall illness to get her out of running the dreaded mile around that quarter-mile track, is now the girl who runs marathons. What?!

In May 2011, one of my best friends and I were so stressed out at work, so we said screw it, let’s run a half marathon. I had never run more than a mile before this point (and begrudgingly at that). For the record, I do not recommend this approach! Despite the lack of training (and my giant Chipotle feast a mere three hours before the start gun), we finished the race in 3:10:09, which is nearly a 15-minute per mile pace. Even after three-hours-ten-minutes-and-nine-seconds of straight huffing, puffing, and death crawling to the finish line, I was willing to do another race just to prove I could do it and wasn’t a fluke.

I immediately signed up for the Disney World Half Marathon to be held in January 2012 and the DC Rock n Roll Half Marathon to be held on St. Patty’s Day (And yes, green beer was served at the finish line!) I trained intermittently, but not seriously for these events and was able to finish the DC Half in 02:32:43, a 37ish-minute improvement over my first time. Not bad. *Now* I was hooked. Despite salty sweat stinging your eyes, shivers, hunger pains, and cramps and aches all throughout your body, nothing can touch the feeling of accomplishment you get after crossing that finish line.

My race day gear!

Running through Cinderella’s Castle at Mile 6 and a Post-race Mickey bar

I ran a few half marathons after that (including re-running my first ever race exactly a year later in May 2012 and coming in 42ish-minutes faster at 2:28:35!) I also completed my first marathon. Barely. However, thanks to that addicting feeling of accomplishment, adrenaline, and major life stressors such as a new job, new apartment, and nasty breakup, I truly committed myself to running. What better way to demonstrate this commitment than by signing up for an ultramarathon. In the desert. At midnight. Under a full moon. At an elevation of 6,000 feet. Right outside the ominous and mysterious Area 51. Done!

Cheesin’ in the elevator at my hotel. Ready to do this thang!

At the “Black Mailbox” before the start!

Fast forward to August 5th after a spring and summer of training, and I’m toeing the sandy, desert-y start line of the Extraterrestrial Area 51 Midnight Marathon and 51k. Oh crap. We had just made the 2.5 hour trek from Las Vegas to Rachel, Nevada and everyone was pumped! It’s midnight under a full moon with clear skies and stars for miles when the race director yells “Go!” Quite a humble start with zero pomp and circumstance. Just a sea of runners with their headlamps, glow bracelets, reflective tape, and Camelbaks.

Days earlier, I had met up with an incredibly nice group of fellow runners online where we decided to follow the Jeff Galloway method of running and do 2:1 splits. (This means two minutes of running for every 1 minute of walking. This would give us an 11-minute per mile pace. Totally respectable for a midnight marathon held at high elevations!)

Our fearless leader, Dave, hit the lap button on his watch and off we went, exchanging nervous glances and hooting into the night! We were ready to conquer this:

Source

After only a mile had passed, I naively yelled out, “This is so much fun!” Laura, another member of our 2:1 clan replied, “Let’s see what you say at Mile 26.” But see, it *was* so much fun. Despite the almost literally neverending hill, cramps, elevation, and night sky, I was happy. The girl sitting in the nurse’s office with a fake stomachache during gym class was running an ultramarathon­ and actually holding her own!

As we slowly took down the miles, we began to gain and gradually lose members. People would stick with us for awhile, but would eventually fall back and walk. Dave and I stuck together the whole time, running most of the 13.1 miles up to the halfway point. Along the way we spotted cows, heard coyotes, gazed at countless shooting stars and rocky canyons, and talked about our families, cats, and post-marathon dining (and drinking!) traditions. Why run if you can’t eat?

At Mile 20, we started to approach the finish line at the Little A’Le’ Inn. (Literally the only business in a town of 54 as of 2010). But before we could cross that line, the marathoners had to run 3 miles past and 3 miles back, and ultramarthons would run 6 past and 6 back. Ouch. I held it together until about Mile 26 and then started walking. My aching legs just couldn’t keep up with the 2:1 splits anymore.

But then around 5:30am, the sun started to rise over the canyons and rocks and for the first time, I could see the road ahead of me. Incredible! I got a jolt of energy and was able to run a little more, enough to get me over the finish line.

Scenery from the race!

Mile 30. 1.67 to go!

I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face at 7:39am. 31.67 miles in seven hours and thirty-nine minutes for a 14-something minute per mile. Ouch.

Crossing the finish line!!

Iconic!

As I was beating myself up, I realized several things:

1- I had run 13.1 miles straight uphill. I could now tell people I ran an entire uphill half marathon!

2- I had PR’d at the marathon distance. My previous time was 6 hours; I was at the marathon point for this one in 5:50.

3- I ran all night. Literally. And had been up for nearly 27 hours by the time the buses brought us back to Vegas.

4- I didn’t get attacked by a rattlesnake or abducted by an alien. I win!

After arriving back in Vegas, I took a cold shower (it’s good for your muscles!), assessed my wounds, ate a miraculous Kind bar (oh, that is a post for another day!), finished the last few chapters of Christopher McDougall’s “Born to Run,” and slowly drifted off to sleep. For the first time in a long time, I finally felt like myself again. I might have started the summer running away from something (everything!), but had now run my way to irrevocable happiness. From now on, as long as I have my sneakers, I know I’ll be able to confidentially outrun whatever life throws my way.

My two new favorite things…

The Kristen I knew ate McDonald’s or Taco Bell everyday for lunch. Funny enough, she still does this quite often. And she is an ultramarathoner. Wow! 

I am so lucky that she chooses to run alongside me. 

Who inspired you begin running? How so? Do you know anyone that has completed an ultramarthon? Which one? What were their thoughts? Let’s discuss!

Presents to Myself

I’ve decided that the best gift I could give myself for my birthday is… THE BEST BODY EVER. Well, technically, my best body ever.

Because, let’s be honest, I could lead a huge debate on who has the best body ever.

The goal of my twenty-fifth year is to get into shape. Getting into shape for me does not mean getting skinny. Sure, I’d like if getting skinny was a consequence of being in shape. But, I just want to be physically fit. I want to be strong, I want to feel strong, and I want to be athletic.

Clearly, I’ve already started making moves to obtain this goal. Between training for the marathon and monitoring my diet, I feel like this is within my reach.

For an actual gift to myself, I signed up to do the Disney Princess Half Marathon in February 2013! Besides being ecstatic for the race, I am so stoked because it means a trip to Disney World!! Traveling, competing, and Disney — what more could I ask for? Also, princess theme? Totally there. Can’t wait to put on a tutu and a tiara and just enjoy myself with this race.

The best part with all these races is that it is forcing me to continually exercise which in turn is going to help me achieve my goal. And I am totally pumped.

Do you make birthday goals? Have you done a race at Disney? How was it? Have you reached your “best body ever”? What kinds of exercises did you do to help you get there? Lets discuss!! 

 

 

Birthday Shenanigans

Chris baked me a cake and lit all the candles. On the 10ft walk over to me, they all blew out except one. Love it.

My actual birth date was filled with a lot of love and happiness.

Cupcakes, flowers, and a new running toy? Consider this girl elated!

To celebrate my twenty-fifth birthday further, I was whisked away to Atlantic City!!

Chris, Jenny, and Kristen conspired together to surprise me with a fun-filled weekend of gambling, comedy shows, and alcohol.

We went and saw Aziz Ansari. If you haven’t heard of him or checked out any of his stuff, you are missing out. I definitely peed my pants a little from laughing so hard during his set.

Chris managed to snag us tickets about six rows from the stage. Definitely no complaints there. [I apologize for shitty iPhone quality photo, but its just for proof.]

We prepared for the show accordingly.

Following the show we went out into the casino and tried our luck at various table games and slots. Personally, I am a fan of roulette. Picking the numbers is fun for me and there isn’t really much skill involved unless you can do probability based math.

Embarrassing Sidenote on Gambling: On Saturday night during my first time ever playing Craps, I hit someone in the face with dice. No joke. My hand was shaking so bad and I lost all control of my arm with adrenaline because I was so focused on trying to hit the back wall … instead I threw the dice up, not down like a normal person would and BAM! I hit some poor innocent player square in the face. Thus ending my future career in Craps dice rolling. Also, I could’ve probably slowed down on the drinking to avoid the future jokes made on my behalf about this situation, but such is life.

The rest of the weekend was spent doing a little shopping, eating, consuming more alcohol, and more gambling.

Being the smartypants I am, I took Monday off to recover. For my own celebration, I treated myself to seeing the Katy Perry movie which I shamefully admit to crying at, doing a speed work exercise, and grocery shopping. A nice change of pace from the last couple of weeks.

This birthday was a lot of fun and I could not be more thankful for the people involved in making it such a fabulous occasion. Seriously, all the love shared on the day and then the weekend with the fun and ahhhh. Getting a little too sentimental and emotional here, but whatevs, I have great people in my life.

What has been your favorite birthday? Why? Have your friends and your spouse ever worked together to plan a surprise for you – party, trip, etc? Let’s discuss!

Up She Goes!

Shortly after sunrise on Friday morning Chris and I took an hour-long flight in a hot air balloon! Definitely one of the coolest things we’ve ever done.

Until October of last year, I had never been on anything that could fly. Including airplanes. Yes, I said it. It wasn’t that I was afraid or didn’t want to travel that way, I had just never been anywhere before that it was necessary to take one. So this hot air balloon ride was a pretty big deal.

I was all set to go. Bright and early. Very early.

Since it was at sunrise, we had to arrive relatively early. For me, waking up at 4:30am is never an option. But, everything has an exception and this was one of them.

The crew was pretty hilarious, especially considering its about 5:30am at this point and everyone is sleepy. They were all really excited because this was the maiden voyage of their newest balloon — Gracie II.

Gracie is the name of the owner’s puppy.

Once they were all set to go and everyone boarded, we we’re off!

Some shots from the air. We only went about 1500 – 2000 ft.

It was really lovely to see the rolling hills and mountains of Pennsylvania and I imagine in the Fall it will be even more magical. I thought it was hilarious to wave to people as we passed.

Shadow of the balloon on the ground. Pilot said we measured about 9 stories tall.

We actually ended up landing in someones backyard. All of a sudden a bunch of kids under the age of seven ran out excitedly. They could hardly believe that this thing was in front of them.

Once we arrived back to our meeting spot, we popped open a bottle of champagne and discussed the history of hot air ballooning. The folklore behind the champagne says that back in the 1800s people on the ground thought the ballooners were demons/aliens (flight hadn’t taken off yet! *cue drum noise*) so pilots brought champagne to show proof they were civilized since there was a possibility of a language barrier and people understood alcoholic labels.

If you ever have an opportunity to take a hot air balloon flight, DO it! Seriously! I was shocked at how gentle landing is and just how it really felt like you were floating through the air. Hot air balloon rides are offered all around the world, imagine the various types of scenery you can take in and how unique each experience would be. Take flight!

Have you ever hot air ballooned? If so, where? If you havent, would you consider doing it? Let’s discuss!