Thursday, November 28, 2013

Making History with the Historic Route 66 Marathon!

This may not be the kind of history that will make history books one day, but a historical one for me in that it was technically my first (and probably last) ultra marathon!  The Tulsa Route 66 Marathon gave runners the option to take a detour which adds 0.3 miles to the race making it a total of 26.5 miles.  The detour takes you through Tulsa's Center of the Universe landmark.  A quick explanation for this landmark:  Apparently if you stand in the center of this circle and yell you can hear your voice echo but no one outside of the circle can hear the echo.  I'm not sure if this actually works as I didn't hear any echo, but maybe I didn't yell loud enough.  It was a tough decision to take this detour as it's placed between miles 25 and 26 of the race (a bit cruel if you ask me).  But despite the fact that I couldn't feel my fingers (temperatures were in the 20s) I opted to take the detour, and I was rewarded with this fancy coin!

 I certainly didn't expect for Tulsa to have so many rolling hills, but it did.  I was wondering when it would actually become flat, and it never seemed like it did.  But I have to say that the people of Tulsa were incredibly friendly and supportive.  As I mentioned, it was freeeeeezing, and many people had little fire pits set up in their driveways.  Probably more to keep them warm while cheering the runners on, and I have to give them credit for being out there, but they were more than happy to let you warm your hands and buns at the fire for a few moments.  One group even offered me a bloody mary!  Businesses were also letting runners hop in to warm up for a quick minute.  I don't know much about Tulsa, but there is certainly an affluent area that we ran through.  I've never seen so many women in fur coats cheering runners on.  And holy moly the mega churches!
Mega Methodist Church
Mega Presbyterian Church

I had a chance to walk around downtown Tulsa the day before when I walked to the Tulsa Convention Center to pick up my race packet.  Actually one of the least frustrating Expos I've been too, so good job Route 66 Marathon!  Tulsa has some interesting architecture.  Lots of art deco looking buildings. And like I said, lots of churches. Big, fancy ones. 

Tulsa also had some interesting buildings, bridges, fountains.  Although it was cold and windy as I walked around and eventually I couldn't feel my legs, I enjoyed the couple of hours I spent milling around downtown Tulsa.  And unexpectedly, Tulsa also had some pretty good restaurants downtown.  I stayed at the Fairfield Inn, and if you plan on running this race, it's location is perfect.  Easy walk to the start and REALLY close to the finish line, which is very important.  By the way, they had hot spaghetti at the finish line, which actually seemed appetizing, compared to the plain hard bagels and bananas most races have.  Of course, I was freezing and anything hot might have been appealing, but another "well done!" to the Route 66 Marathon.  
Oh, right, I was going to tell you about some restaurants. I highly recommend The Tavern, which was pretty much across the street from the Fairfield Inn.  Very cool place, sort of a gastropub.  I actually had lunch there on Saturday AND dinner there on Sunday.  Grilled cheese (which included turkey and a pepper spread) and tomato bisque for lunch and for dinner; a delicious kale salad with beets, brussels sprouts, apple and pumpkin. Pretty fancy, huh? I would not expect to find such interesting and delicious food in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but lo and behold, there was.  Oh, and I would also suggest the Rusty Crane for some good, but slightly atypical bar food.
It is is always hard to roll out of bed when it's 20 degrees out and decide to run 26.2 miles (or 26.5 in this case).  But there was a quote that I had seen posted on the Route 66 Marathon's facebook page the day before that stood out to me.  It said, "Never take the finish line for granted.  We are the lucky ones."  I try to remember this every time I run a marathon, how lucky I am for being able to get out there and have that experience.  And as it's Thanksgiving today, it seems appropriate to recognize I have a lot to be thankful for.  I'm thankful that I have good health so I can run all of these races.  I'm thankful that I have so many friends and family that are supportive of me in everything I do.  And I'm thankful for having the opportunity to share my experiences with all of you who are so kind to read about them.  A safe and happy holiday season to all of you and thank you for all your support through 2013 and through 17 states!  I wonder which states 2014 will take me to?  

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Inspiration. Marine Corps style.

I always thought that as I was training for this race that it would be one of my favorites.  Well, as only the Marine Corps can do, it lived up to my expectations and then some.  This was my first trip to Washington D.C. and one of my most memorable races to date.  Of course, much of that was due to a great host (the generous Jon Garcia) and my fabulous travel partner (airport seizure super hero Jessica Statz).

We arrived in D.C. and were whisked away to the White House Garden Tour by Jon.  Jon's VIP status got us in the short line to enter so we didn't have to wait for tickets, which is always a bonus.  As cheesy as it sounds, it was pretty cool to be on the grounds where so many president's and first ladies had been.  And apparently they all planted a tree.  Each tree planting seemed to be memorialized by the same silly ceremonial dirt-throwing photo.  Kinda cool though to see those photos of trees planted decades ago and compare the size of the tree in the photo to the monstrosity it has grown into today.  Circle of life people...good stuff.  

After that we went to the Expo to get our goods.  I'm not going to comment much on the expo other than to say it was as annoying as most race expos are.  Why do I never like those things? After the expo, Jon took us to a traditional carb loading dinner at a Lebanese restaurant.  In my opinion, way better than some boring old pasta!  I'm pretty sure eating fried cheese and skewered meat is the best way to prepare for a race.

And now it's race day.  Despite having done a few marathons before, I always wake up the morning of a race (wondering why I've decided to do this since I have to get up so early) feeling like I haven't trained enough, that I've forgotten something really important like a sports bra, and pretty much have an overall feeling of being unprepared.  Fortunately, I remembered everything so now it was just whether my training was enough.

Waiting for the blast
I walked in the dark to the race start line with a friend of Jessica's, Sarah, who was also running the marathon.  We walked past an eerily dark and beautiful Arlington Cemetery to get there, passing through a bag check point manned by Marines making sure we were all safe for the start of the race.

The Howitzer
The race start was by far the most patriotic one I've experienced, of course, that probably shouldn't come as a surprise.  As the National Anthem played, paratroopers dropped from the sky with the largest American flags I've ever seen.   And of course, the Marines wouldn't dare start off the race with a tiny little gun pop.  They go all out Marine Corps style and start it off with a Howitzer.  And so with the blast of a cannon, the race begins! 

We started the race in Arlington, Virginia and made our way into D.C. and back.  We ran along the Potomac where you could catch a glimpse of Georgetown University.  We ran along the National Mall, past all the Smithsonian Museums and right up to and past Capital Hill.  All along the course were Marines, either standing serious in watch to make sure we were all safe, or cheering all of us runners on to keep us motivated.  There were also soldiers participating in the race in full gear and I have no idea how they could do that with those giant packs on, as I was struggling just getting little ole me to the finish.
 One of the most memorable and emotional moments was a right around mile 12.  The organization wear blue: run to remember had set up a runner support area.  As you ran along, you ran past sign after sign of people who had died during active duty. Their names, tour of duty and date of death were posted. The faces seemed to go on forever.  There were so many and they looked so young.  Running a marathon, at least for me, is always an emotional event. Seeing this, well, brought all the emotions right to the surface and I'll admit I was tearing up.  And while this all might sound depressing, it actually was really inspiring.  Because when I could feel the blisters forming on my feet (and for some reason, I had several this race) I thought of those faces.  I thought about how lucky I was to be able to be out there doing this when so many couldn't, and I cared a lot less about the blisters, and my tired legs and feet.  And at the risk of sounding cliche, the sacrifice made by these soldiers and their families.... well suffering through 26.2 miles pales in comparison.

To bring the mood back up,  let me mention the several signs along the course that were pretty entertaining.  Since the race was in jeopardy of being canceled because of the government shut down, there were several "You're running better than our government" signs which made me chuckle.  Another chuckler, "1 out of 100 runners poos themselves.  Are you that one?"  Actually, there were a lot more signs than I'm used to seeing relating to poo.  But who doesn't love a good poo reference?  And of course, there was the typical "I love turtles" poster. Huh?

And then there was the finish!  Oh, the beautiful finish line, which was just at the top of the steepest hill of the race.  Leave it to the Marines to toss a big challenging hill in front of you the last 0.2 miles!  If you made it up this hill, you were rewarded by literally hundreds of Marines lining the finish corral and each one of them was personally congratulating and shaking as many sweaty runners' hands as they could.  (No one told me that Marines were so attractive, by the way).  And when you finally got to the medals, one was placed around your neck by a Marine, who then congratulated and saluted you.  I often get feel a little emotional at the finish line, but this just made the moment so much better, because it's not everyday that a civilian gets a salute from a Marine.

A truly amazing, great, amazing experience!  And except for that last stretch on the expressway, crowd support was ample all the way.

The remainder of the day was spent walking around Georgetown.  Wow, are there some amazing houses.  We hit up the historic Martin's Tavern which is celebrating it's 80th year.  And according to American Way magazine, it's rumored to be the place where JFK proposed to Jackie O.  Regardless if that is true or not, they place was still pretty cool.  Although, I was not thrilled by the bathrooms being upstairs.  Stairs are the enemy post race!  So not cool.

Sorta reminds me of my alma mater, Illinois State. Sorta, but not at all.

Yay laws!
E + MC zzzzzzz....
The day after the race was jam packed full of sight seeing!  The Capital, where our gracious host Jon got us a little behind the scenes peek of the Senate Press Room.  He took us the historic Ebbit's where we had lunch.  He took pictures of our butts in front of the Lincoln Memorial.  He showed us planes that went really fast, and outer space fecal bags. We saw the Vietnam Memorial and sat on Albert Einstein's lap.  What more could a girl ask for?  Best. Host. Ever.

You sir, a question?

Vietnam Memorial

We ended our last day in D.C. visiting some of the Smithsonian museums.  The art galleries, the Natural History Musuem.  I'm pretty sure I have never done so much walking after running a marathon.  It was pretty painful, I'm not gonna lie.

Despite the tired legs, I'm glad I spent an hour on my computer hitting refresh over and over and over and over to have made it into registration before it closed.  I'm thankful for having the chance to participate in such a great event and to bring awareness and support to a great organization like Pits for Patriots.  I'm thankful to everyone who donated to my fundraising event.  I'm thankful for all of those who've served and continue to serve in our military.  And as always, I'm thankful to all of you who read this blog and continue to support me.  That's a lot of thankfuls.  Tis the season to be thankful, right?  Each and every race I run, I'm inspired by the runners around me who are either running for a cause, in memory of a lost loved one, or to celebrate overcoming some of life's hardest challenges.  So most of all, I'm thankful to all those complete strangers for their continued inspiration.   

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Two of my favorite things... Marines and pitties.

My sister's newest family member, Penny. Well, until the baby came.
It seems fitting the day after 9/11 to write this post to share my thoughts on my next marathon.  As I'm training for this one, I have a feeling it will be one of my favorites.  At the end of October, I'll be running the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C. This race has historically promoted physical fitness, generated good will of the community and showcased the skills of the U.S. Marine Corps.  In 2001, this race took place only 6 weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  Yet, 15,000 runners still came out and passed the Pentagon at mile 5, motivated and encouraged by the thousands of spectators waiving U.S. flags and chanting "U.S.A."  Thinking about how that must have felt... well the first word that comes to mind is surreal.

When I signed up for this race (which took me an hour of continuously hitting "refresh" on the computer), I was excited for the opportunity to participate in race sponsored by the Marines, because my brother-in-law, Tyson, is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps  and was deployed to Iraq shortly following the attacks on 9/11.  I wondered if he'd be excited about me running this race, and I wondered what I could do to really show him how much we all appreciate his service.  Would running 26.2 miles be enough?  ; )

My sister mentioned an organization to me that I thought would be a perfect one to focus on for this race and hopefully raise some moolah for: Pits for Patriots.  This non-profit is a Chicago-land based group that trains qualified, rescued pit bulls to be service dogs and companions for Veterans and First Responders in need.  They are committed to helping our country's heroes in addition to educating the public as to the loyalty, commitment, and devotion of the pit bull breed.  These characteristics sound a lot like a U.S. Marine, don't they?   So, I'm working together with them in hopes of raising money to support their mission of not saving just one life, but two.  Since this is my 16th race, I'm hoping to raise $1600 for them.  Any amount large or small is appreciated to get me towards my goal!   Click here to donate

As many of you know, my sister Kelly has adopted two pit bulls in the past, (as well as a Marine.) ; )  Unfortunately, she recently had to put both of her dogs down, within several months of each other.  But as her and Tyson waited anxiously for a new baby to arrive, they went to check out the possibility of a new dog to bring home after the baby, to fill that quiet void of their now pet-less home.  When they saw sweet Penny, they fell in love.  My sister claims that she had no intent of bringing a new dog home before a new baby, but Tyson said to her, "Why don't we just bring her home now?"  Only my crazy, big-hearted sister and brother-in-law would take home a new dog when they were expecting a new baby!  And now Penny has settled in to her new forever home with my two lovely nieces.  (How will Tyson handle being surrounded by all those females??)

Thanks to all of you who have supported me and continue to support my running! And thank you Kelly and Tyson for inspiring me and showing us all what devotion, commitment, loyalty, and acceptance truly are, as only a U.S. Marine and pittie-lover can!  Love you guys!

Pits for Patriots is a Chicago-land non-for-profit organization that trains qualified, rescued pit bulls, to be service dogs and companions for Veterans and First Responders in need. The Pits for Patriots Program, is committed to helping our country’s patriots, in addition to educating the public as to the loyalty, devotion, and commitment of the pit bull breed.  Y - See more at:

Monday, May 20, 2013

As They Say in Fargo... Uffda!

Welcome to Fargo!
Bison - the mascot of North Dakota
Well, I finally made it to Fargo North Dakota after registering for their marathon what seems like ages ago.  I was supposed to run it last year with Miri but thanks to the NATO Summit and my employment with Cook County, Fargo was a no-go. And a year later, I suspect little had changed from the year before, with the exception of the marathon course, which was altered in anticipation of potential flooding.

One thing that struck me about downtown Fargo, was this feel of still being in small town America, and somewhat one of yesteryear.  Maybe it was all of the old signage that seemed to still exist from 50 + years ago, or maybe it was the drugstore that, when you walked in, you expected to see a soda fountain. Whatever it was, it felt inviting and safe.  The city seems to have been inhabited by Norwegians who brought their Lutheran faith with them as almost every church I saw (and I saw many) was a Lutheran church.  The Norwegians even came out to the race course to cheer the runners on with their accordion music!
The old Fargo Theater

Another of many old signs

Missing only the soda fountain

My hotel - the Hotel Donaldson

I stayed in downtown in the Hotel Donaldson, which I would recommend although a little in the pricey side. But they have turn down service, which includes some delicious chocolates, dimmed lights and soft music to welcome you home from your dinner at the delicious restaurant downstairs, the HoDo.  In the morning, complimentary coffee and warm baked goods are brought to your room anytime between 7 and 10, whenever you indicate the night before. I'm not sure how the other rooms appear, but mine felt like a modern urban apartment, with exposed brick, a living area and a separate dressing area.  Each room features a local artist's work and I was in the blown glass room. To top all this off, the bathroom had a rain shower AND heated floors.  Overall, I felt pretty comfortable here, and, of course, warm chocolate chip scones never hurt!

A brief food diversion..... In addition to the HoDo, my other dining recommendations:  Monte's Downtown and JL Beers.  JL Beers had a really great beer selection.  Plus, if you're starving after a race (which I was) the food comes out lightening fast!  The only have burgers on the menu, but nothing hits the spot after a race more than a burger and a beer in my opinion.  Monte's Downtown also had great food (I recommend the coconut crusted walleye) and is what I might describe as casual fine dining.

I arrived in Fargo the afternoon before the race. I recommend renting a car for nothing more than convenience.  Cabs are available pretty much only by calling ahead and there were only 2 sitting at the airport.  I even had the same cab driver from the airport and back to my hotel after the race.  Since cabs were less than plentiful, I decided to see all the sights Fargo had to offer and walk the 2 miles to the Fargodome to hit up the expo and pick up my race packet. Here are some shots of what I saw along the way, which included parts of North Dakota State University. Go Bisons!

I know what a pub is, but what is a package place?

North Dakota State University

Go Bisons!

A true indication  you're in a college town - couch on the front lawn.

The Sons of Norway
Finally... my destination. And the start and finish spot of the marathon.

The Expo

After all that walking, I was starving so I had a delicious dinner at HoDo and went up for an early night and a good nights sleep.

Saturday's forecast called for scattered thunderstorms so I was mentally preparing for a soggy race.  Well, the 10K and half marathon runners who started earlier definitely had that, but luckily the rain stopped just before the marathon started. There were only about 2000 marathon runners, or so I heard, which was kind of nice to not be all smushed and weaving your way through people. I felt pretty good the first half as the temperature was nice and there was some good cloud coverage.  But then the sun came out and the temps began to make there way up into the 80s. Uffda indeed!  Water stations were a little sporadic, as in some areas, there was one every mile or so, and in others, there were 2 1/2 miles or so between stations.  Or maybe it just seemed like there was a lot of space between them because I was so hot! 

Wouldn't the chiropractor's office be better placed at mile 22ish?
The course was pretty nice and one of my favorite parts was running down (and later back up) 9th Street. The street was lined with some incredibly tall trees that were leaning in towards each other making a kind of green, shady tunnel for us runners. It's as though the trees themselves were out there cheering you on, sort of like when the cheerleaders at a high school football game create that tunnel of pompons for the players to run through onto the field.  It just made the running feel easier somehow during that stretch.  I'm not gonna lie though, when the course took me directly past my hotel at mile 20, I was VERY tempted to stop there.  Of course, as always, the finish was my favorite part, but this one was better than others. You actually finish inside of the Fargodome with everyone watching on jumbotrons.  You feel like a pro athlete coming into the arena with everyone cheering you on. Always my favorite feeling!

Boston of course was on everyone's mind and they were selling bands to raise funds for the victims of April's bombing. I wore mine during the race and tried to remind myself, when the heat was getting to me and my legs felt like lead, that I'm lucky to be able to do this and that running a marathon is a privilege so few experience.  So thank you to all the spectators who come out to make the experience even better, and thanks to all of you who take the time to read about my experiences out there running.  I can only hope writing of my travels allows all of you to experience it, if even a tiny bit! 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Lessons I've learned from a four-legged friend and my sister

This week marks week 2 of my marathon training for my next race in Fargo, North Dakota.  Week 1 started last week.  So far I've logged zero miles due to battling a nasty cold and a busy work schedule.  But I'm motivated to make up for lost time this week, because I am dedicating this next race to my sister Kelly and her dog Lexus. 

This is because unfortunately my sister had to put Lexus down on January 25th.  Lexus' story is one that inspires me to keep running so that I can have an excuse to email all of you about an amazing charity, Don't Bully My Breed.  DBMB focuses its efforts on rescuing dogs of certain breeds, like pit bulls, that get a bad rap because of how they have been mistreated.  Lexus was used as a fighting dog in her early years and was saved by DMBD's founder Catherine Hedges.  My sister decided to adopt a dog back in 2004 and I went along with her to check out this adorable chocolate brown pit bull named Lexus.  She had been in the shelter for several months since other adopters were hesitant to take her because she had some scarring on her face from her abuse.  Neither my sister or I even noticed this.  I remember how well behaved she was walking on the leash, but how playful she also seemed.  My sister was in love and soon thereafter, Lexus was in her forever home.  She had such a sweet nature, that she immediately became a part of our entire family.  We affectionately gave her the nickname "Littles" although, I'm not really sure why.  She would have such a wiggle butt when I would arrive at my sister's house, being so excited to see me (or anyone for that matter), and immediately roll over for the required belly rub.  

Lexus was the epitome of unconditional love and forgiveness, because even though she was abused, she loved everyone. When my sister first brought her home, she was so nervous and scared around other dogs.  Kelly was told that Lexus would have to be the only dog in the house.   I later got my own dog, the fabulous Dean Martin,  and while it took some time, eventually Lexus began to trust enough that she was safe in her new home that the two of them were able to hang out in the same room together.  Soon thereafter, my sister became open to the idea of adopting another dog, feeling more confident that Lexus would be able to get along with another dog and not be so nervous.  So, to make a long story short, Bruce was soon a part of the family and became fast friends with Lexus. 

Lexus and my niece doing her Lexus imitation
When my niece was born, both Lexus and Bruce took to her right away.  Both were so patient with the annoying things a toddler can do.  My niece loved Lexus and when we talked on Facetime, she always wanted to take the iPad over to show me her dog, "Lexi."  I saw a lot of nostrils shots of that dog through the iPad. 

Lexus was an amazing representative for her breed and I believe she likely changed a lot of people's minds about how "scary" pit bulls can be.  I know she changed mine.  If you ever met her, you would know that the only thing scary about Lexus was the amount of licking she tried to do to your face. 

Lexus taught me that it's possible for souls to change, forgive, and love.  She taught me not to judge a book by its cover or believe stereotypes.  My sister has taught me that sometimes you have to be brave and take a chance to help those who can't help themselves.  Maybe Lexus and Kelly were drawn to each other because they both have enormous hearts!  I know she will continue to help dogs just like Lexus and Bruce, and she will continue to inspire me to do what I can to help organizations like Don't Bully My Breed achieve its mission. 

I don't know what I would do without either of my wonderful sisters.  I know we are all missing our "Littles" right now.  I hope that my blogs have at least changed some of your opinions about bully breed dogs.  Please visit the Don't Bully My Breed facebook page at to learn more about the misconceptions of this loving, loyal breed and to find out how you can help by adopting a dog or making a donation.