A unicorn birthday

I am turning another year older and feeling very reflective as I typically do on my birthday. The years are going by more quickly now, or at least they feel as though they are. It’s not my age that bothers me, but the vast amount of experiences I hope to accomplish before I am unable. There is just so much I want to do and the time seems to be closing in around me. I truly want to live life to the fullest every day. I am proud to feel younger today than I did 20 years ago when I was living a rather unhealthy, inactive lifestyle, eating horribly and smoking. I definitely did not embrace life back then. Now I feel as though I am playing catch up in many ways. I could fill pages with my bucket list, but for this post I will discuss only one running dream.

I’ve been hesitant to say this out loud because once I do it will become real. I have a running goal that is so far-fetched it seems absurd at times to even consider it. However, it has become clear to me in the last few years that I am capable of much more than I give myself credit for, and I am without a doubt not working up to my potential. It makes me wonder if I was committed to putting in the hard work might I be able to achieve this seemingly unreachable goal? They don’t call it chasing the unicorn for nothing.

I am a Massachusetts girl. I was born and raised in Western Mass. I have lived here most of my life.  I cheer for the Red Sox, Pats, Bruins, and Celtics. I am a terrible driver.  I say wicked, but without the accent because I’m not from Boston. Even before I became a runner, I would watch the Boston Marathon and cry as the winners crossed the finish line.  Then I would continue watching and crying as I listened to the touching stories of the regular Joe’s running the infamous course. In those days, I had no desire to join them. After running my first marathon, I understood the significance of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. Of the many things that make Boston special in the world of running, personally I think qualifying for Boston is the crowning glory for the average runner. Getting into Boston after qualifying is still quite complicated, even impossible for some, but to say I achieved a qualifying time will be vindication enough for my own personal running goals.

And so the chase for the unicorn may begin very soon. I have no plan in place yet. I am very far from a qualifying time. If I wanted to qualify within the next year I would have to run a 3:45 marathon, but if I wait a year until I turn 45 that time goes down to 3:55. I will then have 5 years to achieve that time.

This dream is only known to a few trusted people in my life and has been on a shelf until now. I work hard when I train for a race, but I feel like I hold myself back from really unleashing my true potential. This extends to other areas of my life as well. I can be pushed out of my comfort zone and rise to the challenge, but I have never set really big goals like this one. I read inspirational stories often of people who overcome the most unbelievable circumstances and I think if they can do it why can’t I qualify for Boston.

In 2013, I ran the Montreal Marathon in 4:16:35.  It was a huge PR for me and currently stands as my marathon PR. The next marathon I trained for after Montreal, resulted in injury and months away from running. I am still fighting to get back to the paces I was running that year. If I did it once, I can do it again, and if I could get my time down to 4:16 then why not 3:55? The infinite wisdom of running has taught me that I am more capable than I think I am, and consistent work yields noticeable progress. Regardless of the outcome of my pursuit of a BQ, I am excited to push myself in a very different way while tapping into strength and determination I know exist, but have yet to be uncovered.

Bridge of Flowers 10K 2017

Morning came too quickly. I got up hoping to see a message from my friend, Michelle, informing me she couldn’t run that morning. It wasn’t there. The sun was out, but the air was cool. I knew we would be running. I have run the Bridge of Flowers 10K six times since 2010, missing only 2014 after injuring my Achilles. My heart and body did not feel in it this year. I began the summer killing my training plan. I was feeling amazing. I had a specific pace goal and I was nailing my training runs. Then it fell apart.

The downward spiral began with a dental procedure at the beginning of July. I needed to have skin removed from the roof of my mouth to graft to the gums below my two front bottom teeth. I am no stranger to dental surgery, and I pride myself on being able to tolerate discomfort and pain to a high degree. When my dentist described the aftermath as akin to what it feels like when you burn the roof of your mouth only much worse. Well that was an understatement.  For two weeks, I was unable to eat or drink anything except a well-blended smoothie and tepid water out of a straw while tipping my head to the left side. Even that  caused me to cry. After a week of excruciating pain, I returned to the dentist certain something was terribly wrong. He assured me I was healing well, but was experiencing heightened sensitivity due to the exposed nerve endings.

While this was going on, work issues escalated for the nursing team and we were put under an enormous amount of pressure to clean up messes that we did not create. I was hungry, exhausted, and frustrated. Some personal issues crept into the mix as well. My stomach was empty and tangled with worry. I worked sun up to sun down while trying to be sure my son’s summer vacation was not affected. Running all but stopped. I tried to run a few times, stupidly in the high heat of the day because it was the only time I could go, and inevitably the runs were demoralizing.

I emailed my coach and told her I had to stop.  Something had to give and this time it had to be my training. I didn’t want to stop moving my body. I just wanted to stop the structured training plan. I was walking daily and doing some yoga at home when I could fit it into the day. Instead of being tied to a schedule I began doing whatever I felt like with my own self-imposed goal of moving for at least an hour every day if not more. I took a Barre class, did two OrangeTheory classes while visiting family in Florida, ran without pace goals, walked, rode my bike, and I swam. It was refreshing. My mouth eventually healed. Work is still insane and a bit unhealthy. I don’t want to say too much because the obvious response from people seems to be “if it’s so bad maybe it’s time to find another job.” I can’t argue with that point, but it’s never quite that black and white. Personal matters ebb and flow, but through the teachings of Sharon Salzberg, meditation and self-reflection, I continue to grow, accept responsibility for my own short comings, and in the end I will emerge a stronger, better, and happier person. I know things will be ok, but my patience and ability to give space to the issues is being tested. Historically, I am not a patient person. I like quick resolve, but that will not help things this time. Deep breaths!

My training fell apart for Bridge of Flowers. In the week leading up to the race I had the most horrendous work week of the summer. My hormones were also wreaking havoc as I retained water and felt like my body had become as wide as the Goodyear Blimp. I was in absolutely no mood to conquer Crittendon Hill this year. My friend, Michelle, texted a few days before to make a plan for race day. I knew I would run the race, but I wouldn’t like it! Race day came and surprisingly I woke up feeling better than I had in previous days. I did all my pre-race rituals. The weather outside was perfect. I was relieved that we would not have to deal with the stifling heat and humidity we experienced at last year’s race.

We arrived in Shelburne Falls with 45 minutes to spare, but the road to the parking area was already closed for the short 3K race. We waited in a line of vehicles for the road to reopen.  People were getting antsy, but I felt calm. Even if the race started without us, and I knew it wouldn’t, we would be joined by everyone in the car line. We eventually parked, picked up our bibs, and used the bathrooms before walking about 5 minutes to the starting area. As we left the packet pick up area, I heard a volunteer signal to someone on her walky talky to hold the start 10 minutes.

We took our time to the start on the Iron Bridge.

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As soon as we settled into middle of the pack, the national anthem began, the gun sounded and we were off. I knew instantly that I would run the race with my heart and soul. This is my race. I know this course better than any other. I know the tangents. I know the hills. I know where I can let it all out and I know when to hold back. The old familiar feelings welled up inside and I knew I made the right choice to run.

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Bridge of Flowers is my current 10K PR though it is a pre-Achilles injury feat. I am far from running that kind of pace right now. I wanted to run it in under an hour and my A goal was to beat my 2015 time in an attempt to begin working towards getting back to that 10K PR pace and beyond. I ran hard and pushed pace more than I thought I would be able to, but it wasn’t enough to meet either goal. I finished in 1:00:23. I finished the last mile with gusto. My feet were on fire. I was neck and neck with another woman, and I made a private competition out of it, pushing myself above and beyond my comfort zone in the last half mile. I pulled ahead of her so far she couldn’t catch me. It was exhilarating. This was all in my head obviously, but it made for a fun and fast finish for me. As I rounded the corner back onto the Iron Bridge my feet felt as though they were lifted off the ground. I was beaming. The bridge is always lined with spectators cheering wildly. It’s my favorite part of the entire race. I paused my headphones so I could hear my name being announced as I crossed the finish line. I get a charge out of it every year.

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I’m not disappointed with my time or my performance. Running is not just a passing phase in my life. It’s a part of my life and has been for many years now. I love running. It brings me peace and clarity.  I also love training for races. I enjoy the challenges running goals create. However, one crucial thing I learned after being injured a few years ago is that when my body or mind signal that I need a break it’s imperative I listen. I have come to trust that taking a break from running does not mean it’s the end. When I am ready to return, I do it gently and from a place of love. I don’t watch my pace or the minutes I’m out running. I simply run.

This won’t be my last Bridge of Flowers. It is my race. The course may be the same each year, but it challenges me in a different way every single time. It frustrates me sometimes. It makes me smile too. It takes me out of my comfort zone. No matter what my time is at the end, I have always run my best race and each finish makes me proud. Until next year!

El Clásico Miami

We have kept a huge secret from my son since April and this weekend it was finally revealed. Carlos is a soccer player, FC Barcelona fan and soccer trivia buff. His favorite player is Leonel Messi from Argentina. Carlos wears soccer jerseys most days. He plays soccer fall, winter and spring. This summer he and his friends have taken any opportunity to practice together. Xbox game of choice is FIFA.

Soccer has also been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. I played briefly as a child, but my sister made it all the way to her college team until a knee injury took her out. I lived in Mexico and Mozambique where soccer is undoubtedly a national pastime like baseball is to the US. My husband is an avid soccer fan. I’ve gone to many games over the years and watched a number of them on television as well.

I have always enjoyed soccer, but as I’ve watched my son develop a natural love of the sport it enthuses me all the more. Carlos has played since he was four years old. He enjoyed playing with other children and just loved running around. Carlos undoubtedly loved the social aspect of soccer more than anything until about two years ago when he became very serious about it. However, he continues to play for a local travel team, not a competitive team. There are no try outs required. His coach is committed to sportsmanship, team building, and communication. It’s a really good group of boys. The team has struggled though. They are no strangers to losing, but they have learned to lose gracefully.

My sister called me from her home in Florida this April. She was so excited she could barely speak. She had just secured tickets to the final game in the International Champions Cup featuring Carlos’ favorite team FC Barcelona and my sister’s favorite team Real Madrid. My sister studied abroad in Madrid during college and has returned a number of times on vacation. My sister and Carlos share a very special bond. My sister has no children and Carlos is her only nephew. Carlos was also born on her birthday, a complete surprise to all of us. My sister now loves to surprise Carlos. For months the entire family has been in on this secret.

I did have to tell Carlos we were coming to Florida because he really wanted to attend a soccer camp with some of his teammates last week and I had initially told him he could probably go. He was a little disappointed to find out he wouldn’t be going to camp, but he always loves spending time with my sister so it was a fleeting disappointment. He eventually got wind of the International Champions Cup schedule. He never actually considered that he would be able to go to the game in Miami even though he knew we would be down here because I told him the game was sold out and we would be watching it on television with my sister, brother-in-law, his cousin and family, and my dad. Carlos was just excited to be close to the action.

The International Champions Cup culminated last week with four days of El Clásico events in Miami. As if seeing the game weren’t enough, a couple of days before heading to Florida we found out we could go to the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami to watch the teams practice the night before the big game. It was a really fun event. There were tons of kids. Carlos still didn’t know he would be going to the game so he was absolutely thrilled to be this close to his favorite soccer team and player. I loved watching all of the joy in the faces of the children there especially my own.

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My sister finally spilled the beans shortly before it was time to leave for the game. She presented Carlos with two new Barcelona jerseys and asked him which one he would rather wear to the game. It took him a minute to understand what was happening. He was stunned! Then he started jumping up and down.

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The night was incredible. We hit virtually no traffic on our way to the stadium. The storm from earlier in the day had subsided. The energy inside the stadium was positively electric. Soccer fans are passionate! The game started with a bang. FC Barcelona scored two goals in less than 7 minutes. Carlos went wild!

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Real Madrid scored a goal before the end of the first half. Barcelona fans weren’t too worried though.

Halftime was a treat for me. Marc Anthony played a short halftime set. I absolutely love salsa music!

FC Barcelona scored the only goal in the second half and it led to a stunning win not only for that game, but the entire tournament. I was thrilled for Carlos. It was the perfect end to a terrific night.

I have really enjoyed this trip. However, I did not do much running due to the heat and humidity. Even at 5am the air was uncomfortably thick. Instead of running I took this opportunity to change up my workouts. I experienced Orangetheory Fitness for the first time and I loved it so much I took another class. I really wish we had one closer to home. I took a long leisurely walk through nearby Hugh Taylor Birch State Park and on the beach. I also swam almost every day. It felt amazing to be back in the water. I have always been a strong swimmer, but I do not do it nearly as often as I should. I was reminded of how important it is to get outside of my comfort zone once in a while. Running is great and I love it, but my body needs a little jolt of change once in a while.

I have a few hours to sleep before it’s time to get up and get ready to go back home.

 

Finding balance

I have half a dozen unfinished posts. I’m days behind in paperwork for my job. I have taken a hiatus from grad school already and I have only completed three courses. I have no marathons on the calendar for the rest of 2017. I haven’t had my eyebrows threaded in too many weeks. My pedi is almost overdue but hanging in there. My house could use a scrubbing. And the list goes on…

I certainly haven’t been relaxing on a gorgeous beach letting my life fall to pieces. It’s my job. It’s sucking the life out of me. No details needed. They would bore you and frankly they don’t matter. I’m an employee through and through. I do what I’m told even when it’s simply too much for one person. I learned a valuable lesson years ago when I complained about a situation at work. I was scolded and told that if I was going to complain I better have some solutions to improve the situation. 

I don’t have any suggestions on how to make this situation better or more manageable right now. I’m not alone in how I feel. I know my colleagues are feeling the burn too. We work independently and rarely come in contact with each other. Venting via work email is not a good idea because we are positive big brother is watching. 

I listen to podcasts when I’m in the car or while I’m doing mundane paperwork. I love how many of these people advocate for others to leave a job that isn’t fulfilling or meaningful and follow their dreams. They never mention practical things like financial aspects of up and quitting your job to start a smoothie stand on a touristy beach in Mozambique (I beg Orlando everyday to let me try. I’m bringing my Vitamix next time we go!)

So how do they do it? Do people not care about having money to retire? Or for those with children are they not concerned about giving them life experiences which often cost a little bit of money? How about health insurance? Interestingly I work for a health insurance company and my husband’s package is much better than mine so we use his insurance. Do these people not pay car insurance, excise taxes, utility bills? They all have social media so they must have to pay for at the very least a smart phone. Those are not cheap. Do they eat or do they all grow their own food? I have so many questions none of which are ever answered in the podcasts or in blogs. 

The truth is, I’m not really sure what my dream job is, but I know for sure it’s not what I’m doing now. I’m a nurse case manager for a senior care plan for a large national health insurance company. Basically I help low income elderly obtain healthcare services so they can stay at home as long as possible. I love visiting with them, but that is the smallest part of my job. The majority of the time I am dealing with mountains of documentation and tending to compliance issues. There seems to be a new issue daily. It’s mind numbing and frustrating, but… and this is why I can’t just quit, I work from home, the job is flexible, the other benefits are decent, I get a fair amount of vacation time (though I tend to do paperwork because it’s portable), and I don’t have to worry about finding to watch my son on snow days or if he gets sick. 

In all honesty I’m not brace enough to quit. I’ve worked since I was 15. I am a hard worker. I’m very dedicated even if I don’t like my job. When I worked full time at the hospital I only called out sick three times. Once was when I broke my ribs. I took two days off for the broken ribs. My co-worker broke her toe and was out for a month! I am not advocating this work ethic because you don’t win any awards for it. If you’re not feeling great physically or even mentally and you have sick time take a day off to decompress and revive your soul. It’s right to take care of yourself. I am not great at practicing everything I preach. 

The Slow Road from Monterey to San Francisco

It was so nice to run a marathon and have time to relax after before heading home. We planned to spend the week in San Francisco. The day after the race we took our time driving up the coast from Monterey. We stopped along the way to explore the beautiful beaches. Carlos braved the cold ocean at every stop. The weather was gorgeous. It was sunny, a little breezy and very warm. Below are some photos from our pit stops.

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The colors were amazing in person. We pulled over and just stopped to watch.

 


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My photos do not do the landscape justice. Northern California has a special place in my heart now. I am so grateful that we had the opportunity to explore it. I may not return anytime soon, but I know it is a place I would love to see again. There is so much more to do and see. There is a half marathon through wine country from Napa to Sonoma that is definitely calling my name.

Loving Lately – May 2017

Reading 

I often read something and wish I could discuss it with someone. Here are some of the recent articles that have provoked some interesting thoughts in my own mind.

If you look in my closet you might think I attend funerals for a living. The color scheme is dark, mostly black, some navy and grey. The only pops of color come from the tank tops I will wear for a run. My friend bought me a pretty pink Lululemon tank top and I have this bright blue tank that makes my eyes sparkle, but I feel like I stand out like a sore thumb when I wear anything but an earthy dark color. If I do wear color it’s on top never ever on the bottom. Yet I love seeing women in cool patterned running pants. I envy them a little bit. This article, by Dianne Bondy, speaks to the idea that life is too short to obsess about the rules we’ve been taught about what we should and shouldn’t wear.

Anyone who really knows me knows that I have a strong desire to live to be 108. It’s an arbitrary number, but the point is that I want to live well over 100. Obviously I want to be mentally intact and physically well. This article really excited me. Becoming an active person after my son was born is no longer an effort. I love being active. It’s equally as important for my physical well being as it is for my emotional well being. I strive to be active daily and this summer my goal is to engage my son in daily movement as well. He’s an active child when he’s with his friends or playing soccer, but I am seeing that as he gets older there is less motivation to go out and play alone. He has graciously offered to help me with speed intervals at the local track by allowing me to chase him and in return I have agreed to help him with some soccer drills!

Along the lines of the previous topic is this article by Gretchen Reynolds about the importance of child’s play for everyone. We have to encourage children to be active. The increasing rate of obesity in this country has elevated it to an epidemic. Obese children become obese adults. The article looks at research which estimates the economic impact of childhood obesity on our healthcare system once these children are adults. With obesity comes a multitude of health issues including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes to name a few. The idea that exercise has to be structure is what inhibits many from getting out there and just playing for fun. Swinging at the playground, going for a bike ride or a nature walk at a local park, playing catch, and simply taking a walk around the neighborhood are all forms of activity. One of the reasons we moved Carlos to a Montessori school was for the increased emphasis on outdoor time. His school promotes activity not only through longer outdoor recess time, but by allowing children to move freely throughout the classroom.

I was listening to a Tim Ferriss podcast this week which was fascinating in and of itself. The interview was about relationships with Esther Perel, a renowned psychotherapist and expert on relationships and sexuality. In the podcast, Tim references an article by A.J. Jacobs entitled, “I Think You’re Fat.” Is it ever reasonable to tell a lie? This has been a theme in our home this week. I am guilty of telling white lies to avoid hurting people’s feelings. Sometimes I encourage my son to do the same, but I am conflicted about the message I am sending to him. The author discusses the movement of Radical Honesty and explores the process of being brutally honest all the time. Despite the position of Brad Blanton, the Radical Honesty movement’s founder, I am not comfortable with the strong confrontation required to tell the truth all the time.

Watching

Carlos and I watched a wonderful film the other night. It’s called the Queen of Katwe and can be found on Netflix. It takes place in Uganda and tells the true story of Phiona Mutesi and her rise from poverty to becoming a national chess champion. It is a beautiful story.

Listening

This morning I listened to Dr. Stephen Gundry on Jessica Murnane’s podcast, One Part Plant. Dr. Gundry is the author of “The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in Healthy Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain,” and the leading expert on lectin. Through his work as a heart surgeon and researcher, Dr. Gundry claims to have uncovered compelling evidence for the role of lectin in heart disease, autoimmune disorders, and other diseases. It’s an interesting theory and I have no doubt that he backs up his ideas with studies. I think it’s important to understand how the food we eat affects our bodies, but I also think it’s crucial to know yourself and do what feels right. There is so much information out there. It is often confusing and contradictory to what we think we understand. I will not be eliminating all lectin from my diet today. However, I am always inclined to learn more.

Loving

I just received my first supply of Care/of personalized daily vitamins. I am not affiliated with any companies so rest assured this is my personal opinion only and I will not gain anything if you decide to check it out. Is it me or is everything becoming a subscription service? Well this is also a subscription service which initially turned me off, but I decided to check it out. The first thing you do is take a quiz about your health and diet. Through the quiz you are given a personalized list of recommended supplements and vitamins. I was expecting at least 10-15 suggestions, but instead I received only 4, Vitamin B, Vitamin C, Bacopa, and a Probiotic Blend. There is a thorough explanation of each vitamin or supplement. I had never heard of Bacopa. The description provided indicates that it is an Ayuverdic herb that has been shown to improve memory and mental focus. I don’t know if it’s my age or the influx of information coming at me all the time between work, email, phone, etc., but I have been feeling a little foggy lately. I had a 50% off coupon code from a podcast I had recently listened to so I decided to place an order. I left off the Vitamin C because I have a big bottle from Vitacost. You receive a dispenser with individually packaged tablets for each day of the month. They are personalized with my name, completely unnecessary, but fun. I’m not sure if I will continue on a monthly basis, but I do enjoy trying out new products. If for nothing else take the quiz and buy the suggested vitamins and supplements on your own if you think they might help improve your health and wellness.

Music

Just a few of my latest faves on my running playlist include:

Medley: Bamboleo, Volare, etc by the Gypsy Kings

Wish I Knew You by The Revivalists

Andas En Mi Cabeza by Chino y Nacho ft. Dady Yankee

Rockabye by Clean Bandit ft. Sean Paul & Anne-Marie

 

What are you into these days?

Monterey and Carmel

We were up and out early on Saturday. We took the scenic route to Monterey along the coast. Monterey is as lovely as I had imagined. We went straight to the marathon expo at the Portola Hotel. It was not difficult to find, just follow the Boston Marathon jackets and race tech tees. There was a line of people waiting to get their photo taken in front of a Big Sur International Marathon sign. I thought, what’s the big deal? Well I didn’t realize at first that the sign had the names of all the runners. Of course I jumped in line. Thankfully the names were in alphabetical order. Carlos gets his photography skills from me!

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We wandered down to the wharf in Monterey. We took some photos and saw a few sea lions.

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We had time to kill before we could check into our hotel so we decided to drive to Carmel to scope out the finish line area. We found the finish area easily and then went straight to the beach. It was beautiful out, but a bit chilly. Carlos and Orlando played soccer. Carlos made friends with JD the black lab.

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I lounged and watched people perfect their selfies and social media posts. You cannot believe how long it takes a group of four women to coordinate a simultaneous jump for joy and have it captured on camera. It actually takes less time to do that than it does for boyfriend to photograph girlfriend throwing her scarf in the air, over and over and over again. How cute??!

We discovered we were very close to one of the entrances to the 17 Mile Drive around Pebble Beach. If you are into gorgeous scenery, slow drives, and imagining what it would be like to live in stunning homes then this is well worth the $10. Orlando and I loved it. We dream of one day building our own seaside home on our land in a small beach town in Mozambique. Of course it will be nowhere near as grand as the homes we saw. We stopped at many of the landmarks on the ocean and that gave Carlos the opportunity to climb on the rocks so he was happy too.img_2532-1

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Back in Monterey we checked into the Munras Inn. The room was lovely, but we would have preferred a vacation rental that offers a little more space. Lodging is expensive in the Monterey/Carmel area. For anyone planning their trip to the area specifically for the marathon, plan early and check out VRBO, Home Away, etc. in Pacific Grove, Monterey, and Carmel. Had I started planning a little earlier we might have found a property at a more reasonable price, although these areas are pricey in general. Our hotel was a little less than a mile to the Marriot where I would catch the bus for Big Sur on marathon morning. It was an easy walk and with so many runners out I wasn’t worried about being alone. My family was very appreciative that I didn’t wake them at 3:45AM to drive me.

I thought about attending the pasta dinner, but the only seatings were at 4:30 and 5:30PM, but we were still out in Carmel. We found a local Italian place. I had a sub-par dish of spaghetti. It was a bit disappointing because running a marathon is really my only excuse to enjoy a big bowl of pasta.

There is a ritualistic process that takes place the night before a marathon. First I lay out my clothing for the race. I always put the safety pins in the bib unfastened. I set up all of my necessities. Most importantly I set as many alarms as I can especially when a race requires a 2:40AM wake up call. I was terrified I wouldn’t wake up on time for the race.

Then I was asleep in a matter of minutes once I got into bed. It was a beautiful, relaxing day, but I was excited and anxious about the marathon.