From the Redwood Forest to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk

I adore traveling and exploring new places. When I travel I want to experience as much as I possibly can no matter how much time I have. Running marathons has provided me with an excellent excuse to travel. When I got word I had been accepted into the Big Sur International Marathon I figured we could work in a visit to San Francisco.

I do my best to get to know what might be of interest in the area we are traveling to, but I rarely go so far as to plan an itinerary. Traveling with a young child and two adults with very different interests does not lend itself comfortably to a nice neat travel itinerary. I have learned to embrace spontaneity especially after having Carlos. We might not do every museum, aquarium, or attraction, but we try to do something that makes each one of happy along the trip.

We landed in San Francisco around 10AM, collected our rental car, and hit the road. Our first few nights would be spent near the marathon. We stopped in Palo Alto for lunch. The weather was gorgeous. YELP guided us to Tender Greens at an outdoor mall. It’s a chain restaurant, but it had something for all of us and we were able to sit outside. I had the Happy Vegan salad. It was excellent.

With no plan in place, I looked at the map and decided since it was a beautiful day and we had spent hours on a plane we should go walk around somewhere outside. We found the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and saw our first redwoods.  But before we got to the park we stopped for a coffee at the White Raven Coffee & Tea House in Felton, CA not too far from the park. I’m from Massachusetts, but nowhere near Boston. There are people in Mass that have no clue there is west of Worcester. Yet here in this café in a small town in Northern California we met two women who had lived in even more remote areas in Western Mass and they didn’t know each other. One had spent a summer interning at a farm in Shutesbury, MA which is home to my favorite little lake, Lake Wyola. The other was from Heath, MA, a very small town even further west. It was a fun irony. We enjoyed chatting before moving on to the park.

We parked on the street and hiked into the park. Once we found the loop of redwoods we walked around the park in awe. The redwoods are so much more unbelievable in person. They seem to go on forever.

img_2453

img_2451
img_2479

img_2468

img_2459

Next stop…the beach, Carlos’ happy place. We walked along the kitschy Santa Cruz boardwalk and within minutes Carlos was in the water.  The water was freezing, but he didn’t care.

img_2491img_2485

Dinner was another YELP find, Earthbelly Restaurant in Santa Cruz. Orlando and I enjoyed the black bean bowl.

We spent our first night in Salinas, CA because I accidentally forgot to reserve our hotel in Monterey for that night. The hotel was nothing fancy, but it was fine because we really just needed to sleep. It was a great first day in California.

Big Sur International Marathon recap is already up here.

Big Sur International Marathon 

I can’t remember if my alarm actually went off or if I woke up on my own at 2:40AM. I slept like a rock, but then I was wide awake. Marathon mornings don’t usually start quite this early, but nothing about this marathon was typical. First let’s back track to last summer.

A friend, fellow runner, and Pacific coast native wrote to me about the Big Sur International Marathon lottery for first timers. I threw my name in and figured it was a long shot. It took me three years to get into Chicago. I don’t play money lotteries, but perhaps I should because I got into Big Sur too. Of course I had heard of this notorious marathon and it was on my running bucket list. I knew a little bit about it namely that it offered spectacular views of the Pacific coast line. My family and I had never visited this part of the country so the race provided us with a wonderful travel opportunity. I am more than happy to run a marathon if it means visiting and experiencing a new place.

Back to the crack of dawn on April 30th. I buzzed about the hotel room quietly disturbing no one. I showered, dressed, and ate half of my pre-marathon bagel with banana and peanut butter. Fueling for this race was interesting. I always try to simulate race day on my long runs, but I often left the house between 5-6AM for a long run and that would have required a 1-2AM wake up. I had a plan in my head and fortunately it worked out.

Then there was the question of what to wear. I was expecting a much cooler temperature in the early morning, but it wasn’t bad at all. I left the hotel at 3:45 and walked a little less than a mile to the Marriot to catch a bus to the starting area in Big Sur. I was wearing a long sleeve over my T-shirt and I had another shirt in my bag along with a pair of gloves. I never needed the second shirt. I tossed the old long sleeve I was wearing at the finish line. I was extremely grateful for the gloves prior to the start because my hands were cold.

Around 3:45AM I joined throngs of runners on the street in the dark all headed to various bus pick up areas around downtown Monterey. Starbucks was open. The Marriot lobby was a buzz of brightly colored running gear as people gathered to wait for the buses. I was expecting a bumpy ride on a school bus, but was instead pleasantly surprised by a very comfortable motor coach bus. I boarded and before I knew it we were on the road.

I chatted easily with the guy seated next to me. We discovered we were the same age and running Big Sur for the first time. He was from San Francisco and ran with a large running club there. He has run the SF marathon more than once. He has also run Grandfather Mountain Marathon, touted as America’s toughest marathon. He will be one of only 40 participants in this year’s Inca Trail Marathon in August. He directed me to Weather.com’s list of the World’s 15 Toughest Marathons. San Francisco is number 15 and Big Sur is number 13. So many races, so little time and money!

We arrived about a half mile from the starting area and we were guided through the dark by the flashlights of kind volunteers who graciously gave their time to help in the early morning hours. I moved along listening to the hum of conversations around me. It is really hard to describe how bizarre this all would have been to me about 10 years ago. I am not sure where I imagined life would take me, but this certainly was not it. Yet here I was just hours away from beginning my 8th marathon, trekking along in the dark with hundreds of fellow runners in a quiet forest on the coast of California with half a bagel, chia water, and a stick of body glide in my bag. As foreign as this all would have been to me 10 years ago it now makes perfect sense.

The starting area was busy. People everywhere. Lines forming for port-a-potties and bag check. Coffee, tea, hot cocoa, bananas, etc. offered to all of the runners. I found a spot a bit away from the crowd and settled down with a small cup of coffee for the nearly 2 hour wait. The coffee helped warm my hands and it actually tasted great. I finished my bagel. Soon I was chatting with a couple of women next to me. One had done 24 marathons and was training for her second Iron Man triathlon. The other was running her 3rd marathon. The conversation flowed effortlessly until it was time to consider entering the long queue for the toilets. It’s all about timing! I chatted with another woman in line. Whenever I mentioned I was from Massachusetts, the first question was “did you run Boston.” I can’t wait to someday answer yes. Big Sur hosts the Boston to Big Sur challenge for runners who want to do both races. This year the races were about two weeks apart, but in previous years runners had only 5 days rest between Boston and Big Sur.

img_2549-1

By the time I lined up at the start there were less than 10 minutes to go. The sky was clearing and I was treated to my first glimpse of the tranquil surroundings.

img_2554-1

The gun went off and I watched as the first wave started. My group was next. I fell into a comfortable pace heeding all the advice I had read. Don’t go out too fast. Save your energy for the hills. Enjoy the peacefulness of the forest. Soak it all up.

The one thing I was most nervous about was running without music. For many runners this probably sounds absurd, but it is how I have always run. I did do parts of my long training runs without music. I admit that I often don’t even really hear what’s playing, but it helps keep me motivated and the beat keeps my feet moving. Big Sur race instructions state:

Because the safety of all of our participants and volunteers is our first priority, we ask that you leave your headsets at home and instead let the incredible scenery, music we provide on the course, and your fellow runners serve as your motivation and inspiration. 

I read one previous race participant’s blog post who had similar concerns and he wrote that he only put on the music for the long climb to Hurricane Point. I figured I would bring my headphones and do the same. I was instantly entertained by the excited  runners around me. I picked up bits and pieces of conversations in many languages. Then as the crowd thinned out I enjoyed the soothing sounds of nature, bubbling brooks, birds, a distant waterfall maybe. It was beautiful. I just ran. No pressure, no time goal, no urge to do anything more than what I was doing in the moment.

img_2556

Around the 10K mark the forest gave way to coast line. My photos do not do the views justice.

img_2558-1

The expansive ocean vistas that sprawled out to my left were stunning. To my right were vast green caverns and cliffs. It was breathtaking and when you didn’t think it could be more beautiful you would crest a hill and be treated to an even more incredible view.

img_2564-1

Don’t forget to look behind was another common piece of advice from previous participants. It is not something you typically do during a race, but it really is a must in the Big Sur marathon. Appreciating the views from behind gives you a unique perspective of the course.

img_2566-1

There was a light playfulness to this race as well. The mile markers were all sponsored and featured funny commentary and photos. They were all different and became one more thing to look forward to as I ran.

img_2562-1

img_2567-1

I knew about the long roughly two mile climb to Hurricane Point that begins after mile 10. I saw it laid out ahead long before I reached it.

img_2571-1

The music of the Taiko drummers at the foot of Hurricane Point energized me as I started up the ascent, but once the music was out of earshot I put my headphones on to keep me pumped up for the climb. The weather was ideal on race day. There was a little headwind as I pushed myself up to Hurricane Point. It was a long climb, but when you are looking out at the most beautiful scenery it doesn’t seem quite as difficult.

img_2568

img_2572-1

img_2574-1

img_2576

img_2577

I knew that before I even reached the halfway point I would begin to hear the melodic tune of the infamous Bixby Bridge piano player.

img_2578

I took off my headphones in preparation. When the bridge came into sight and the sweet strains of the music touched my ears it was magical. I couldn’t see the grand piano or Michael Martinez, the man playing it, but the music and the view moved me to tears. I wasn’t prepared for such a rush of emotions. I felt like I was on top of the world, literally.  In that moment I knew it was a privilege to be a part of this marathon.

img_2582

img_2583

The second half of the course is a true test of strength and endurance as you tackle hill after hill.

img_2586

img_2590

My shins seemed to cry each time I started on a downhill. I stayed at a slow, but steady pace and power walked the steep hills. I paused here and there to snap photos. I stopped at nearly every aid station to refill my handheld and to slather on pain relief cream on my left calf. It seized up during my final long run the week prior and despite tending to it with massage, foam rolling, bio freeze, rest, etc. all week, I felt a twinge of tightening early on in the marathon. The cream helped a lot.

img_2579

At the mile 23 aid station a woman asked about the famed strawberries and was told there were none this year. What?!! A collective frustrated sigh could be heard from all the runners who overheard. Fortunately the aid volunteer was mistaken and about a 1/4 mile ahead we were treated to the most delicious, juicy local strawberries. I was in heaven. The strawberries redirected my mind off of the discomfort in my legs and onto the happy party in my mouth. Everyone including myself seemed to perk up.

The hills never seemed to let up and as I stared ahead at the hill jutting from the mile 25 marker I reminded myself that it all I had to do was put one foot in front of another. I was almost there. I could do this. I turned around briefly to remind myself of how far I had come to get to this point, and then I powered up that hill.

img_2595

This is not a spectator race. Because of the road closure there is no way for friends and family to cheer the runners along the course so I knew I was very close to the finish when I finally heard the spectators. I saw Orlando and Carlos and the finish line. My eyes teared up again. I remember crossing the finish line of my very first marathon 5 years ago and it has been the same feeling each time…awe, disbelief, pride, and gratefulness. I did it! I completed the Big Sur International Marathon. It was a truly amazing experience and a life changing journey from training to finish.

18199303_10154648026186247_2268586864146304664_n

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marathon Monday

The third Monday in April is Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts and Maine. The holiday commemorates the April 19, 1775  battle of Lexington and Concord.  Since its inception in 1897, the Boston Marathon has always been held on Patriots’ Day, but it wasn’t until 1969 that Patriots’ Day was moved from April 19th, the actual day of the battle, to the third Monday in April. Now the holiday is now more commonly known as Marathon Monday.

I didn’t grow up amongst runners yet I knew about the Boston Marathon from a young age. I am a Massachusetts native after all. In college I had the opportunity to work setting up barriers along some of the roads towards the end of the marathon. My friend’s aunt and uncle own the company that organizes the finish line and many other components of the race.  I spent race day at the finish line. Despite being the furthest thing from a runner at that time, I found the experience quite incredible. However, at no time during that day did I even once contemplate crossing that or any other marathon finish line. It would be another 11 years or so before I was bit by the running bug and then another 4 years before I would run my first marathon at Disney.

I have never run the Boston Marathon. Since 1970, entrance into Boston has required runners to meet a qualifying time also known as a BQ. For some simply achieving the BQ is a feat in and of itself, and does not necessarily guarantee entry into the race.

Boston Marathon Qualifying Standards
Age Men Women
18–34 3hrs 5min 3 hrs 35min
35–39 3hrs 10min 3 hrs 40min
40–44 3hrs 15min 3 hrs 45min
45–49 3hrs 25min 3 hrs 55min
50–54 3hrs 30min 4 hrs 0min
55–59 3hrs 40min 4 hrs 10min
60–64 3hrs 55min 4 hrs 25min
65–69 4hrs 10min 4 hrs 40min
70–74 4hrs 25min 4 hrs 55min
75–79 4hrs 40min 5 hrs 10min
80+ 4hrs 55min 5 hrs 25min

There are two other points of entry for interested non-qualified runners. The Boston Marathon charity program allows entry to approximately 6,000 runners who have raised a minimum of $5,000. A small percentage of runners are invited to run by sponsors, running clubs, media, or other promoters.

The Boston Marathon inspires me as a runner and a human being. To witness the determination and strength of the varied runners on the course is as notable in the elites as it is in each and every participant in the race. To see the power in the arms of the wheelchair athletes as they literally blow by you is awe inspiring. To watch the determination and resolve of the mobility impaired runners including blind runners and runners with prosthetic limbs reminds me that my challenges are not insurmountable if they can overcome theirs.

IMG_2420
Staff Sgt. Jose Luis Sanchez lost a limb in Afghanistan, runs the Boston Marathon carrying the American flag the entire way

18033113_1915765752042782_8711265391967385723_n

18010682_1915765735376117_1164902610342228358_n

For me the marathon itself has become the antithesis of the word can’t. I was a self-described non-runner for much of my life. I would proudly declare “I can’t run” as though saying it somehow exempted me from doing it. I said I can’t in relation to many things in my life for a long time. When I am running a marathon and my body starts to say it can’t go any further something else takes over and keeps it going. A long distance run is much more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge. When you shift your thinking it’s amazing what you can tolerate and overcome. Somewhere in the last 10 years I stopped saying I can’t.

I will run Boston one day. Qualifying would be a momentous achievement for me. Right now I am running an average pace far slower than what I would need to qualify in my age bracket, however, running has certainly taught me that I am capable of going far beyond my comfort zone so I am not ruling out a BQ in my lifetime. I will at least shoot for the moon and if I don’t reach it by a certain age then I will do the next best thing and raise money for a very deserving charity.

For now I am honored to cheer for all of the Boston Marathon runners. If their name is written somewhere on them I shout it. I clap and holler. Many bring tears to my eyes. Each one of those runners has a story of how they got to the starting line. Oh how I would love to know them all. This year Carlos and I went with my friend and her daughter. She is originally from Framingham and knew exactly where to go. We set up a few hundred feet before the 10K marker. It was a great spot. We saw each wave from the wheelchairs to the mobility impaired and on to the elite groups, but perhaps the most exciting waves are those that come after the elites, the everyday runners, like myself who dared to dream big. What it must feel like to realize such a dream. I soak it all up as I try to find answers in their faces and expressions. I will be there one day too!

 

It is a sea of runners for nearly two hours.

IMG_2411

IMG_2412

They are still full of pep as they near mile 6.2 although this year the temperature was quickly rising towards 80 degrees and some looked affected by the heat already.

17951652_1915765808709443_7594439982257129691_n

We watched until the fourth and final wave began to thin out. Then we headed home feeling nothing but inspired.

Never again

I listened to a woman on the Half Size Me podcast on my drive to the work meeting on Monday who echoed many of my own thoughts. I thought about her words as I tried to shake off the feeling of failure. My thoughts during the drive were, “I feel fat, I didn’t workout, I ate too much this morning, I sabotaged myself…” This woman weighed over 300 pounds and got down to 160. Over the last few months she gained back 20 pounds and instead of beating herself up she reminds herself that when she was at 300 pounds she would have given anything to weigh 180. I was over 225 pounds when I had my son, 185-195 pounds prior to pregnancy. Despite gaining about 20 pounds myself over the last 3 years, I have never given up trying. I had some success and lots of failure over the last few years, but I continued running and stayed active. I made healthy choices amidst intense, frustrating periods of binge eating and equally poor choices. I sought help, I journaled, I talked to a few trusted people in my life, and I cried…a lot.

As my weight crept up, I was unable to ignore the reality that I would very soon have to buy new clothing if I didn’t do something. I no longer believe in quick fixes or drastic changes. They aren’t sustainable and they are generally not healthy. There is no magic pill and you shouldn’t have to pay exorbitant amounts to lose weight. Five weeks ago everything shifted. It was as if all of the pieces came together at once igniting a spark of change.

The first thing was an app I discovered called Hormone Horoscope. I am not sure if it’s my age and proximity to menopause, but I have become fascinated with how my hormones affect my emotions, food cravings, and weight. I have suspected for a very long time that I am sensitive to hormonal shifts throughout my monthly cycle. This app is helping me to understand more about where my hormone levels are each day and things I might expect to feel on a given day.

The second thing is that my clothing had reached a point of feeling constantly, uncomfortably snug. I refused to buy new clothing. I wasn’t weighing myself regularly, but I didn’t have to. I knew the truth. I was at my highest weight in many years and it simply did not feel right.

The third thing was an invitation to participate in a project my running coach was beginning. She is also a professor of Nutrition. For the last five weeks I have been completing a spread sheet with my workout, pre and post workout fuel, number of hours of sleep, weight, daily calories, grams of protein, fat, and carbohydrates as recorded on My Fitness Pal, and notes about the day. My coach then replies. A short while ago daily weigh ins would have thrown my mental state into a tail spin, but I decided to view the number on the scale as data in an attempt to try to understand how my food intake, hormones, and physical activity all work together to change the number for better or worse.

For the first time in three years I began to see a very slow, but steady weight loss. I have no goal weight. I have no end date. This is a journey that will last a lifetime for me. I want to feel amazing, have a healthy body and mind, stay active, and be comfortable in my own skin. In the last 5 weeks I have not had one binge eating episode. I have eaten a healthy amount of calories daily with a variety of real food.

This past week was a test of patience and strength. Last Sunday after an incredibly great 22 mile run I began feeling that old familiar tug in my Achilles. I backed off of running for the week. My hormone levels were plunging. I had bouts of crying for absolutely no reason alone in my office. I wanted to eat salt by the bucket resulting in painfully swollen calves. I gained 9 pounds between Sunday and Thursday! I took a deep breath. Having documented all of this on the spreadsheet, my running coach reached out to me and recommended hot yoga, lots of water, and a hiatus on running until the fluid retention subsided. I immediately took her advice. I did hot yoga for the first time yesterday and today. It was awesome. I have reeled in the salt intake. I am drinking more water. My ankle feels better and my calves are normal size again. I am also down the 9 pounds.

This week taught me so much about myself. I am actually looking forward to next month when I can use the knowledge I learned this week to possibly stave off the fluid retention and dramatic shifts in emotions. I will be keeping a close eye on the calendar so I can be proactive as my estrogen and progesterone begin to fall. I will begin hydrating more. I will use salt free alternatives to satisfy salt cravings. I will include hot yoga in my schedule. I will also rest more, and drink more tea. I believe that awareness is the key for me.

I’m not naive and I know that I will stumble and fall every now and then, but I am so grateful that after 3 years of seriously struggling to get my weight back down and binge eating under control I am finally headed in the right direction. Psychologically that spreadsheet has done more for me than anything. It’s important for me to have someone to be accountable to besides myself. That’s why Weight Watchers worked for me in the past. Knowing that my coach is looking at my data and providing feedback gives me the encouragement to make better choices and stay strong right now. The ultimate goal is to be able to do this on my own consistently. I will get there. Until then I will accept the help and support being offered.

The last piece of the puzzle are four photos that had a tremendous impact on my thought process. For as long as I can remember, back to at least age 10, I have considered myself to be fat. I avoided being in photos and still do to some degree. I cringe almost every time I see a photo of myself. To say that I have poor self-esteem is an understatement.

Recently my mom went through all of the old family photos and she presented me with an envelope of my photos. I was a rather adorable child, but as I got older the photos became more sparse. Of the few from my late teens to early 20s, these two in particular made me feel a range of emotions from very sad to angry.

I believe I am somewhere between 22-24 in both of these photos. Aside from the way I look, heavy and unhealthy, I also felt horrible both physically and emotionally. I was a heavy smoker. I ate whatever I wanted, I did not eat any vegetables, and I was not concerned about portion sizes. Exercise was rare to nonexistent. If you had told me then that I would be in the midst of training for my 8th marathon at age 43 I would have laughed. As much as I hated myself in these photos that sentiment wasn’t lost on the world around me. I was negative and snarky. I was insanely jealous of thin people. I wanted nothing else in the world than to be thin. I was no joy to be around and that made me dislike myself even more.

Twenty years later I would like to think I am a much different person. Becoming a mom changed me in wonderful ways. I no longer hate myself though I am still struggling to love myself. I don’t feel envy towards thin people because my driving force to achieve a healthy weight has much less to do with aesthetics as it does with living a very long and healthy life. I hope the people in my life would say that I am a positive person now. I believe that I try to approach each day with a positive outlook. I’m not exactly snarky anymore, but I may always be a bit sarcastic!

I lost 85 pounds very slowly in the few years after Carlos was born. I changed my body through healthy eating and a new found love of fitness, particularly running.  As I gained back the 20 pounds over the last few years, I saw myself as I always have, FAT. Until recently at the gym when I was doing some weighted squats in front of the mirror, I did something I never do, I snapped a picture of myself.

IMG_2194

A tear rolled down my face as I realized something. I am not fat. That is a picture of a healthy woman working towards fit. Then I happened upon this photo from two years ago at my sister’s wedding. I was maybe a few pounds lighter than I am in this photo, but I remember feeling at the time that I let my sister down by not losing weight before her special day. I was so stressed out about my weight gain at that time. This is what I looked like.

11224228_10152935586626247_6910959987584788868_n

Right now when I look at this photo I have tears in my eyes because I am reminded that the handsome little boy next to me looked at me that day and said, “you look beautiful mommy.” My son doesn’t know me as anyone other than the person I am now. He does not know the 185 pound Aimee who smoked, ate out of control, and didn’t run. Carlos only knows a mom who loves this life and who is committed to a healthy lifestyle.

I will never again be the person in the first two photos, but I have to acknowledge her today and thank her. She taught me that everyone deserves a second chance. She taught me that it’s never ever too late. She taught me that everyone has the power to change, but it has to come from within.

And now I am ready to run! My ankle feels better, the sun is shining, and I need to get out there for a few miles. I miss it so much and I am ready to end this training on a high note. Last week was not a setback. It was a learning experience and an opportunity for growth.

Big Sur Marathon Training

I am 5 weeks away from running my 8th marathon. Despite a very unpredictable New England winter, I have really enjoyed this training.  At the onset of training I determined my goals for this marathon as have done for each marathon. This was a bit different because I have no time goal. Big Sur is an experience from all that I have read about it. Runners make their way from Big Sur to Carmel along scenic Highway 1. Everything I have read about it from blog posts to articles imparts the same advice…look around, take in the scenery, and enjoy the experience. That is exactly what I plan to do. Of course I will run and do my best, but I will stop to take a few photos as well. I got into the race through a marathon for first timers so this is likely a once in a lifetime opportunity for me and I want to remember it well.

Like most of my marathons this will be a family vacation as well. We will be spending our first weekend in Monterey for the marathon and then we will spend a week in San Francisco. It’s a first for all of us.  We are definitely open to recommendations?

My training began back in January. After the Manchester City Marathon in November, I continued running regularly and maintained a longish run each week of 8-10 miles. The winter was mild up to that point and I wanted to take advantage of the decent weather to run as much outdoors as possible. After the New Year I began increasing mileage almost immediately with a 12 mile long run. Big Sur is a very hilly course so there has been some hill work on shorter midweek runs. Although I am not focused on a particular pace for this marathon some speed work has been incorporated into my training. I love the variation of runs throughout the week because it keeps it interesting.

I have been working with a running coach for the last 4 marathons. I feel silly even saying that because I am not a professional athlete, but honestly working with a coach has been such an incredible experience for me. For the first three marathons I trained myself loosely following Hal Higdon’s plans. I think I did quite well for someone who never engaged in sports prior to taking up running. Working with a coach after my Achilles injury was important. I was nervous and anxious about becoming injured again. I was also slower and heavier causing frustration with myself and running. It was helpful to have someone guiding me through those ups and downs as I came back from the injury and began marathon training again. I had always trained by miles and the first thing my coach did was plan my runs by time. This lifted the pace pressure right off of my mind. The next big change she made was starting my training plans on Monday rather than Sunday. Seems insignificant doesn’t it? Well it made a significant difference in how I was able to plan my week because suddenly it allowed me the flexibility to do my long run on either Saturday or Sunday for that training week.

Having a coach also allows me to push myself out of my comfort zone. I love reporting back that I was able to hit the prescribed paces in a speed workout or that I accomplished a challenging hill repeat workout. It’s also great to have someone help me figure out why something might not be working. I learn so much about my own abilities as a runner and I am picking up skills that will help me coach others too.

Tomorrow morning I will set out for what will likely be my longest long run at 22 miles. I ran 20 last week. My long runs have (knock on wood) been going really well and I have been incredibly lucky with the weather. The 17 miler was a bit insane. We had snow a few days before and the roads in some places were still in bad conditions. I ran from my house to my mom’s house three towns away. The route is a rather busy one which I thought might work to my advantage because I assumed the roads would be clear. The roads were a mess, no shoulders to run in and sidewalks were untouched for the most part.  I had to stop at train tracks while a train passed. It was a disaster. I felt as though people driving by were annoyed by me running and I was annoyed by the splashes of wet slush flying up at me every now and then.

Overall I’ve enjoyed unseasonably “warm” winter weather. There have been some spring-like days recently. There has been a great deal of sunshine and some beautiful scenery. I have trained in freezing temperatures, extremely windy conditions, and rain. I have only done a handful of my runs indoors on the treadmill. Hopefully the next few weeks of training are just as awesome because the taper weeks will be here very soon.

I tried to capture some of the scenery from this training. These were all posted previously on Instagram. Each one brings back a memory of the run.

Happy spring! Nice peaceful run on this gorgeous day. #bigsurmarathontraining2017
Scenes from my favorite running spot . The weather  was almost 60 degrees. I loved the contrast of the warmer air against the snowy scenery.
20 miles, hills, snow, ice, darkness, clouds, quiet, a little bit of sun ☀️ #winterrunning #bigsurmarathontraining2017
Sights from my 20 miler on 3/19/17. I ran two towns away up and over “the mountain” as it is referred to around here. That is Mt. Tom in the bottom left. Although I did not run the actual mountain, the road to the town below is quite long and steep. 
Today is one of my favorite races, the Holyoke St. Patrick's 10K. Good luck 🍀 to 1000s of runners! As always the luck of the Irish is with them as the sun peeks out of the clouds. It couldn't be more perfect running weather. I'm just finishing up an easy run before tomorrow's 20 miler. #bigsurmarathontraining2017 #winterrunning
A short 6 miler on the day of my favorite 10K. I decided not to run it this year in order to focus on marathon training, but I really missed it. I’ll be back next year!
So much for an early spring #bigsurmarathontraining2017 #winterrunning
Another nice day for an outdoor run.
The run that almost wasn't today. Many excuses-cold, snow, no school for Carlos, a ton of paperwork but the sun came out, the grandmother came over, and I hit the road. There's just something about running over bridges I love. #winterrunning #bigsurmarathontraining2017 #noexcuses
I love running over bridges.
It's hard to believe that after a day like today snow is on its way tomorrow. It was really windy but temps were in the 50s. Thankfully today was long run day. #workfromhomeperks #bigsurmarathontraining2017 #winterrunning
A lovely run along the bike trail turned into a powerful workout.
Morning run sun #marathontraining #winterrunning
An early morning run near Carlos’ school after dropping him off

Happy #internationalwomensday  I honored myself by going for a lovely lunchtime run on what was supposed to be a rainy day. Instead it was all blue skies, sun, and a tinge of spring. #bigsurmarathontraining2017 #winterrunning
Barely a cloud in the sky
When there is no path ahead create your own. I swore I wouldn't do another spring marathon and struggle through winter training, but here I am back at it. #bigsurmarathon here I come. This is a bucket list race and an opportunity I couldn't pass up. #winterrunning
On Instagram I wrote: When there is no path ahead create your own. I swore I wouldn’t do another spring marathon and struggle through winter training, but here I am back at it.
Why is the wind never at my back?!! #winterrunning #bigsurmarathon
It was super windy out on this day and I swear no matter which way I turned at the reservoir I had the wind in my face!

Looks cold but feels like spring. Taking the path less traveled on my way to #bigsurmarathon #winterrunning
I didn’t feel much like running on this day. I forced myself out the door at lunchtime. The run was horrible, but there is always a lesson in the run.

Long run day #bigsurmarathon #winterrunning
Taken during a fueling stop on one of my early long runs. That is the Connecticut River going by.

Time to get to bed. I have a very early wake up call before I hit the road. After watching the big rain cloud with 60-90% chance of rain on tomorrow’s weather forecast, it now show only a 20% chance of rain and a sun peeking out from behind the cloud. I will take it!

Rewind December 2016

When I was pregnant people with children would tell me how quickly time passes by once you have children. Sadly they were correct.

December is a reminder of just how rapidly time is passing. Not only is it the end of another year, it is the month of Carlos’ birthday, but let me not get ahead of myself.

On December 4th, Carlos and I ran another Hot Chocolate 5K fun run. This time we were joined by my friend M and her goddaughter. This is a big, local 5K and all of the money benefits a local women’s shelter. At the end you get a custom designed mug and hot cocoa. There is so much positive energy and happiness you barely notice how cold it is outside!

img_1879
Still working on our selfie
img_1880
Hot cocoa time!

For the month of December I challenged myself to run a 5K a day or more if possible. I knew it would be a busy month. I am not training for any races at this time. I really wanted a very manageable activity goal that would be sufficient to motivate me to move every day, but not so daunting that I wouldn’t be able to commit. Running 3.1 miles takes me no longer than 30 minutes. Allowing myself 30 minutes of uninterrupted time to get away from work, studying, and anything else that was going on in my life was truly a gift. Here are some photos from some of those runs.
img_1869

img_1874

img_1886
img_1975

img_1973

img_1966-1

img_1955

Last year we went to Mozambique for Christmas and I didn’t put my tree up. This year I brought it up from the basement the week after Thanksgiving and not surprisingly half of the lights were out. I bought one of those gadgets that is supposed to miraculously relight the lights. Well it didn’t! Orlando misunderstood me when I told him to cut off the broken lights and he cut every light off of the tree with wire cutters. I loathe putting Christmas lights on the tree, but my mom does it effortlessly along with folding fitted sheets, two tasks I thought would suddenly become easy after having a child. I was wrong! She not only brought over a bag of lights she was no longer using, but she also put them on the tree. Carlos decorates the tree and I put the bow on the top. We will not win any awards, but we all love the gentle glow of the lights and the sparkle of the ornaments.

Carlos has been very busy at school. As I’ve mentioned in the past he attends a small Montessori school. One thing I love about this unique education philosophy is how children are encouraged to really dig into a topic. Carlos has been working on the timeline of history. They literally stretch a physical timeline out onto the floor and allow students to see a visual of history as it has elapsed over the course of time. Carlos and two of his peers learned a little bit about Roman bath houses and decided they wanted to know more so they built their own version based on independent research. This photo doesn’t do it justice. The details as Carlos described them were amazing. What isn’t shown is the outside of the bath house which depicts the drainage system and little bundles of sticks used as fuel to heat the water. They made the people out of clay and fashioned towels out of felt.

On Thursday, December 15th, I took Carlos to school a little early and we stopped for an early birthday breakfast treat. Look at my baby! He’s almost 10 in this photo.

img_1898

I brought him to school and then returned a little while later to watch his class present their Mystery History performances. Carlos was Steve Jobs. He dressed up like him and spoke about his life. It was awesome!! The kids all did a fantastic job. His classmates were Abraham Lincoln, Walt Disney, Cleopatra, JFK, and Harry Houdini. They performed in front of the lower elementary students and the upper elementary from a neighboring town’s Montessori school. Most of the kids did their presentations from memory. I was amazed at how calm they were performing in front of other people.

I returned to the school again at lunchtime for Carlos’ birthday celebration. He showed a picture from each year of his life and explained each picture. We brought popsicles for the kids to have after lunch. The school discourages sugary treats and with so many allergies to contend with I opt for all natural fruit popsicles. Carlos likes them and I know every child can safely eat them.

On Friday, December 16th my sister flew in to surprise her favorite (and only) nephew with whom she also shares a birthday.  We met her, my mom, her husband, my aunt, and uncle out for dinner before going to the Springfield Thunderbirds hockey game. Carlos invited his best friend Tyler to join us. It was a fun night and brought back loads of memories for my sister and me. We used to have season tickets to the Springfield Indians, as they were known back in the late 80s/early 90s, hockey games. I met my first and second boyfriend at a hockey game. We would walk loops around the civic center between periods with our big hair and jean jackets. We had crushes on at least one of the hockey players and we would watch them warming up hoping they would notice us eyeing them adoringly from behind the glass. Oh dear god!

The morning of Carlos’ birthday he was up at the crack of dawn. He asked for only one thing this year for both Christmas and his birthday – an Xbox One with Fifa 2017. Carlos is obsessed with all things soccer, not just playing it, but the players, the uniforms, and the history of the sport. He was ecstatic when he opened his birthday gift. He and Tyler had it set up and operational within less than 30 minutes.

We enjoyed dinner and cake at my mom’s. The birthday duo were all smiles as they blew out their candles. My sister would kill me for posting this, but she doesn’t read the blog.

img_1918

The next morning we had another surprise in store for Carlos as we set off for a short trip to Florida to visit my dad and spend more time with my sister. I had lots of time to take before the end of the year so it worked out perfectly. We spent most of our time hanging out at my dad’s condo complex. The pool area is very relaxing. The complex is well kept, clean, and tranquil. Carlos wasn’t even interested in going to the beach on this trip because he preferred spending time with grandpa swimming in the pool and fishing. I worked a bit from my dad’s porch overlooking the canal. I also went swimming and running. Honestly we didn’t do much which was exactly what we needed.

img_1935
View from the 4th floor
img_1930
View right outside of my Dad’s condo
img_1933
Rainbow
img_1942
Grandpa and Carlos

img_1936

img_1937
Why yes those are socks Carlos is wearing!

Christmas came and went very quietly. It was a low key weekend with just us and my mom and her husband. It was a welcome change to the typical stress of the holidays.

Orlando and I decided to take an impromptu trip to Cape Cod for the New Year. I found a really inexpensive condo in Mashpee, MA. I love offseason travel. We invited Carlos’ friend Tyler to come along. We drove down Friday afternoon and stayed until Sunday. The weather was unseasonably warm, not quite beach weather, but made for nice running and spending time outdoors. The boys were crazy enough to dip their feet in the chilly water.

On Saturday, New Year’s Eve, we drove up the coast to Provincetown. We stopped at a couple of beaches and a lighthouse. It was a chill day. We rented a couple of Redbox movies, made popcorn and enjoyed sparkling apple cider for the kids and Moscato for the grown ups. The boys tried so hard to stay up until midnight, but they conked out around 11:30.

On Sunday, we took the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. We had never been. I would love to explore it more just before the summer tourist season begins. I love the beautiful homes and the quaint feel.

 

This was a wonderful way to ring in 2017. I no longer make resolutions. I am committed to working every day to be a better person, wife, mother, nurse, friend, daughter, and sister. 2016 brought about change, challenge, highs, lows, new friends, fun, exciting travels, and new experiences. I am truly blessed.

Rewind to November

November came and went in a flash. The Sunday after the Manchester City Marathon my friend M and I ran a local race, the Clarkdale Farms 12K. It was a nice fall day, a new distance, and a pretty course with rolling hills.

I blinked and Thanksgiving had arrived. In 2010 after completing my first half marathon I decided to do a solo turkey trot and have continued the tradition every year since. This year was a little different though. I went to my favorite reservoir and ended up going off the main trail onto a trail I had never ventured on  before. Soon I ended up doing more of hike as I wound my way up a steep trail which led to a lovely view.

I wandered along the trails hiking, running, and cautiously navigating some leaf covered trails for nearly 2.5 hours. In the end I had covered 10 miles.

I convinced my mom to go out for Thanksgiving dinner this year since it was just going to be us, my mom, her husband and one of his granddaughters. She vowed last year that she was not cooking Thanksgiving dinner again. I love to cook and my husband enjoys my cooking, but I am not skilled at preparing large meals for many people nor does everyone care for my style of cooking. Plus I think my mom and her husband are secretly terrified that I will serve tofurkey in the shape of a turkey. So we made reservations at the Hotel Northampton. We were certainly not alone. It was very crowded, but the buffet was plentiful and offered something for everyone. After dinner we returned to my mom’s for coffee and dessert though no one ate much more.

Thanksgiving is our least favorite holiday because we remember it as our last holiday with my stepfather. He died on 12/2/1996. Thanksgiving was his favorite holiday. My stepfather had a larger than life personality and everyone adored him. He made every day a happier day. The holidays in general have never been the same. My mom seemed to like the change of pace this year, but as always there is a quiet sadness that accompanies my mom’s mood during Thanksgiving and the days that follow. It is hard to believe that it has been 20 years since he died. I still wonder what life would be like if he were still here. He would have enjoyed Carlos and Orlando so much.

I don’t want to end this on a sad note. So here’s a picture of Carlos in work mode at this awesome local program that teaches kids coding, robotics, and computer programming amongst other tech topics. It’s a hidden gem and also free. In this particular class they created these remote control vehicles.

img_1829