The best part was...

All day I’ve been bugging Ben saying, “man, the best part of working there was...” 

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And every way I end that sentence is true. Piazza Farms and Greenhouses was the greatest place I could have ever worked in the world. You may think “but Amanda, there’s got to be some prestigious company you wish you could work for that would be better than working at a farm stand.” And you would be wrong. 

Eating *raw* sweet corn for lunch. The sweetest corn even before being cooked. 

Eating *raw* sweet corn for lunch. The sweetest corn even before being cooked. 


Today, after 70 years of business, Piazza Farms and Greenhouses on route 57 in Phillipsburg, NJ has closed its doors for the last time. I have so much to share about this incredible place, so please be patient with me as I try to convey to you what it meant to me and so many others.

 

It was the summer of 2006 and I was 15 years old which meant that I was old enough to finally get working papers to get a job. For years leading up to this I had told my mom I wanted to work at Piazza’s as my first job. I’m not entirely sure why I wanted this so badly - often I’ve attributed it to the memory I have of my grandfather stopping there with me on the way to a horseshow to pick up a jelly they carried that he loved. He passed away in 2004 and as an extremely sentimental person I could see this being an important memory to me, steering me in the direction of wanting to work at a place that reminded me of him.

The candy drawer that Joyce would stock up for nice children who’d come in to shop. I swear I acquired my sweet tooth on this little place of heaven. 

The candy drawer that Joyce would stock up for nice children who’d come in to shop. I swear I acquired my sweet tooth on this little place of heaven. 

My mom took me in to the stand one day when one of the farmers’ wives was working. I had seen her before when she was a substitute teacher in my 5th grade class and my mom was familiar with her from working in the same school district. My mom told her that I was looking for a job and I can still hear her telling my mom that she wanted to hear it from me - one of my defining moments I can recall of having to come out of my shell and be a young adult. I then followed suit and told her that I was looking for a summer job and was hoping that I could work for Piazza’s. Conveniently at the time this was happening a good family friend, Mr. Bullock, was shopping for early season produce and he offered his recommendation of me having known me for nearly my entire life. I believe this “interview” was in June, and on July 11th I showed up for my very first day of work.

 

My first hurdle of this new job was the old register that was used to ring customers’ purchases up (although trying to tell apart a zucchini and cucumber were much harder than one would imagine at first). When you rang up purchases the register would tell you how much the customer owed, but when it came to giving change back you had to do that on your own. At 15 I had already struggled with the “new math” that our school district was trying out and I had never realized that counting change back was a thing. That’s when my manager suggested that I practice so I could be trusted on the registers. Back at home my mom had gotten out a little box with play money. I can’t tell you how many hours and how many different days she sat with me at the kitchen table and gave me totals and handed me fake dollars and coins looking for me to return the proper change, but in hindsight it has been a memory that both my mom and I laugh about and cherish. If not for Piazza’s this memory would likely not exist for me.

 

I learned so much working at the farm beyond counting change back.

The ONE time I finally got to work in the field with the guys for a few hours. They truly were the hardest workers I’ve ever seen.  

The ONE time I finally got to work in the field with the guys for a few hours. They truly were the hardest workers I’ve ever seen.  

I learned how to be strong in what we called “corn dumping races” which consisted of dumping burlap sacks with 4 dozen ears of corn on the table for customers while challenging one of your coworkers to see who could empty their bag quickest. It was always a struggle when an ear of corn turned sideways locking the contents in the bag - I can still feel that memory in my arms today.

The one year I saw snow while we were still open. October 29, 2011. Whatever the weather is doing it’s the wrong kind. 

The one year I saw snow while we were still open. October 29, 2011. Whatever the weather is doing it’s the wrong kind. 

 I learned how to drive a golf cart on off-road terrain (even if I wasn’t permitted to drive the cart until after I had my driving permit - I’m not bitter anymore).

I learned so many varieties of annual flowering plants, which ones look great together, which ones need shade or sun, and I even learned about a handful of perennials.

I spent afternoons getting to water the plants during flower season, a time where I would often start writing songs in my head. The summer of 15 was when I started to teach myself guitar and I truly believe that Piazza’s was a place where so many song ideas came to me.

Alyssa wrecklessly flying the cart.

Alyssa wrecklessly flying the cart.

Beyond learning I made such incredible friendships. I found true, lifelong friends who I consider my best friends today. We made memories together whether it was working together on Memorial Days and getting to eat Flynn’s fried chicken and Joyce’s infamous chocolate cream cheese filled cupcakes, every single Christmas in July done right with decorations and Christmas tunes blasting, or around the 3 o’clock hour when we’d hope to hear the boss say “I think we need an afternoon treat” meaning that we’d be getting ice cream from the ice cream stand next door.

Friends wearing cabbage hats inside the cooler. 

Friends wearing cabbage hats inside the cooler. 

I don’t ever want to forget the memories I made with such a great company and awesome family. I started working the summer following the birth of one of Christy’s kiddos, and in my mind I still see him as a baby and my coworkers pushing him around on our metal carts used for restocking. He’s now just about two years younger than I was when I started working there. I can still see Christy’s daughter, who was adopted from China a few years before I started there, drawing masterpieces on our paper bags with markers from our drawer we used to make signs for prices on our items. She’s still a creative, playing with the high school band. I spent plenty of shifts working with Christy and her oldest daughter, who was just a few years younger than me, laughing at their antics of always starting up hilarious conversations where Christy would become so animated it would improve your day just by being around it all. And now that daughter is teacher at our old high school.

Christmas in July!

Christmas in July!

The list of all the things I’m grateful for goes on and on when talking about this incredible first job. The fresh figs I got to try from the first fig tree I ever saw in my life. The good days when a pie would “accidentally” fall off the cart and we’d have to eat it because you can’t waste a good pie just because it’s too ugly to sell. The customers that came in every year who really made the experience of working there unique - whether it was because they were always pleasant and a joy to see, or if they were angry and attempting to throw tomatoes at Christy. There was ALWAYS a story. I ate the sweetest raw sweet corn nearly everyday for lunch once it was available, and I’m pretty sure over the course of my 8 summers working there I ate my body weight in white cherries and grapes - every great business needs quality control.

Today I wore my “You know you work at Piazza Farms when...” T-shirt all around Charleston.   10. You know when to “scatter”  9. Without a stick or a wedgie you can’t open for the day  8. There is an island in your parking lot  7. You know Monkey Joe has the biggest nuts  6. There’s ALWAYS a story  5. You have been asked which Piazza you are  4. You eat lunch in a cooler  3. You drive a golf cart but have never played golf  2. “Produce” is a season  1. The farm always comes first

Today I wore my “You know you work at Piazza Farms when...” T-shirt all around Charleston. 

10. You know when to “scatter”

9. Without a stick or a wedgie you can’t open for the day

8. There is an island in your parking lot

7. You know Monkey Joe has the biggest nuts

6. There’s ALWAYS a story

5. You have been asked which Piazza you are

4. You eat lunch in a cooler

3. You drive a golf cart but have never played golf

2. “Produce” is a season

1. The farm always comes first

 

I know my blog is a running blog, and I can totally tie this in with my running journey. When I was in middle school I told my mom I wanted to play soccer. She agreed to sign me up for a travel team and we both agreed I should try a youth track program out beforehand to make sure I would be able to do all the running required in soccer.

Hanging out on the steps like a bunch of baskets of tomatoes. 

Hanging out on the steps like a bunch of baskets of tomatoes. 

 

While my memory is sort of hazy from the days of that track experience aside from remembering how slow I was and how I figured out if I could start at the front of the pack during our two lap warm up I wouldn’t finish dead last, I can remember one of the coaches cheering me on at a practice. “Come on ‘pink girl!’” she cheered for me, as I had been dressed in a pair of pink shorts and a pink top for this practice. Fast forward to a few years of me working at Piazza’s I was working a shift with Christy and heard her talking about running a half marathon. We got into a conversation and I can’t quite now remember how or who, but one of us recalled this memory of me being “pink girl” and figured out Christy was that track coach who cheered me on. I’m a sucker for life coming full circle and this is a moment that I still find incredible.

 

Today is such a bittersweet day, even from over 10 hours away now that I’m living in Charleston. I’m sad that a staple of the community I grew up in is gone forever, and I’m sad as I always hoped once I made it as a successful songwriter in Nashville I could always go back to work the summers at Piazza’s. But I’m happy for the family that gave me these memories to finally have a chance to have a break, enjoy the success of all their hard work, and hopefully get to enjoy a summer for once instead of having to worry about growing and harvesting through all the extreme kinds of weather.

 

Thank you Piazza Farms for helping me grow into the person I am today. I feel there is still so much that I’m missing out on sharing, but so much of it is “you had to be there” moments. I will always cherish my memories from my summers working at the greatest place on earth. 

 

P.S. Does anyone know if Karen will still be in business? I’m trying to find a place to buy local Jersey veggies when I’m in town. 😉  

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Living like a Starfish

A starfish can break off an arm to avoid being killed by an enemy. In doing so, the starfish can also regenerate that arm in about a year.

Sometimes we have to learn to be more like a starfish, and adapt rather than surrender to the waves that capsize us.

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At the end of June 2017 I experienced my first debilitating running injury, a second metatarsal stress fracture. Having been an avid runner since 2013 this was a very trying time. Off my feet as much as possible, a boot lent to me from a friend, no running whatsoever. I struggled to feel like myself. My mood declined and stayed there as I wasn’t getting the endorphins I often had many times a week. Life flat out sucked.

 

Nine weeks of rest and I started to run again. After training for a mere five weeks, I ran the Chicago Marathon in 5:18:44. This was by far my slowest marathon I’ve ever ran, coming in about a half hour behind my previous slowest marathon. This was a pretty big kick in the confidence, although I had to remind myself multiple times that I trained a quarter of the amount that I normally would for a race. If nothing more, I proved to myself that this injury wasn’t defeat but instead something that made me a more mentally tough runner. 

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Following Chicago I had to find the next thing to look forward to. Lucky for me, the Walt Disney World Marathon fell on my 27th birthday. Run 26.2 miles on my 27th, 1/7/18, how could I not? I signed up for the race the week we decided to move to Charleston for a bit and try out a new adventure.

 

I decided to run for St. Jude as I often have, and committed to raising $2,500. I was excited to have my sights set on a new race, and had more motivation to get out for some long runs. The following week I received an email that while the website allowed me to sign up for the race for St. Jude they didn’t actually have any spots left and I wouldn’t be able to run as the race was sold out. I was miserable. Travel plans had already been made. I had looked forward to a trip to Disney and spending my birthday running a marathon. I had been so excited to raise money for a charity I believe in, and now that wasn’t going to happen.

 

I panicked for a bit, cried it out, and made some calls to figure out what my options were. At one point I thought St. Jude had openings for the Goofy race, running the half marathon one day and running the full marathon the next, but that was also a mistake on their website. I went to the list of charities and landed on Catch A Lift Fund, a charity that helps post 9/11 veterans get acces to workout equipment, gym memberships, and peer networks to help them get their physical and mental health back. While it was difficult to know my efforts weren’t for St. Jude, a charity I’ve spent years supporting, this charity seemed to be a great option. A friend of mine who served in Afghanistan told me that CAL was a charity that was helping him to get in to a hockey gym in our area, so I knew their mission was legitimate. Onward with my training and fundraising!

 

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I ran the Walt Disney Marathon, stopping for character pictures along the course. I went out really fast because I wasn’t used to running in the dark and the race begins so early that’s the first half of the race was over before the sun started to show up. I finished the marathon in 4:48:55. About a half hour quicker than Chicago just two months prior. Finally some relief that I would be able to be back to my running self now that my stress fracture was in the past. For a moment in time I thought the Disney Marathon was out of my reach, but I found CAL and raised $700 for a charity that gives back to those who have given their all.

 

The past few months have been a lot of focusing on what we miss about Nashville. The music scene and the ability to catch a writers round any day of the week, the hills and elevation in general, the people including my Fleet Feet community. When we decided to stay in Charleston things were on the up and up. We were finding lots of opportunities and felt excited about living by the beach. However, when you live on the coast during the winter months, beach weather is a bit nonexistent so that excitement got put off. Altogether we made two trips back to Nashville to gather up our belongings and move them with us or store them in a unit for an eventual return to Nashville.

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Ben and I have ran a couple local races now, trying to find our groove in a place that still doesn’t give us that complete homey feeling, and beach weather is upon us so we’ve got sunny days ahead with ocean breezes. We’re currently in the process of regenerating a life that we really want to live keeping in mind that we’re going to be getting back to something bigger and better for us down the road. Trying to live like a starfish isn’t the easiest thing but sometimes it’s necessary for survival.

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The happiest 26.2 miles on Earth

It’s been nearly two weeks since my first Walt Disney World Marathon experience. Two weeks since my 27th birthday spent running 26.2 miles with 20,000+ runners. Two weeks of reflecting on the magic that Disney provided as they celebrated their 25th year of the marathon. And even now, almost two weeks later, I can’t get enough of my Disney marathon memories.

Outside my new home. ;) 

Outside my new home. ;) 

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To start, I got my hands on two new RunDisney smashed pennies while at the expo with Ben. This has become a tradition for us in the adventures we take together, collecting a smashed penny in each place we visit. Getting these little gems was an amazing little expo find. 

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I look beyond tired here, because I was. Posing with the RunDisney 25th birthday cake! 

I look beyond tired here, because I was. Posing with the RunDisney 25th birthday cake! 

Signing my name on the wall of Why I RunDisney! 

Signing my name on the wall of Why I RunDisney! 

Prior to getting to the expo I had big plans to spend a good chunk of money on a quality jacket commemorating the 25th anniversary of the marathon, envisioning it’d have the date (my birthdate), but sadly upon arriving there was nothing fitting my vision. I have heard the expo sells out very quickly, but I still have yet to find anything to match my dream even on the internet. If anyone knows of something like this clue a girl in!

 

Night before race day I tossed and turned the worst I ever have. I think our AC unit at our hotel quit and I just felt like it was a thousand degrees in the place. Ben started to snore ever so slightly which is a thing he’s never done. The universe was against me. Before this race, I had completed 9 full marathons and 7 half marathons, so I am no stranger to knowing the sleeplessness one may experience on race eve. I guess adding that in with birthday excitement and you’ve got a pretty anxious Amanda. 

 

I woke up around 3:30am, ate my oats, and got in the car with Ben to get dropped off at Epcot. I got out and started to find where the other runners were heading and went with the flow, seeing volunteers with glowing fingertip gloves telling everyone to high five them for power. This is when I started to get emotional knowing that these people were here to support a bunch of crazies who thought it sounded like a fun idea to run a marathon at 5:30am. I regret nothing! 

 

I got to my corral with a few minutes to spare and soon I was amongst many others who were feeling heavily emotional. In celebration of the 25th anniversary race, they were playing the top Disney song from each year starting with 1994, the year the race began, and ending with the top song from this year, releasing one corral with each song and send off of fireworks. I was constantly choking back tears in the corrals, especially when “Go the Distance” from Hercules came on and a boy around my age in my corral belted it so loudly, and with such a great voice. It was the little spark of inspiration that was an incredibly heartfelt and strong memory that stuck with me the whole race.

 

Running in the dark definitely makes me run quicker. And you should never start a race going faster than your goal race pace (go figure), but I totally lost my head and felt like magic was carrying my legs for the first 12 miles. Overall I wanted to keep my pace around 10:15-10:30/mile. What I got were the following splits.

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9:47 AT MILE 10?!? WHO AM I EVEN? Now, I have ran faster further into races, but in all reality my training was not near where it needed to be to hold a pace like the one I did for those first 12 miles. But when you run in the dark, down Main Street, through Cinderella’s castle, with no lack of spectators and glitter on said castle, you can pretty well expect to lose your whole mind out there. And I wouldn’t change it for anything.

 

At this point I hadn’t stopped for any character photos since the lines had been pretty long from the beginning, but that’s when I came across Genie. This led to another chance to become extremely emotional thinking of Robin Williams and all we lost the day we lost him, and of course the heart wrenching quote, “Genie, you’re free.” With only a few people in line I could not pass up a photo op with him. Look at that cheesey smile!!! This was the moment that allowed for various other character photo ops in my race. 

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The road out of Magic Kingdom and into the Animal Kingdom could have been terribly boring but they lined it with plenty of groupings of things to look at with music playing at almost every little artistic piece of all things Disney. I had never been in Animal Kingdom so my very first experience of seeing the Tree of Life happened as we ran into the park where the sun had pretty much completely risen. It was nothing short of magical.

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Here we passed Everest that Ben and I got to ride the following day and it is now one of our favorite Disney rides! 

Am I feeling Joy? Sadness? Is it a combination?! My face may never tell.  

Am I feeling Joy? Sadness? Is it a combination?! My face may never tell.  

Onto the ESPN Wide World of Sports where I struggled, as it seems many others felt the struggle hit here as well too. At this point it’s important for me to point out that I had purchased a decal to put on my shirt for race day, and at this part in the race people started wishing me a Happy Birthday now that the sun was up and they could actually read my shirt. It was so helpful in the race where I needed the extra boost and hearing complete strangers wish you a happy birthday on the race course at the Walt Disney World Marathon, it gives you a boost.

At around mile 19 I ran into fellow Nuunbassador, Lynn (@yogalynnruns) who was volunteering at the hydration station. It’s incredible what meeting a stranger who is also a huge fan of running, and your sport drink of choice Nuun, can do for the runner hitting the wall. She had added my name to the team sign and it was just such an incredible experience to get to share a moment of comraderie in the middle of a race. And at the end of the day, without Honey Stinger gel and waffles to fuel me and Nuun to keep me hydrated, I would not have been capable of crossing the finish line an entire 30 minutes faster than Chicago just three months prior. 

At around mile 19 I ran into fellow Nuunbassador, Lynn (@yogalynnruns) who was volunteering at the hydration station. It’s incredible what meeting a stranger who is also a huge fan of running, and your sport drink of choice Nuun, can do for the runner hitting the wall. She had added my name to the team sign and it was just such an incredible experience to get to share a moment of comraderie in the middle of a race. And at the end of the day, without Honey Stinger gel and waffles to fuel me and Nuun to keep me hydrated, I would not have been capable of crossing the finish line an entire 30 minutes faster than Chicago just three months prior. 

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We left ESPN for a long trek back towards Epcot, first stopping in to run in Hollywood Studios, past the infamous Tower of Terror and down Sunset Boulevard to Hollywood Boulevard and out to the Boardwalk which was a location I had never seen and felt like it was both so beautiful and so unfortunate to be entering my life as I felt so much pain in my legs. With less than a 5k to go I made it in to Epcot. I was cramping, walking more than running, and then I heard it. “If I go there’s just no telling how far I’ll go...” If ever there was a song that could amp me up in the most challenging of times, “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana gets all my money. I ran for the entirety of the song and at a decent pace for the pain I was dealing with. Sadly as soon as it ended I was back to various walking breaks. Until a man with Mickey Mouse gloves gave me a power up knuckle “pound it” and off I went for the remainder of the race.

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I remember very little after crossing the finish line, but I can recall being obsessed with my new medal with my birthdate enscribed on it as I walked to the parking lot looking for Ben. He picked me up, had the best post marathon gift of chocolate milk, and off we went to prepare for the very best week we’ve ever had between Universal Studios and the Disney parks. We already are planning our next trip. 

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I cannot stress how incredible of a race I had. It wasn’t my fastest (and thankfully not my slowest) but it was 100% the happiest race I’ve ever had.  And because the Moana soundtrack has gotten me through so many hard times in my life, and now also powered me through my first Disney race experience, it is the new addition to the playlist this week. If you can listen to the song and say that it didn’t help boost your spirit at least a little bit, I don’t need your kind of negativity in my life. #Fact

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Third time’s the charm?

Chicago this year was SO hard. I went into race day having only completed one “long” run of about 10 miles. The rest of my training runs came with bouts of walking and struggles to catch my breath. 

Prior to the start of 2017 Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

Prior to the start of 2017 Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

On June 24th I ran with a local Nashville crew to celebrate Global Sports Bra Day. We ran a light 3 mile loop around the downtown area. It was an incredible and invigorating experience. It was my first time ever running without a shirt and for a run in the middle of June in Nashville, it was a fantastic way to reduce the heat that I’ve been used to running through while also building confidence with other athletic ladies and tuning out society's standard of a "perfect" body, recognizing our bodies for what they truly are - strong..

That evening I went into work. My job at the time was banquet severing which meant a good amount of time on my feet. I ended up covering a crazy amount of ground during that shift, walking almost 7 miles. I was stressed that night, but I had no idea what that day was about to mean for my future.

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Over the next few days I started to have an ache in my foot. I figured was from running for the first time in a little while. A week after the 24th I ran another run with the same group from the Sport Bra Squad Day, only this time it was a 6 mile mural run around Nashville. It was a fantastic route with beautiful street art, but I couldn’t avoid the fact that my foot was definitely injured to some extent. Research. Research. Asking running friends. Tendinitis? No exact answers.

My research eventually led me to a possible stress fracture. This sounded like my exact symptoms, pain on the top of my foot near my toe (4th metatarsal). Ask more running friends. Stress about finding a doctor with my crappy healthcare plan. Stress about hearing I might have a stress fracture. Cry about not being able to afford an MRI for a proper diagnoses. Buy KT Tape. Watch videos on YouTube from podiatrists and orthopedic surgeons describing my pain as a metatarsal stress fracture.

At this time I had taken a trip back to NJ to visit my family and I was worried what this pain meant for my running. I had a marathon three months away and my training was nonexistent. Once I got back to Nashville I stopped in to an urgent care center that took an X-ray and had me wait for a call from the radiologist that day. That night I got the phone call that there was no stress fracture. I could not believe this by looking at the X-ray myself.  Where the exact point of pain was I could see a calcium spot where, to this day, I know that’s where my stress fracture occurred. 

I posted my results on Instagram begging for someone to tell me one way or the other what this spot was when ThisGirlCanRunFar reached out to me and told me this was definitely a stress fracture, the injury she had just recently recovered from. Her advice? Rest 9 weeks and then ease back into running.

 

Turned out that was exactly what the doctor never ordered but should have. In nine weeks I could walk on my foot again without wincing every step. But this nine week period left me with just five weeks to prepare for the Chicago Marathon. Only being able to run a mile or two for the first week, limited to run/walk/run routes felt very defeating.

 

 

Chicago came and it was a very warm day. My game plan was to follow the Run Walk Run method as made famous by Jeff Galloway. I would run for 1:30, walk for 30 seconds, repeat until finished. Except at the Chicago Marathon there are 45,000 runners which meant walking wasn’t an option until after mile three. By mile 7 I had to stop to pee (a thing I’ve never done during a race), and by mile 8 my feet hurt so badly I thought this would surely be my first DNF.  

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"Just get to mile 17 to see Kelly". Kelly Roberts of Run Selfie Repeat (now She Can & She Did) was posted up at mile 17 as I knew from social media. It took all I had to fight through the pain and the heat to get to her, but eventually mile 17 came and I started to search for Kelly and her crew. I put my hawk eyes on and finally saw her as she took a step back from the sidewalk. I hurdled the sidewalk as I yelled her name and gave her a hug and asked for a selfie. “You’re the only thing that helped get me to mile 17, and now my boyfriend at the finish line will be the only thing to get me through these last 9 miles.” (or some runner’s high mumble jumble is what I offered her) and away I went.

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Those last 9 miles were horrible. I hated every second of it. I couldn’t muster up any feelings of excitement. I truly did not want to continue on, especially after getting a pebble in my shoe around mile 20 and having to stop and bend over to take my shoe off. I started to realize that any goal time I had was useless. And the clock eventually rolled over 5 hours leaving me feeling so down on myself as I texted my boyfriend, apologizing for being so slow. I made it to the last 800 meters and even then I couldn’t get my legs to continue to run. I walked up the final hill of Chicago and ran it in to the finish line. It sucked. I hated it. I felt I had worked so hard on race day after not being able to work appropriately prior to race day. I ate deep dish from Giordano’s with my boyfriend, complained about how horrible the race was, and went on to enjoy the rest of my time in Chicago.

 

This past week I was notified my application for the 2018 Chicago Marathon was one of the selected ones. Which means I get my third time’s a charm race, or so I hope. I hate that the lottery happens so soon after the race, the $195 hitting my credit card going into the holiday season adds a lot of stress. But I hope to come out of 2018 happy with my comeback in Chicago. This could be the year.

 

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This month a new album came out that I was really looking forward to. Walker Hayes’ new album  boom. is a fantastic work of art. I had been a fan of a few of the songs from this album that had appeared on his prior album, 8 Track. But of all the tracks on this new album I can’t help but smile running to “Beckett” a song about his son living life as a four year old, completely innocent and carefree.

 “Damn proud of that belly button / Ain’t suckin' it in for nothin’ / 4 years old looks like fun to me //  When I grow up I wanna be like Beckett / Eatin' breakfast butt naked / Ain’t even tryin’ to be famous / Just wonderin' where his airplane is / Don’t know if he’s rich or poor / Says it’s cool that the girl next door / Has skin like chocolate / When I grow up, when I grow up / I wanna be like Beckett.”

I love these lines because they sum up the innocence we’re all born with before we learn hate, prejudice, negative self reflections, and yeah, I do often wish I was 4 years old again. This song is added to the playlist this week even though I’ve been listening to it for more than a year.

Having lived in Nashville I had a friend who had met Walker and his family and could vouch for the good people they are, all six of their children included. Do yourself a favor and buy a copy of boom., stream it on Spotify, Apple Music, and request to hear more Walker Hayes on your local country stations. Jump on the wagon before you get left behind!  And why you’re at it, you must check out “Your Girlfriend Does” which is one song I’m heartbroken didn’t make this album. Hoping for a deluxe album so I can blast that song nonstop. 

 

In addition to the exciting news of getting into Chicago again, I’m happy to announce that I am also a 2018 Honey Stinger AND nuun ambassador. These two brands have helped me complete many marathons and half marathons as well as some tough training runs. I’m excited to see what 2018 holds for my run journey with these two excellent products in my tool belt. 

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What’s with all the Shenanigoats?!

It always seems the best stories stem from a change in our original plans.

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Jamie and Max own the “it” thing to do in Nashville right now. With yoga studios all over the city, you’d think there wouldn’t be any room for another. Thankfully these two were able to find their place and breathe life into Shenanigoats Yoga.

What started as a team of two goats with the plan to keep Jamie and Max's 47 acre farm free from overgrowth and brush turned into a sizable herd of Pygmy and Nigerian Dwarf goat yogis. Max believed that others would love to have the benefit of goat landscaping on their own properties but Jamie waved that idea off as silly. This past April, much to Jamie’s surprise, a request was posted in the Nextdoor app asking for goats for a brush clearing job. Turns out Max was onto something the whole time in believing that this was a need that others had. 

One thing led to the next and friends and strangers requested that they make goat yoga happen here in Nashville.  And I’m so glad they took that chance.

 

Here, Megan loves on a sweet goat during one of the classes in support of St. Jude. Photo provided by: @NashvilleMeg

Here, Megan loves on a sweet goat during one of the classes in support of St. Jude. Photo provided by: @NashvilleMeg

For the past three years I have ran with the local country radio station’s team, Team BIG 98 for St. Jude for the Nashville Rock 'n' Roll Half and Full Marathons. Every year the team tries to find more ways to raise money for children fighting cancer at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Last year our team gained a new member, Megan Hogue, who this year became a co-captain of Team BIG 98. And fortunately for us, that meant we would get the chance to benefit from goat yoga for more than just the obvious good feelings that come from playing with goats. 

With a friend coming into town, Megan signed up for Shenanigoats Yoga for something fun to do. Thinking that there was an opportunity for Team BIG 98 to pull in more money for the kids at St. Jude, Megan reached out to see if Jamie wanted to set something up if possible. Within minutes Jamie was eager to find out what she could do to help the cause. The end result was a double header of yoga classes on September 30th with $10 from each ticket being donated to St. Jude.

I had been interested in trying Shenanigoats Yoga since I saw a posting about it on Facebook in June. When my team was holding classes as a fundraiser, I just couldn’t pass it up any longer. My experience was as follows:

I tossed and turned the night before with incessant dreams of goat yoga. I dreamt I showed up to class, unrolled my mat among other yogis, and quickly realized I was at the YMCA when I knew the class was actually being held at the green space near the local café Bongo East. I had accidentally ended up at a non-goat based yoga class and was running late to get across town for Shenanigoats. I’m so glad this was just a dream contrived by my mind that was obviously very excited about goats and yoga.

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I showed up to the noon class on the morning of the 30th and set my mat beside other women I had never met before. We all made friends with one another, and soon I met other girls who were also a part of the Team BIG 98 family.  After some time snuggling goats, the class began.

Our instructor for the class was Brianne Burgoon. She works at TriStar Centennial Medical Center where she is an art therapist. With her Master’s in Art Therapy and Counseling she helps groups through art therapy, yoga, and mindfulness. She also has her RYT-200 through Sanctuary for Yoga. I have taken a handful of yoga classes in the past few years, always feeling that Restorative Yoga best helped me, and following the goat yoga class with Brianne I felt her instruction was fantastic for all levels of yogis. She was an incredible instructor, especially when considering the added and unpredictable element of goats. Our class ranged from young children to middle aged folks, all trying to just find their zen with the perfect combination of the sweet goats and Brianne’s calm and helpful instruction.

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Initially seeing the pictures online, I figured goat yoga would be fun and adorable, but I didn’t realize the intense happiness that it would bring me throughout the class and into the rest of my day as I continued to tell friends and coworkers what I had done that morning. Having a small goat jump onto your back, or lazily sit on your feet extended into the air is a feeling that really can’t be conveyed through anything else but experience. 

Megan gifted this bag to Jamie who saw the perfect use in scooping up one of the little ones. A goat in a tote! Photo provided by: @NashvilleMeg

Megan gifted this bag to Jamie who saw the perfect use in scooping up one of the little ones. A goat in a tote! Photo provided by: @NashvilleMeg

Before I left the class I stopped to thank Jamie for putting together such an incredible event, and for helping Team BIG 98 and the kids at St. Jude. That was when she pointed out her friend since fourth grade, Sasha. Sasha is a two time cancer survivor and when she heard about the fundraiser for St. Jude she decided to fly into Nashville from Denver to see it in person. Sitting in the pen doing yoga poses or just loving on the goats, people tend to walk by and take pictures and video or just stand around to watch for a little while. I just assumed Sasha was another person doing just that, when in fact she was so much more. Having never seen the goat yoga sessions in person, it all finally made sense to her to hear the laughter the goats brought to those attending the class. Overall, the classes promote happiness. In the restorative yoga classes I have taken, I always walk away feeling a sense of peace. Following my class with Shenanigoats however, I felt peace and complete bliss for the first time in a while.

Jamie and Sasha showing the peace, love, and happiness that is produced at Shenanigoats. Photo provided by: @NashvilleMeg

Jamie and Sasha showing the peace, love, and happiness that is produced at Shenanigoats. Photo provided by: @NashvilleMeg

Celebrity guests at Shenanigoats have included country singer Maren Morris, Dan Smyers from Dan and Shay, and the Long Island Medium, Theresa Caputo. Shenanigoats has received recognition as the #1 Thing to do in Nashville by the Tennessean, they have been featured on StyleBlueprint Nashville, and were the first Music City Must on Fox5.

Currently in the works is a book based on the greatness brought by Shenanigoats through Turner Publishing titled “Goat Yoga: the Light in Me Honors the Goat in You.”  Pre-orders are now open on Amazon and Barnes and Noble for an October 31st release. If you can’t make the trip to Nashville to experience the fun, bring the fun home to you to enjoy all the wonderful pictures of goats happily doing yoga among their human counterparts.

Some members of Team BIG 98. Photo provided by: @NashvilleMeg

Some members of Team BIG 98. Photo provided by: @NashvilleMeg

The classes on September 30th ended up raising $500 for the kids at St. Jude and promoted happiness while doing so. For that I am so grateful to Jamie and Max for taking that chance to branch out their business into such a fun and positive thing. Come hang out with their kids (goat pun intended) sometime and experience your own shenanigans at Shenanigoats Yoga. 

 

 

 

If you'd like to join Team BIG 98 in raising money for St. Jude or join our team for the 2018 race series, check out our team page here or contact me with any questions. :)

Down but not out...

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Right around June 24th my worst runner nightmare became reality - I suffered an injury.  There was no herolike story to accompany my limp, just that I had walked 6.5 miles at work in shoes that were far too worn out. I had completed a round of P90X plyometrics attempting to get ready to start training for the Chicago Marathon. I stood up from the couch one evening while watching tv and felt a sharp pain in my foot. I thought I needed to stretch but as the next few days unfolded I came to find that my pain was increasing the more time I spent on my foot.

I wanted to list some words of wisdom in hindsight for anyone who wants to continue being injury free, or for those who are going through a first time injury experience (like I was) to give some guidance on what worked and didn't work for me.

 

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1. Always wear supportive shoes, for whatever you may be doing on your feet.

These were the shoes I continued to wear for far too long. I kept waiting to make a little bit more money at work before investing in a new pair. Instead of just paying up for a good pair of new shoes, I had to buy new shoes AND pay a $75 copay at the doctors visit I eventually had to go to (not to mention the days of work I missed from not being able to be on my feet). Also, heels are not a friend of feet. Be wary of too much time in them, and find ones that put as little pressure on your feet as possible.

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I swear by Altras for running, so I committed to them for my new work shoes as well. The support they give is incredible.  I'm waiting for the day they design a high heel that is runner approved. And yes, I will absolutely buy them when they do.

 

2. Go to the doctor as soon as possible. 

I kept telling myself that my injury probably wasn't that serious, I figured I had just strained a muscle or had a case of tendinitis. It got to the point when I couldn't walk or stand without excruciating pain. I made an appointment to see a physical therapist through my local running store. That visit ended with a false diagnosis of tendon strain and being told a second metatarsal stress fracture is extremely rare. PSA: second metatarsal stress fractures cover about half of all diagnosed stress fractures in runners. I wasn't able to get to a doctors office for another two weeks because of plans to visit family in New Jersey the following week.

 

3. Listen to your body. 

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I finally made it to the walk in clinic on August 28th, more than a month after the occurrence. I waited to hear back from the radiologist who said there was nothing on the x-ray and I was clear. Sadly, this was also a false diagnosis. Because a stress fracture is not a full fracture, noticing one on an X-ray is nearly impossible within the first few weeks. However, I was on week five at this point. On the point of pain which was felt on the top of my foot, you can see a periosteal reaction on the X-ray, which often means a place where bone has healed from some type of injury. I find it too coincidental to say that this was not the exact pain I was feeling. I think doctors are fantastic resources for helping us runners get back on our feet, but if you are unable to afford an orthopedic surgeon visit or podiatrist visit like me, I think it's best to use your head and notice the pain you feel and what those symptoms may suggest.

 

4. Do not try to "run through it." There's no such thing. 

Running through a stress fracture just means aiming to have a full on fracture. Give your body the time to heal and miss a few weeks or try to run on it and miss a few months. I'm not really sure how anyone could run through the pain my foot was causing me, but just don't do it. Let your body heal and come back stronger than ever. After all, bone repairs thicker than it originally was so giving it time to heal just means you'll be a stronger person. I know it's sad to have to defer a race you really wanted to run or forfeit the money you spent on training, but it's even sadder to have to be out of the game for much longer because you decided that you just couldn't refrain from that race. 

 

5. Find what exercise works for you in injured condition. 

I was fortunate for a few weeks and had access to my apartment pool. Sadly, I moved from my apartment a few weeks into my recovery and I didn't continue to carry out swim workouts, but I swear they were making me stronger. Swimming is very different from running and it's challenging in its own way. Maybe your injury allows you to do yoga, or cycling. Find what works for you but don't put too much stress on yourself or your injury.  

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6. Don't be hard on yourself.

You didn't want this, you didn't purposefully cause this, and beating yourself up will only make recovery worse. Be wary of your mood and note that you may lose those endorphins without proper exercise. It's sad enough to not be able to exercise the way you want, but it's a whole other level to then have to deal with the mental downfall. Take time to do the things that do make you happy. Talk to a friend, bake cookies, listen to good music, drink a good cup of coffee. Take the time to treat yourself and give yourself the self love you need. It matters now more than ever.

 

7. Come back slowly and again, don't be hard on yourself. 

I ran 7 miles in my first week back starting last week following nine weeks of rest aside from the swimming and some cycling. I was slow. I am still slow a week later. I am running on the grass to help alleviate too much stress right off the bat. But I am pain free. To me, I know that I should be running a 20 miler this Saturday. But instead of dwelling on what I can't do I am choosing to find the victory in the things I can do. I have created a new game plan of trying the Galloway Method for the Chicago marathon in less than a month and I will earn my medal being proud of whatever I can accomplish with such a crapshoot of a training season. 

 

 

Life is hrd, and running injuries make it harder.  Be nice to yourself, get angry, then get over it and come up with a game plan for your comeback. Taylor has surely been helping pump me up for my comeback. What do you think about her new music?? Newly added to the playlist, ...ready for it? And Look What You Made Me Do. Boom.

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Running on Depression

I've been attempting to write this post for more than a month now. Every time I wanted to do it I was either busy with work or feeling bogged down by a black cloud over my head. If you've ever experienced depression you know what the black cloud is, and it's just the thing I wanted to discuss in hopes of helping anyone else who may relate to my experience. 

Growing up I got the nickname Smiley from a librarian at my town's public library. When I got to my freshmen year in high school I earned the nickname Giggles from the girls I played soccer with, and soon that nickname was used widely by many of my friends and it was often shortened to "Gigs." So it's easy to say I was a genuinely happy person.

During the fall of my senior year, 2007, I woke up one day feeling unusually strange. I couldn't really explain how I felt but it was similar to the feeling you get when you ride too many roller coasters and feel dizzy but also silly from the adrenaline rush. As the next few days came and went I started to feel uneasy. I remember playing a tennis match and all I could focus on was my mom's voice as she watched and I had to tell her to be quiet just to concentrate. Suddenly the world wasn't feeling real. I walked to get sandwiches for my mom and I one day to a local sandwich shop and couldn't remember walking there or back. I would look at myself in the mirror and I couldn't focus on what I was seeing, I couldn't recognize myself, I would tug at my clothes because I couldn't physically understand if I had gotten dressed that morning. I couldn't look at anyone in the face because my mind couldn't read their expressions or comprehend what they were saying to me. By the sixth and seventh days I was just a mess of tears and constantly asking my mom if I was dying. Then suddenly, I was fine after those seven days.

A month later, it happened again. We went to an Ear Nose and Throat doctor, my family doctor who laughed and told me my problem was that I was a vegetarian at the time, and with the same span of seven days it came and left and I was worried it would come back again.

 

Sure enough, month three came and so did all the symptoms I felt the two months before. It was at this time that a kid I went to school with died in a tragic accident and as I saw others crying at school I couldn't handle not having any sense of reality while my classmates were torn up over the news of the death. I remember crying and my teacher asking if I needed to see the counselor to which I told her what I was experiencing and that I couldn't even feel sad about the death because my head felt crazy. She sat with me a minute and told me this was obviously cyclical if it was happening seven days a month, and then leaving for three weeks. My mom and I started to do our research.

 

My symptoms matched up pretty well to Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) and so we went on to the OBGYN. She didn't seem to believe that what I was experiencing was real and labeled me as depressed. Looking back she wasn't all wrong. PMDD lasts for seven days and causes many of the symptoms of depression but these symptoms lift at the onset of a period. I was put on a birth control that was the only one that helped ease these symptoms, but it was also the most deadly pill on the market. I've had anxiety since I was like five, so any greater risk of death was just monumental in my brain and it's a thought I still struggle with as I'm reminded by others that the only thing that helps me live a somewhat normal life is also the thing that could end it.

I have had episodes of the disorder in recent years and they've lasted beyond the seven days, or they've come at different times of the month. I've read that PMDD can become chronic depression and I have struggled with thinking of myself, Gigs, as a person with depression. But that doesn't make any sense. Depression isn't a thing to be ashamed of. I didn't do something to become depressed, I had an awesome childhood, I've been blessed in so many ways to be where I'm at today. I have realized that not everyone gets it or understands what depression is, whether it's an ex boyfriend who told complete strangers that I had a disorder that made me "crazy," or to see society treat depressed people as if they're lazy or aren't trying hard enough to just be happy (hard eye roll to that comment). It's been important to find the right people who aren't closed minded and naive, and those people absolutely exist.

 

It's now been 10 years since I had my first PMDD episode and I've made progress in ways and I've struggled in other ways. But four years ago I began running. It was a way for me to clear my mind, to raise my endorphins, to get away from my bed after struggling a bout of depressive behavior.  But it didn't fix my depression.

My first full marathon I ran in December 2014 in a cloud of depression. I drove to Memphis in a fog and remember struggling (and crying because of it) just to figure out how to park. I remember running and not realizing how far I had already ran or how far I had left to go. I remember feeling sad when seeing signs for a little boy who had passed away fighting his battle against cancer, but even that was a foggy memory just seconds after seeing the sign. When I finished the race though, I remember feeling proud. I never stopped my feet, I ran a steady 11:13 per mile pace and when I crossed the finish line I felt like I had done a great thing, even in my fog.  

 

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So running hasn't "fixed" me. And after ten years of struggling with the idea that I am inadequate, I realize it's because I'm not broken. Yes, I would love to not have a depressive disorder, one that has created other issues in my personal life, I wish I didn't have to take a pill everyday just to make sure that I can wake up and drive places and carry out a job or even just a conversation. I still struggle with crippling anxiety in certain situations and I haven't always had support from friends and people who I loved. But running is just that balance that I needed to help me when I was in the struggle to realize that I am not worthless. If I can run 26.2 in a cloud of depression, I believe I am stronger than my head let's me believe when I'm at that lowest low.

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The Cure - Lady Gaga

"And if you say you're okay / I'm gonna heal you anyway / promise I'll always be there / promise I'll be the cure."

This song is super relateable to me and my struggle with depression and anxiety. And again, while running hasn't "cured" me, it has been a nice place to land when everything seems to be pushing down on me. I still have terrible and hard runs and I feel like maybe I'm not really a runner when I try to run in the Tennessee heat in the middle of August, but when I train right for a race and cross that finish line I know I've done something for myself to improve my quality of life.

side note:

Something has happened in the last few days in the running community. Suddenly people have become really angered by Kelly Roberts, Run Selfie Repeat, a person who has helped me on days I struggled with the black cloud.

At the end of the day the dispute seems to be politics, but it's really been weighing on me. I have watched videos on people talking her down, I've read comments and articles doing the same. And it's making me embarrassed for the one sport that has always seemed to lift other athletes instead of openly choosing to be negative about them.

At the heart of the issue, I have listened to Kelly's podcast and I have heard her apology for cheating in purchasing a bib for a race. I have also been sad to hear Kelly call herself on MANY occasions "not a good runner" because the reality is that she is much faster than me which has made me wonder if I'm a terrible runner if she's not even good. But to believe that Kelly even thinks of herself as an elite would prove that a person doesn't know the first thing about Kelly. But to now hear people who are near elite status say things negatively about her makes me feel like the leaders of the community I love so much think of me as inadequate since I'm not even as good as Kelly.

But I don't care what they think of me. I have battled ten years of thinking that I'm less than others because I have depression. However, I don't think it's right to see a portion of the community ganging up on someone who has said her apologies and even more so, has helped countless people overcome body shaming and self esteem issues, and me on the days I didn't want to get out the door for a run because I just wanted to sleep. So many times I could feel the depression laying on me, I would see there was a new podcast episode from Run Selfie Repeat and it would get me out the door. I have laughed listening to Kelly. I have cried. I have related to her when she talked about having a job that was soul crushing because like her I am a creative mind and I struggle to live in the 9-5 that society deems acceptable.

I'm not a part of Oiselle. I don't plan to be. I don't buy their products, and I only know a minimal amount about what they're all about. But without their branding behind Kelly, my depression may have swallowed me up the past few months. I went through an extremely hard situation, but because of Kelly is able to focus on her mission to help other women feel confident, I was able to listen to a podcast that got me out the door and helped me find some inner strength. I realize my thoughts won't change anyone's mind, but I can't stand to know that I didn't say my peace on the matter. Kelly has apologized for the bib, she has now realized that pacing someone is frowned upon (folks have helped me before and never were chastised for it, so being a public figure has to be so freaking tough), and I really don't believe she has ever done anything to be malicious. So running community, how about you stop being so bitter, accept the apology and let things go. If bad behaviors were to continue, okay, but everyone makes mistakes. I didn't know my first race that you should wear body glide (such a fun lesson to learn!), I didn't know you shouldn't run multiple people wide in a race during my second full marathon, I didn't know taking photos during a race would make some so angry when I did it during my fourth full marathon. We can only learn by trying. Stop being mean. Train hard. Be nice.

Surviving Rock 'N' Roll Nashville Marathon & Half

It's no secret that the Rock 'N' Roll Nashville Marathon and Half is a challenge. The weather always seems to be some kind of crazy, Nashville is hilly, and the course is packed with people up until the split for the full and half at mile 11. I've survived two halfs and two fulls on this course over the last four years and here's how...

 

1. Run with friends.

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2015 I ran RnR Nashville as my second full marathon. I trained better than I ever had by joining our local Fleet Feet spring marathon training group. This provided me with weekly advice, a training plan, specials to local products, but best of all, run friends. Some of the most important people in my life I met through this crazy, terrible, wonderful sport. Running with friends during a race like Nashville can take your mind off the struggles (*Bonus if you find friends as hilarious as my friend Rebecca running beside me in the picture above). Make a game plan and know if you want to stick together the whole time, or feel comfortable going your own paces when the need arises. It's understandable if you'd rather race alone, but friends have 100% helped me get through the tough race in Nashville. 

2. Don't go out too fast.  

This advice is often shared for every race everywhere. But Nashville is a  huge  race with 30,000+ runners. Check out this picture I took of the start line in 2014.  

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From one side of Broadway to the other, there is no room for deep breaths because every square inch is taken up by runners.  

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Start out too fast in Nashville, trying to weave in and around runners while enduring the hills and you will for sure take on the various postures of this runner evolution before the end of your race. Give yourself a pre-race pep talk and think about the cadence of your feet to keep you from sprinting the first downtown to Music Row section.

3. Read the signs when you're struggling.  

I've always felt that spectators are my best medicine when things get hard. If I can at least get a small chuckle out of reading a funny sign I'm sure to have a mental turn around. 

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Nashville's course is great in that it maneuvers through many neighborhoods where lots of people can stake out to cheer, spray their garden hoses on runners on hot race days, and remind you that while you're running 13.1 or 26.2 miles, they're drinking all the beer at the finish line. My favorite neighborhood during this race is the 12 South neighborhood. This is where the hills are the most prevalent as you take on multiple in a row, but the crowd is also the best at making you forget it for a minute or two. Shoutout to the folks from Hillcenter Lululemon who cheered us on with a selfie station in 12 South back in 2015.

4. Consider becoming a St. Jude Hero.

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Perhaps the greatest thing I ever did with my running was dedicating all of the time and effort to the kids a St. Jude. At St. Jude no parent ever pays a penny for their child's treatment, not for travel, housing, food, or medical expense. And St. Jude has promised to continue to work this way until no child dies from cancer. If you choose to run as a Hero and raise $100 you earn your race singlet, which means that when you hit a hard spot in your race other Heroes will note you are one of them and cheer you on. I remember the first time I heard a fellow Hero shout to me "way to go Hero!" In a moment of struggle I found the strength I needed to fight through it. However, I get really teary-eyed and feel a lump in my throat whenever a spectator thanks me for what I'm doing in helping these kids. It's a balance. :)

5. Enjoy all the moments. 

Nashville will challenge you. It will reward you. It will frighten you and it will make you feel like a warrior when you cross that finish line. If you can take on the Nashville Half or Full, I believe you can take on any other race (*Barkley Marathons still under consideration for this statement).  Remember to enjoy your surroundings, listen to the music as you run by the stages (who knows, you could be hearing the next Garth Brooks!), thank every volunteer for making the race possible, and wear that shiny medal with pride. Drink plenty of fluids and trust in your training! 

Today's shake out run with Coach Kevin Leathers. Ready to see these same streets packed tomorrow! 

Today's shake out run with Coach Kevin Leathers. Ready to see these same streets packed tomorrow! 

With the expected heat tomorrow in Nashville, be wary of your fluids as well as how your body responds. Slow the pace down and know that just finishing this race is a huge feat. By showing up you're already a success story, and bonus points to you if you raised money for the kids at St. Jude in the process. Enjoy Nashville!

Crossing bridges in Chattanooga

I'm about to run one of the hottest races this Saturday in Nashville. The Hillbilly Half in June is always expected to be insanely hot and sunny, but you hope for weather at the end of April to be manageable at the least. It's starting to seem like it will be a scorcher, and the best thing to hope for is to just finish. Which is the exact reason I am not a fan of spring races.

Spring race training is AWESOME. You get to run in cold temperatures for most of your program which makes you feel like a really incredible runner most days. Fortunately, spring races help bring you back to earth and keep you humble. At least that is my experience as someone who runs "hot."

But fall races, those are incredible. In fact, let me tell you about my favorite fall race memory.  

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October 2015 I drove to Chattanooga, Tennessee on Friday the 16th. I had never been to Chattanooga before but was excited about my third full marathon taking place there the next day, and running a Ragnar Relay from there to Nashville the following week. I had trained all summer in horrible heat and was feeling very mentally defeated knowing that I had spent summer training miles much slower than my spring training, and even many of those mile walking. I decided I was going to run with the 4:30 pacers and hope for a PR down from my 4:45:50 spring race.

The start took place before the sun came up, and I can remember running over a bridge or two before there was even the slightest sign of the sunrise. I was running with a group of about 7-8 people, and we were all pretty quiet aside from the advice of how to take on certain hills from our pace leaders. It was a quiet morning, with only 412 full marathoners it seemed very different from my experience with the Rock n Roll race series from the spring Nashville race. 

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In my foggy runner's high memory I believe we started to have conversations around the 17 mile stretch. A girl I had been running with was from NYC and now lived in Georgia and told me how difficult it was to find places to run that weren't hilly there, which made me think of all of my training in Nashville. The last race she had ran left her with a bad injury so she wasn't expecting to do that well here in Chattanooga.

Somewhere around mile 20 we all started to make our own strides and find the pace that felt best at that point. Somehow I had walked so many miles through summer training and now my feet still felt light after 20 miles. I started to pick my pace up a little more and soon found myself pretty distant from all the other people I had been running with in the 4:30 group. Mile 23 came and all I could think was "this is all going by too quick, I need to really take this race in and enjoy every second because it has been perfect and Chattanooga is BEAUTIFUL!" But my legs still carried me almost effortlessly. At the time I only used MapMyRun on my phone and kept it in my pocket so I had no idea what my average pace time was up to that point, and being such a small race there weren't any mats or clocks, just mile markers as stickers on the ground. All I knew was that this marathon was truly fun!

 

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We ran across the pedestrian bridge near Coolidge Park and I could see the area where the finish line was, but I still wasn't sure how far was left to go. Spectators started to be more frequent and the noise was driving my legs even quicker. I turned the corner off the main road and saw the finish line just yards away. I sprinted and could feel the biggest smile on my face as I saw the clock read something around 4:19 and I knew that meant I had earned a huge PR. I saw the girl I had been running with from Atlanta waiting at the finish realizing this meant she too earned a PR and overcame the injury she was worried had ruined her as a runner. It was an awesome victory, and the finish meant pancakes and the largest medal I've ever gotten at a race. 

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When all was said and done and the times had been calculated, my time was 4:16:39, 29 minutes faster than my previous PR. A month later I went on to hit a new PR of 4:11:53, but the Chattanooga Seven Bridges race still stands out in my mind as the best race day I've ever had. A small but mighty race, with sights so beautiful during fall in Tennessee. 

In three days I'll be running a very hot race, but I'll keep in mind that races like this one are earned by the work that I put in when the weather isn't so nice. 

 

Little Red Wagon - Miranda Lambert 

I just had to add this slightly older Miranda song to the playlist. Yesterday I ran 400m repeats and this song made my legs feel weightless for a good number of strides. Take a listen, follow the playlist, and enjoy this next add in its silly but effect ways.  

Hey Carolina... I think I love ya

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Last week I got to take a little break from Nashville to head to Charleston. My boyfriend's brother had a baby so it was good motivation to get out of town and meet the little guy. Cute as a buttn.

 

I don't travel a ton, and usually never with ample leisure time. So this trip was planned knowing I'd have some time to run and stick to my training program. We left Nashville on Wednesday, and Wednesday night I was preparing to set out my clothes for a three mile run Thursday when I realized I hadn't packed my running shoes. I was extremely sad.

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Thursday evening Ben took me to Fleet Feet Mt. Pleasant to get new running shoes. It was awesome to be in a Fleet Feet outside of Nashville and to feel at home away from home. We talked to a saleswoman named Dee who helped me try on the new Altra Torin 2.5's and she gave me some advice for running in the Charleston area. Overall it was a great experience and made me feel super welcome to the local running community. If you've never tried Altra before I highly recommend them. I have tried the Intuitions, the One 2.5s, and now the Torins. So far I feel like the Torins may be my favorite. The Intuitions feel similar to them, and the One 2.5s were just too thin for me but I'm sure they would be flawless for someone whose stride doesn't require as much support as mine.

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So Friday afternoon I walked over to the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge for a light three mile run. It was incredible and I'm not really sure if it was the new setting, the smell of salt water, or the energy around me as people ran and biked by me but the run seem so effortless I was sad when it seemed to end so quickly. I also learned about a project called the East Cost Greenway. The project has been in motion since the idea solidified in 1991 (my birth year!). The concept is a greenway that spans from Calais, Maine to Key West, Florida covering 3,000 miles and giving locals and tourists like me a place to hone in on exercise and enjoyment. If you'd like to learn more about the greenway and see if you're able to see a part of it yourself head over to their website at www.greenway.org and consider donating to the project to better our world!

Part of the East Coast Greenway is the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, the bike/ped lanes being dedicated to Garrett P. Wonders, a cyclist who was killed during training for Olympic Trails. The stretch is known today as Wonders Way.  

Part of the East Coast Greenway is the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, the bike/ped lanes being dedicated to Garrett P. Wonders, a cyclist who was killed during training for Olympic Trails. The stretch is known today as Wonders Way.  

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So I have come to find that I LOVE Charleston. My long run took place on Folly Beach and while it was one of the more difficult runs I've completed (okay, the most difficult) I still loved the atmosphere. 

Travel running is fun. And that's what brings me to this post's feature tune. 

Best I Ever Had - Gavin DeGraw

This song will pump you up. The beat is quick from the start and the big band sound will help you forget you're running and make you feel like you're flying. This song is a few years old now, but every time it comes on during my run I find a can dig a little deeper and pick the pace up more than I thought. Not to mention that Carolina is one of the destinations he gives a shout out to. Enjoy, and if you're not following the playlist yet, what are you waiting for?! :)

Run faster...I hear banjos!

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Some races you can't forget. The Hillilly Half in Leiper's Fork is exactly that race.

I didn't want to run it in 2015. At that point it had been a little over a month since I had ran even a mile following the Nashville Rock N Roll full marathon and I couldn't imagine running a half marathon without at least a few training miles. I remember laying out at the pool two days before the race was to happen as a group text ran wild promising those of us not yet convinced that it would be a fun time.

The hard thing about being a runner is that while you're running the race you ask yourself why you would put yourself through it. However, once you cross the finish line your memories of pain and sorrow are completely erased and you will foolishly sign up for five more races that day, minimum.

So there I was, poolside, signing up for a race I hadn't prepared for.

At the time the race was called the Franklin Half Marathon and I had heard horror stories of "heart attack hill" and of the heat that a June race in Tennessee promises. In fact, that morning the weather report was 99% humidity with a temperature in the 90s and the fog from the extreme humidity didn't let up until a few miles into the race. But that's not the most important detail.

THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT DETAIL. 👇🏼👇🏼👇🏼

The thing no one had warned me about - hillbillies. I run by towards the end of the video, 4:57 or so, and while I look like I'm keeping my cool I'm now realizing I have many miles to go for a race where I may have to outrun some very frightening rednecks.

The heat seemed to beat me down quickly, and I can remember struggling to get over some small rolling hills. I was playing the game of "you can walk until the next fence post but then you have to run the entire next mile." I had a cold rag on my neck that was handed out around mile 8 or so, and I always tried to have a water bag in my hand (a water bag is a water filled plastic bag that you bite, then squeeze to get your fluids, an awesome addition to this race). Soon enough I felt so worn out and my walking became more frequent. I finally was able to pick up cell signal and played my current Spotify playlist which started playing the perfect song.

American Kids - Kenny Chesney

I have said since the first time hearing this song that it would forever be my favorite song and it's still true three years following it's release. I tend to be a pretty big fan of anything Shane McAnally has a hand in, so it made sense that this song would be the one to pull me through. 

 "Sister's got a boyfriend / Daddy doesn’t like / Now he’s sittin’ out back, 3030 in his lap / In the blue bug zapper light."

The rhythm of this song in the intro to the lines that stress small town living (and perhaps a redneck's preferred style of life?), I felt rejuvenated and ready to finish up a great race that I could feel proud of. You know, and happy to have survived.

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For a few months this race was my half marathon PR of 2:15:39, even with heart attack hill that is truly no joke. One of the greatest parts of finishing was the sweetest Georgia peach I have ever had from The Peach Truck. That was my first PeachTruck experience and now every summer I wish the season lasted just a few weeks longer.

All in all, this was a fantastic local race and I ended up running it again in 2016. And it turns out those hillbillies populated a whole heck of a lot since the year before. We'll see if I have the guts to run it again this June... 

 

If you are up for the challenge, I highly suggest running this half marathon at least once. This year the route is going the opposite direction, the way I believe it was originally ran, so if you think you have what it takes you can register here: https://register .chronotrack.com/r/22017 

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¡Sí, se puede!

Day one of training. February 6th.  

This week I set out to accomplish what I've done five other times in my life - train for a half marathon. After struggling all of 2016 to find my love and agility as a runner I decided on taking the first part of 2017 to dedicate to a 13.1 mile race. I have ran the Nashville RnR Marathon the past two years and this year I'm very excited to be getting back to running the half instead. For anyone with thoughts on running Nashville as a race - it is a tough course. Nashville hills are no joke and April weather in this city will either provide you with extreme rain conditions (with threats of tornadoes) or blazing sun guaranteed to give you your first sunburn of the year. There seems to be no in between for this spring race. So after two years of just trying to get through the full, I am welcoming the half with open arms.

Day two of training. February 7th. 

The weather has already been wacky here in Nashville and we've seen high 60s and 30s this week which made the first week of training extra interesting.

 

 



Day three of training. February 9th.  

By the time yesterday rolled around the weather was in the 30s with a real feel of 29° which is normal for this time of year. However, it's been an overly warm winter and the norm has been temperatures in the 50s and above. Maybe I'll be more ready for this spring half than ever before! 

 

When I got to my mailbox after my run on Monday I found the results book from the 2016 Chicago Marathon. I felt like it couldn't have timed t's arrival more perfectly. Chicago was tough for me. Knowing that I had potential to PR on the flattest course I've ever ran and then coming in over 15 minutes slower than my current PR proved that the lack of consistent training in 2016 was unacceptable. However, seeing my name in the book of finishers at 4:27:05 didn't feel awful. And it reminded me of why I need to work so much harder this year for the October race. When you run the streets of Chicago during the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, you run with people from all over the world. Being an international race, you see signs in other languages, you see flags foremother countries, and you hear cheers that you wouldn't normally hear on a smaller race course in the middle of Tennessee.

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¡Sí, se puede!

After I got through the initial shock of running a marathon among 45,000 other runners I started listening in. It wasn't long after the start that my body felt sluggish and sore and I thought that maybe this would be my slowest race yet. But ¡Sí, se suede! continued to be posted on signs from spectators and cheers from people who came from around the world to watch their loved ones run 26.2 miles through Chicago. And that became my mantra to get me through this race.

 

This week I thought I knew what song I wanted to add the the playlist but then Lady Gaga performed the Super Bowl halftime show and completely changed my course. Truly I feel that her performance helped me get excited about training again because training means time spent listening to powerful music.

She didn't perform A-YO, but her performance took me back to her release of the album Joanne this part October. Talk about a fun beat. Many times during this first week of training I felt extremely out of shape and kept running out of breath. A-YO gave me a good beat to run to, and made running feel a little more like dancing than exercise. I highly recommend adding this tune to your playlist if you're not following Mae's Miles and Music. I can see this song being a big game changer during a long run. 

The year I fell in love with running

2016 sucked.

For a lot of people. And for a lot of different reasons. December 3rd, 2016 I ran the St. Jude memphis Marathon for the third year in a row. Somewhere near mile 20 a spectator held a sign that read "F@ck 2016!" to which runners all around me agreed. I don't recall a year that was collectively thought of with a sigh the way it seems 2016 is remembered. And I feel thankful that I'm not alone in the idea that 2016 wasn't the best year ever.

I started 2016 by taking my first full-time, 9-5 day job. I started to struggle with time manage and stopped making time for the things that made me truly happy. I missed the first 10 weeks of my spring marathon training program and tried to jump back in on week 11 - an 18 mile run. I began the training run with the 4 hour group but got left behind after just 5 miles. Around mile 15 I was struggling when the 4:15 group caught up to me. And passed me. Just four months before this, November 2015, I had ran a marathon with a personal best of 4:11:53, and now a training run was causing me to feel I was no longer a runner. DEFEAT.

As a back story, 2015 was a great year for me and running. I became a Marathon Maniac (#12090) by running 7 Bridges Marathon in Chattanooga in October, The Nashville Marathon in November, and the St. Jude Memphis Marathon in December. Sprinkle in a Ragnar Relay and a Zooma half marathon (another personal best) and you would have the happiest version of myself that has ever existed.

My spring marathon eventually rolled around and I struggled, both with the actual running of the race and with enjoying it. I ran a half marathon a few weeks later and didn't find it as exciting as it once felt. I had high hopes for the Chicago marathon, my 7th marathon, and felt that a sub 4 hour marathon was in my reach with such a flat course. But my motivation was gone and I started to tell my running friends that I was burnt out on running. Chicago, the most incredible experience marathon I've ran, came and went with improper training and a lack in personal best to accompany it. Two months later I ran the St. Jude Marathon and beat my personal worst time by only 13 seconds. I felt like 2016 was the year I gave no importance to training and in return received no reward.

2017, the year I fell in love with running.

This is what I have planned for this year. I want to find the passion I once had for running and remember why I love this crazy sport. Music is also an important aspect of my life and my running. Each week I plan to draw on the building blocks of running - training, workouts, running sessions, gear, fuel, races, and the songs that helped me get through that week of running.

Runnin' Just in Case - Miranda Lambert

I love this song for the place I'm at currently with my running. Between the rhythm of the song that makes my feet want to run, to the line that reminds me that running can help me achieve something that I may not be directly focused on.

"It ain't love that I'm chasing / but I'm runnin' just in case"

Running sucks. I know this. It can be so rewarding, but it can also be so difficult. I run in weather that is too hot, or too cold. I've ran at hours that are too early when I'm so tired, and I've ran too late when I have to speed to beat the setting sun. Sometimes I set out to run three miles and I finish wondering how I ever ran a marathon. But I've also had some great laughs while running alongside my best friends. I've raised thousands of dollars for kids at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital who are fighting cancer. I'm planning on finding my love of running again this year, and maybe my goals are out of reach, but I'm still runnin' just in case.