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Boston, Ga – Boston Mini Marathon

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Imagine farm land, rolling hills, cows grazing in the distance, pecan tree groves creating a picturesque backdrop to a south Georgia landscape. Welcome to Boston, Georgia. If you drive too fast, you’ll simply blow past this quaint small town an hour north from the Florida border.

And that’s exactly where I found myself this October Saturday morning. I had signed up for this particular half-marathon months ago. I had seen it advertised while driving one year – Boston Mini Marathon. For years, the timing was never right. We were always traveling, or doing other races, but this year the stars aligned. What I intended to be just another half-marathon soon turned into an all-out full family event. Somehow, this always seems to happen with us.

Sis and Jake decided to drive down for the race. In fact, they were planning to bike the entire course with me! It was pretty awesome. It would be like having my own little running entourage to carry water, gels, etc.

The morning of the race, the weather was questionable. It had a slight chance of rain, although it didn’t seem like the rain would come until the afternoon. I just prayed it would hold off until I had crossed that finish line.

Hubby and I arrived in Boston first. Since there wasn’t a ton of information on their website other than the start time and where to pick up packets pre-race, we got there around 7:00 a.m. just to be on the safe side. There was a couple of roads already closed, but we found a great big parking area – a giant open, field really – where there was plenty of spaces. I called sis to find out where they were and tell them of the parking lot. Let the chaos commence. I’m not exactly sure how they got “turned around” or trapped, or lost, or whatever had happened that morning, but somehow it took them a few chaotic minutes to make it around the closed road barriers and find this elusive parking lot. As always with this family, it can never be quite so simple.

Once everyone finally arrived, we unloaded the bikes and made our way towards the start. Hubby and dad were going to hang around while sis and Jake biked. Mom and other grandma were also on their way to the race and promised to be there at the finish.

Before the start, the runners lined up on the street for a prayer and the National Anthem. As we took off, I plugged in my music and ran. Sis and Jake agreed to meet me about a mile into the course.

As you leave the city of Boston, you are immediately shot out into the countryside. Gone are the houses and cars and instead you’re immediately thrust into rolling farmland. All in all, it was beautiful. Even though I had prayed for sunshine and blue skies, the clouds overheard were exactly what I needed. There isn’t any shade on these roads and the overcast day was absolutely perfect. It wasn’t too hot, it wasn’t cold. In fact, the temperature was just right.

It wasn’t long before sis and Jake caught up with me. Let the chatter and giggles begin. I put away my headphones and started running my mouth. We talked and laughed and took pictures – I even watched sis nearly run her bike a few times into the ditch. Clearly, she cannot be trusted to ride a bike and have a cell phone. I was having fun. So far, this was a great race. Truth be told, my pace was a bit all over the place and I was expending a lot of energy talking and laughing and being silly. I didn’t really think much about this until I hit mile 8/9.

The dreaded wall. It was like something inside of me turned off – just simply shut down. My energy was gone, my giggles were gone, and instead it felt a bit like torture. What was happening? This was so not like me.

Jake tried to say something where I commenced to biting his head off, saying something totally snarky, and telling them I needed some miles alone with my music. Trying not to laugh, and trying to be super patient with me, they left me alone. It was in those alone moments that I had to dig deep. DEEP. I was frustrated with myself. This wasn’t like me. I just knocked out 14 miles two weeks ago like a champ. I had trained properly. I had tapered properly. What was going on?! Maybe I had gone out too fast. Maybe I had giggled and played too much in the first half. I don’t really know. All I know is that the next four miles felt like the hardest four miles I had run in quite some time.

At about mile 11, I was able to talk to them, although they surely kept their distance, giving me plenty of space in case I decided to snap again. It might have been around mile 12 that they stopped to offer some water to a fellow runner who was sidelined with some stomach issues. As we all know from past experiences, gels with no water can equal GI disasters.

And then, there it was, Boston. The finish line was so close and yet so far away. I pushed myself up over the hill, trying to thank the volunteers who came out, high-fiving a police officer, anything to keep my spirits up. And then there was my most-amazing family – every one of them out there – cheering me on. Seeing them standing there, always my biggest fans, was exactly what I needed to push through to the finish.

I crossed the finish line much slower than I had wanted – 2:47:21 to be exact. I had been shooting for 2:30 this day. But, despite the clock time, I knew I had 13.1 miles to be proud of.

After the race, we cheered a few more of the fellow runners on, swapping stories of what each of us had seen – me, on the course; them, watching the elite runners come barreling in like the speed of light. I slowly sipped on my Nuun drink – the one magic drink that seems to help my cramping muscles like a champ – and we made our way for some food. We found a fabulous pizza joint where we snagged a table outside on the porch. From here, we had a perfect view of the tiny town of Boston and the parade that was about to commence.

Quite honestly, it was a perfect day. I sat around the table that day, sharing pizza and stories with my family feeling like the luckiest girl in the world. They had driven out there just to share this experience with me, to cheer me on and to show their love for me. And then it dawned on me – this is what racing and family is all about.

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Note-worthy restaurants in the area

Buzzery: Right in the heart of downtown Boston, Ga, this small-town restaurant offers a big-city selection of pizza, classic Italian dishes and mead – yes, I said that right – mead. Pizza makes up the majority of the menu, but this great establishment also offers calzones, spaghetti, and a variety of sandwiches. So, what makes this pizza place so unique – besides the down-home feel, friendly staff, and fun outdoor patio seating? Honey is what makes this pizza special. Yep, that’s right. They put honey in their crust. And from one hangry runner to another, this pizza was simply out of this world. So, if you happen to be in south Georgia, set your GPS for Boston, Ga and give this great place a try. I’m positive you won’t go home hungry, or disappointed.

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Firecracker 5K – 4th of July

I debated right up until the last minute whether to sign us up for this race or not. I knew with our crazy work schedules and life it would require missing out on the one day we get to sleep in, but it was the 4th of July and I had been eyeing this race for the past few years. So, despite listening to my body telling me to rest, we ran.

The morning of the race, I was up early and ready. I had hydrated, made a quick breakfast of a Cliff Bar, and hubby and I were out the door in no time flat. The race was being held downtown at one of our local parks. They had been spending a great deal of time renovating this area and the park turned out really fantastic. I also realized what an awesome place it was to hold a race. Ample parking, pretty views. All in all, the race was going to be amazing.

After the one-mile group finished their leg, we lined up on the street. It was already pretty darn hot out. Long gone was the beautiful race we had experienced at the Watermelon 5K. Now it was July, in Florida, and it was HOT.

We took off, doing our first loop through the park. For the first mile, hubby and I stayed together. He was rocking the first mile at around a 9:50 pace. Once we came out of the park and went into the street, he fell back a little and told me to go on. So I did. The heat – wow. It was like running in the middle of a sauna; no breeze, incredibly high humidity and the sun beating down on you, sucking every last ounce of energy out of you.

I pushed through, knowing our halfway point was just around the bend. In the small moments I could find the shade, I snagged it. But between the asphalt, the sun and lack of breeze, it was rough.

At one point, there were two volunteers with water guns. I gladly ran through their designated “splash zone”, getting completely soaked in the process. It felt amazing. But with a mile left to run, it didn’t take long for the water to absorb fast. And in that last mile was when I really started to struggle. The sun and heat was so intense, I wasn’t sure I could finish. But I pushed myself.

When I crossed the finish, I felt that rolling nausea come fast. Trying to avoid embarrassing myself with any projectile vomit this time, I grabbed a bottle of water and found some shade while I waited for hubby.

After he crossed finish line, looking about as bad as I had, we sat in the shade for a few minutes to cool down. Once we both felt better, we set off towards the food and water station. I grabbed an orange and continued nursing my bottle of water. We wandered around, looking at the different tables they had set up. They had a water spraying station, even a place to take selfies. After a quick picture, I decided we needed a sno-cone. I mean, why not.

As we got home that morning, I kept telling hubby I wasn’t feeling well. In fact, I spent the remainder of the day curled up on the couch with a stomach bug. I did, however, read an entire book that day, in between sleeping on and off.

I’m still not sure what caused me to go from running to being knocked back with a stomach bug in mere hours. Was it the heat? Maybe it was the sushi I had two days prior. Or maybe it was that sno-cone. Regardless, I have made a very adult decision that I will never eat sno-cones again.

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Watermelon Run – Florida – June 2019

Somehow, the days have sped by faster than you can say the word lightning, and we’re already back here again – at the annual watermelon run!

This has somehow become one of my favorite small-town runs to participate in, where most of the locals come out for the 5K and a parade that commences afterwards.

This year, we headed into town feeling much more prepared than last. We knew where to park, how to pick up our packets, and exactly what to expect when it came to the starting point. Once we had everything in hand, we waited around for a couple minutes before the police cars moved into position in the center of town. We knew what this meant. Race time! The police cars halted all traffic and allowed us to gather in the roadway. After a short countdown, we were off!

Today, the weather was absolutely, incredibly gorgeous. I’m not sure what happened, perhaps a bizarre cool front had whisked through, but unlike last year, it was stunning out! In fact, with temperatures like this, I could run all day. The humidity was even at a strange low. Was this really June in Florida?

As we took off into the first mile, I somehow lost hubby in the crowd. We weren’t planning on staying together for this run, so I didn’t worry too much up waiting around for him. I did, however, finally manage to snag a quick video of one of the highlights of this race for me. I’m not sure who the couple is, but apparently every year they sit outside and play music on their banjos for the runners. All kidding aside about banjos, they do an awesome job!

As I passed the banjo players, I snapped some more pictures as I ran. How lucky am I to get to run through this town? Historic homes, canopy roads. It’s like stepping back in time.

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I’m not sure if it was the weather this year, or my energy was at an all-time high, but I cheered and waved and thanked the volunteers for taking their time to help out with this annual event. As I came to our first big hill, I tackled it like a champ, feeling great. And then, there it was, the last enormous hill before the end. I struggled a bit here, fading in and out of energy to keep pushing forward. But then I reached deep down inside and told myself I wasn’t stopping until I crossed that finish line. I ran, my lungs and heart nearly exploding, and crossed that finish line.

Not long after me, hubby crossed the finish line. Despite what he expected, his timing was great! We grabbed some water, waiting a few more minutes for dad.

And then there he was, moving up the hill like the champion he is, refusing to ever give up. This year, he was easy to spot in his lime-green t-shirt. He trudged up that hill, marking a great PR and beating last year’s finish! That’s what his goal was – simply to beat last year’s time. I’d say for a man in his 70’s, he’s an incredible example of what sheer determination and perseverance can do.

Afterwards, we enjoyed a few slices of watermelon and waited while awards were presented. This year, I snagged third place in my age group. I realize my competition at this small race isn’t that large, but I’ll take third place any day!

Before walking back to the car, we made it to the same café as last year where we enjoyed hot coffee and blueberry strudels. I have to admit, the race wouldn’t be complete without this post-race stop for breakfast and conversation.

The Mountains are Calling

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The mountains are calling. In fact, they’ve been calling for some time.

Hubby and I got the opportunity to spend a little bit of time in Tennessee in April – a beautiful state that we adore – and took every opportunity we had to explore the area.

We booked a cabin – an absolutely amazing cabin, in fact – at the highest point of the mountain we could find. Didn’t exactly know that at the time of booking. And, despite the terrifying drive up, up, up, and up, the views we got were worth every frightening hairpin turn. Although, the first evening we arrived it was pouring down rain, the front office had just closed for the day, and the road at the near top of the mountain was completely closed. Can we say panic? But, despite this chaotic detour, we managed to find the cabin and we were in heaven.

The first day there, we decided to explore Clingmans Dome. The last time we had been there, the fog was so heavy, we could barely see a foot in front of us. This time, it was like we had walked into a winter wonderland. Yes, in April. Because of the previous night’s torrential downpour, and the freezing temps still at those high altitudes, we had this. Can we say absolutely breathtaking?

The hike to the top isn’t a long one. In fact, it’s a whopping half a mile. But it’s the steepest, hardest half mile I have ever trekked. We hadn’t exactly planned well since I was wearing a pair of Converse sneakers, but luckily the walk – even though insanely straight up – wasn’t that awful. I would like to think, however, that the high altitude had something to do with me having to work so hard to get to the top.

Once we arrived at the top, the views were stunning. This is the highest point of the Smoky Mountains at an insanely high 6,643 feet. We snapped a few pictures, trying to do a dance around the other brave tourists since the concrete platform we were standing on was iced over – Ice! At this elevation, the wind was intense. I wasn’t exactly sure how cold it was, but it quickly cut right through the thin jackets we were wearing. Once we took all the pictures we could stand, I was ready to head back to the warm car.

On the descent down, we managed to warm up some. We discovered part of the Appalachian Trail and a couple of other side trails. We decided to venture off, following one of the trials for a little while. Since we had more plans that day, and it didn’t include getting off the grid too far that day, we turned it back around before it got too late – but of course not before having way too much fun taking more pictures.

The next day, we decided to tackle not only one, but two hikes. Call us a bit gung-ho. Before deciding on which trails to take, we stopped at the Sugarland Visitor’s Center to get some information from one of their volunteers. The gentleman we spoke to had been a great source of information. After speaking with him, we decided on the Alum Cave Bluff Trail and Laurel Falls. Since Laurel Falls was the shorter of the two trails, and likely to be the most crowded as the day went on, we started there first.

We arrived at the trailhead around 8:00 in the morning. At this time of the day, there were only a few hikers and we felt like we had the trail all to ourselves. This particular trail is 2.6 miles round-trip and is paved the entire way. It’s a great trail for anyone of any fitness level. Because of this, the entire trail is completely accessible to everyone.

On the way up, the views were beautiful. Since it was so early and there were so few hikers, we were able to stop and take plenty of pictures. As we neared the falls, you could hear the water rushing in the distance. Laure Falls is a beautiful, picturesque waterfall that stands 80 feet high.

As we wandered around, we noticed a man had climbed down the side of the trail and perched himself on one of the rocks below to have breakfast. Like children, we couldn’t resist following suit. So down, down we went. The climb down wasn’t difficult and we were able to take some more pictures, but it wasn’t long before other hikers decided to join us. That was our queue to head back up.

As we headed back to the car, we passed a ton more hikers. Clearly getting here early was the key. We met up with a nice couple from New York that commented on how they were enjoying the heat. Heat! We just laughed and said how much we were enjoying the cold weather.

Next on the agenda, Alum Cave Trail!

The drive to the Alum Cave Trail entrance from Laurel Falls took us a good 30 minutes. Distance wise, it’s not that far, but between the slow, winding roads and the traffic, it slowed us down quite a bit. However, I couldn’t complain. The drive there, through the mountains and alongside the river, is simply stunning.

When we reached the trailhead, the parking lot was already completely full. We parked on the side of the road, like other day-hikers, and started for the entrance.

The first portion on the trail is beautiful – you’re walking adjacent to one of the rivers for quite some time. We stopped a few times, noting the color of the water. Other than some of the Caribbean waters I had seen, this was the clearest, most pristine water ever. We tried our best to capture it in pictures, but I’m not sure photos will ever do it justice. Hubby filled up one of our water bottles so we could see if it was just as clear as it looked. It was incredible. Holding it up next to our unopened bottle of water, they looked identical.

As we continued on the trail, it began to grow a little steeper. Since I had failed to start my watch at the trailhead, we weren’t getting a completely accurate read, but it was up, up and up. We walked through the cave stairs, continuing up. The trail began to grow pretty steep after this point. At the halfway point, we decided to turn around. We weren’t intending to go all the way to the top today, but after listening to some other day-hikers, we definitely put it on our list. I didn’t realize when we began this trail that at the very top was the LeConte Lodge, a completely electricity-free lodge that held numerous cabins where hikers could spend the night, have dinner, or even have lunch. How had I missed this?

On the way down, we talked about how we would love to do this hike again, maybe even inviting sis and Jake with us, since they were such hiking fanatics. The idea of spending the night on top of the mountain with no cell phone service, no electricity sounded . . . . well, kind of amazing.

Once we reached the bottom, and completely out of the National Park before I got cell service again, I began researching. Since hubby and I were pretty novice hikers, we needed some better gear. My feet were a bit sore after hiking all day in a pair of old running sneakers.

As we talked, my fascination with this new sport grew. We pulled into an outdoor center before heading back to our cabin. Maybe this runner could do a little cross-training in the mountains from time to time. As I said, the mountains were calling. In fact, they had been calling for quite some time.

 

Note-worthy restaurants in the area

Log Cabin Pancake House in Gatlinburg, Tennessee – French Toast Royale. That is all I will say. Every time we stop at this breakfast place we both order a plate, and eat every delicious morsel of it. Imagine French toast doused in a sugary, cream cheese syrup, topped with bananas. It’s by far the unhealthiest breakfast you can have, but sitting there, next to the restaurant’s fireplace, with a cup of coffee and this meal in front of you, is worth every fat-laden calorie.

Old Mill in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee – If you like southern cuisine served homestyle, this is your best stop. We have been to this restaurant on many occasions and it never disappoints. The meals offered are your typical southern fare of fried chicken, pork chops and chicken and dumplings. Definitely bring your appetite to this establishment. The servings are overly generous.

Apple Barn in Sevierville, Tennessee – This is another one of our favorite stops in this area. Not only does this restaurant serve delicious southern cuisine, it also has a store where you can buy their famous apple butter, along with a ton of other goodies. They even have a creamery where you can buy real ice cream to go with a fresh baked apple fritter. One of our must-stops is the Apple Barn Wine store. We always seem to come home with one too many bottles of their delicious and unique wine.

Flash 6K/12K, St. Marks, Florida

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I’ve seen a million pictures lately of dads taking their daughters to dances – daddy and daughter dances. I love it! But now, instead of going to dad and daughter dances, we will just have to settle for dad and daughter races. Come on, what doesn’t beat that?

I called dad and asked if he wanted to run a 12k with me. He had recently beaten his longest run and was super proud of completing 8.5 miles. I thought, if he can do that, he can run this 12k. And of course – apparently this is where I get it from – he said yes, always being up for a challenge.

So, Saturday morning we loaded up and headed over to St. Marks, Florida, a small fishing town just south of Tallahassee. The St. Marks Trail runs from the south end of Tallahassee for 20 miles, finally landing smack in the heart of St. Marks. Part of the race course was going to take place on this trail and I couldn’t have been more excited. Flat and fast.

The weather this morning was nice. It was cool, but not too much so. I mean, it is February in Florida. I was able to get away with a short sleeve shirt and leggings.

Once we parked, hit the potties and took a couple pics, it was time to line up for the race start. Dad and I took off, somewhere in the middle of the pack, and I waved goodbye, telling him I would see him at the finish.

The course wound its way through the small town and made its turn onto the trail. I thoroughly enjoyed the run down the trail. It was shaded and completely flat. Hello, PR. However, I wasn’t going for a PR today. I simply wanted to get out and stretch my legs and have fun on this 7.5 miles. I found a good pace and got into a rhythm. Not far into the trail head, they had the 6k runners turn around. The rest of us, which were quite a few, continued on the trail.

They had us turn around at around mile 4. I passed dad at about the halfway point, giving him a high-five. I also passed an older gentleman carrying the American flag, being flanked by other runners carrying flags. It was awesome! The men were wearing shirts that advertised running for veterans. Yes, it totally choked me up.

As I came towards the end of the course, the sun had finally decided to come out and the day was absolutely beautiful. There is nothing quite like running along the water. I would definitely be signing up for this race again.

Once I finished, I hung back, waiting for dad. As I waited, I heard that a couple of runners had to be picked up by the golf cart, so I texted dad. Surely he would have called me if something had happened. Although, knowing him, he would crawl across that finish line before he ever let that golf cart pick him up. Thankfully, he texted me back, telling me he was at mile 6.5. He was almost there.

The race officials were starting to talk amongst themselves, asking who was still out. I quickly chimed in that I was waiting for my dad. In the background, they had begun giving out the awards to the other runners. It was perfectly fine. All I cared about was that we both crossed the finish line, no matter how fast or how slow that was.

Dad texted me again. Mile 7. He was making his way towards the finish. I ran up a little, spotting him making his way towards me.

Dad officially crossed the finish line with a PR. He was a machine! Not bad for an old guy of 71.

After the race, we were both famished, so we headed over to Riverside Café. Cooter Stew Cafe, another restaurant in the area, was packed with runners. They also were having live music outside. But I was glad we opted for Riverside Café. I mean, you can’t quite beat this view.

Dad and I both ordered a beer with lunch. I’m beginning to realize that post-race beers are just not my thing. Maybe it was my empty stomach that wasn’t agreeing with it. I ordered a Cuban sandwich and a side of roasted veggies – literally the best veggies I had tasted in a while – and I started to feel a little better. So, note to self, perhaps leave the beer to others with stomachs of steel.

As we packed up and headed out of town, I was reminded of just how lucky I am. Over the past six years, while sis and I have undertaken this crazy love of running, our parents have joined us. Sure, mom mainly walks the 5k’s, but she’s bravely out there doing her best. And dad has found this deep love of running again that just amazes me. I guess we have truly turned this into a family thing.

 

Note-worthy restaurants in the area

Riverside Café – a surprisingly large restaurant right on the water. You can sit outside, while still covered under their giant thatch roof, and enjoy the weather. You can watch as boats pull up and take off from the marina just to the left of the restaurant. They offer a multitude of things to eat from burgers, to sandwiches to salads. One of the most interesting parts of this place is the markers along one of the beams indicating where the water levels have risen to during different hurricanes.

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Cooter Stew Café – a smaller restaurant that has a great, down-to-earth feel that usually offers live music on the weekends. Similar to Riverside, they offer sandwiches and burgers alike.

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Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend

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It had finally arrived; the day I had been waiting for, the marathon I had been training endlessly for and the moment I could finally put these legs to the test – the Walt Disney World Marathon weekend.

It felt like I had just signed up for this race days ago and had just begun my preparations when, in fact, I had made the decision to run this race nearly six months ago, devoting my time and attention to work, family and training and more training. Truth be told, I had planned to blog about my 25-week training plan, but as it usually does, life happens. We suffered the loss of a dog, a family member, changes in jobs and everything else you can throw into the mix. However, the one thing I somehow managed to keep on a continuum was my running. Some days, it was like my therapy, escaping for a solid hour or more with just my music and my feet on the pavement.

And then fast forward to January. It was suddenly here.

Usually, sis and I have everything planned for months and months in advance. Yeah . . . . not sure what was going on with us this year, but we didn’t even book a room until a mere week before race day. In fact, I didn’t even sign hubby and I up to run the 10K until a week before we left! At this rate, I would be equally unprepared for the entire weekend and would be getting swept up by the balloon ladies telling me to pick up the pace or I would be forced to call it quits.

This year, instead of staying at the usual Bonnet Creek Resort, we opted to branch out. We started a search on Airbnb and realized there were a ton of great properties within easy driving distance to Disney. We booked an amazing three-bedroom condo in an area that was about 12 miles from Disney in the quietest neighborhood that was devoid of crazy tourists or loud children. Normally, I could overlook this, but for this kind of race with its incredibly ridiculously early bedtime, it was welcome. The pictures were exactly as it had been described on Airbnb and the place was simply perfect.

On Thursday, we met sis and Jake at our usual Chick-Fil-A stop around lunchtime, this time not blowing past the exit. So far, this was off to a good start. After a quick bite, we caravanned to the ESPN Wide World of Sports at Disney to get our race packets. This was definitely our first stop before checking into the condo. No packet pick-up by 7:00 p.m., no race the next morning. Since this was dad’s first Disney race, we sure didn’t want that to happen. Fortunately, things were looking up this year. We managed to all make it to ESPN without a hitch, a gas shortage, or getting lost like we did last year.

Since hubby and I waited so long to sign up for the 10k, we were placed in the last corral – literally in a special lane at packet pickup called “Last Corral.” At first, I was going to have the family fall back into the corral with us, but with our finish time and dad’s finish time differing, this worked out for the best.

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So, with packets in hand, we wandered around the expo for an hour or so and finally made our way to the condo. This year, we planned out meals ahead of time and both brought coolers of food to get us through the non-Disney eating days. I would absolutely do this again. This saved us from having to make that Publix stop that always seemed to take way longer than planned. So after dropping our luggage off, instead of heading to the grocery, we enjoyed a nice dinner at Texas Roadhouse.

With our bellies full, and dad’s silly “dehydration” tactic in place, we set off for the condo. We were all tired from traveling, getting up early and the usual chaos that comes with a Disney race, so getting to bed tonight would be a breeze. We set out our clothes and fuel for the next morning and headed to bed.

2:30 a.m. came early. So, so early. However, I bounced up, ready and excited for the race. I did manage to get some decent rest. Maybe after all of these Disney races, I’ve finally been able to train my body to get used to this . . . . if you can ever get used to 2:30 a.m. wake-up calls.

The weather, however, had taken an unexpected turn. It was cold. COLD. At least for this southerner’s bones it was cold. Hubby and I had been watching the weather and brought plenty of options with us. I had even made a stop at Goodwill the day before so we could ditch our top layers if necessary. Because if there was one thing we had learned was that the wind whipped through the open parking lot of Epcot at 4:00 a.m. and the cold was even colder. So Hubby dressed in a hilarious amount of layers, thermal pants and all, while sis donned a tank-top, tights and a tutu. Fortunately for everyone involved, I had purchased emergency mylar blankets for times just like these. So no matter who was dressed for the arctic or not, we would be warmish.

Since I had thrown together a 10k costume at the last minute, I used my favorite pink sparkle skirt and turned myself – literally overnight – into the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. I went to hobby lobby, made myself a tail, matching ears, and was ready to go! This was probably the fastest I have ever created a costume for one of our Disney runs and I definitely would have put in more effort had we not attempted this at the last minute, but it’s okay. I was able to still go as the Cheshire Cat while completely warm.

When we arrived at Epcot, we had smooth sailing getting into the parking lot – albeit we were at the complete opposite end of the lot from where we were supposed to be, but it didn’t really matter. We were going to be walking and running plenty anyway! We stood around as usual, took pictures, froze and froze some more, and then waved goodbye to dad and sis and Jake as we headed off to separate corrals.

Hubby and I decided this was going to be a complete fun run for us. We were going to run, take pictures, enjoy the sights, and savor every second of running a Disney race. And we did.

As all of the other corrals took off, it was finally our turn – the last chance corral. Disney had opted to split up the different corrals into mini sections within each corral. It was a great idea. This prevented the thousands of runners attending to bottleneck at certain spots along the course. Luckily for us, we were at the very front of our mini section. I’ve never been at the very start of a Disney race and the view was awesome!

When the fireworks exploded overhead, we took off. As I said, we took our time on this course, absorbing all of the amazing entertainment along the course. Epcot will always be one of my favorite places to run through. I adore the torches they have lit around the countries and all of the workers standing out there cheering for the fellow runners. And, as usual, it didn’t disappoint this year.

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It wasn’t long after we crossed the finish line that I received a text from sis saying that they had just finished and were in line to get their post-race goodies. I couldn’t believe the impeccable timing. We quickly met up with them – dad sporting his new and super-hard-worked-for medal proudly. We took pictures, dug into our goody boxes, and set off for the car. Sure, we had just rocked this incredible 10K, but we had other things to do – Hollywood Studios!

Once we had all cleaned up, we headed back into Disney for a completely fun-filled day at Hollywood Studios. This was Jake’s first time at this particular park so we did all of the must’s – Rockin’ Rollercoaster, Tower of Terror – twice, the new Toy Story Land and everything else in between. It was truly a magical day with the family.

We decided to close the park down this night, which wasn’t very late at night, thank goodness. By 9:00 p.m., we were all wiped out. In fact, by the time we got back to the condo, I’m not even sure I said goodnight to anyone. I went straight into a shower, climbed into bed, and was out before the lights even went out.

The next morning I got up at another ridiculous hour. On purpose, nonetheless. I knew if I slept in, I would never go to bed at 7:00 p.m., which was my anticipated bed time before the full. So I got up, made a cup of coffee and relaxed until the others began to stir. We didn’t have much on the agenda today. We had breakfast plans and were going to hit Disney Springs afterwards. I knew that I needed to rest my legs as much as possible that day. I was afraid if we did a park, or anything that included a lot of walking, it would show in my performance the next day.

Sis had brilliantly made a reservation at Cape May Café for Minnie’s Beach Bash Breakfast – a character breakfast – at Boardwalk. Fortunately, we had arrived early, were seated without a hitch and had ample time to take pictures with characters. I will give it to sis, she had done her research. She read that this was a hidden gem, that you really get plenty of time with the characters at this breakfast, and she wasn’t wrong. We saw each character at least once, took plenty of pictures, and had the most amazing time ever. And, come on, what a perfect pre-race fuel of more Mickey waffles than I could handle.

Stuffed silly, we left breakfast and decided to wander around the Boardwalk for a little while – perhaps to work off some of this food we had just devoured. We took lots of pictures, drank coffee and enjoyed the incredible weather we had been blessed with this day.

And then sis had another brilliant idea. Let’s rent the surrey bikes. Well, apparently five perfectly grown adults can ride the surrey bikes together. Luckily for me, and much to their dismay, I got stuck in the middle where I didn’t have to pedal at all, since I was resting and everything, of course. So off we took. We had been warned there were a couple of hills on this route and, boy, did we find them. We hilariously made three rounds on this mile or so course, laughing hysterically along the way, and only nearly taking out a few pedestrians.

Once we gladly turned the surrey bikes back in, we set off towards Disney Springs. I had a table along the water calling my name.

And just as I had envisioned, we found a table along the water. I sat with dad and hubby, while sis and Jake did some shopping. We got some popcorn, the guys had a beer, and we even got a little entertainment with a dance group that was performing on stage next to us. We did a little shopping ourselves, but around mid-afternoon, we knew we needed to head to the condo. We also still needed to stop by Publix for my requested chicken, green beans and sweet potato for dinner.

Once back at the condo, we all ate dinner together. This is also where we decided at the last minute that using sis’s Garmin watch, as opposed to my older version, would be best so they could text me along the route. I’m not sure we realized this would be quite the undertaking at the last minute, but sis being the amazing sister she is, went the extra mile to make that happen.

As hubby and I went to bed, which didn’t come as difficult as I was anticipating, dad, sis and Jake took off to run a couple errands. I didn’t sleep as great as I would have liked – the anticipation kept getting me up every hour after around 11:00 p.m. I kept worrying my alarm wouldn’t go off, or I would oversleep, or something crazy would happen to force me to miss my race. But, the alarm did go off. I was probably already fully awake with excitement as the sound went off. I climbed out of bed, left hubby sleeping for a few more minutes, and began race-day preparations.

This day, I opted for minimal makeup. After putting in those long miles, I knew what 26 miles would do to even the best makeup. So I kept it simple today. Since I wasn’t dressing up with quite the flair like usual, getting ready was a breeze. When I wandered out into the kitchen, I found the Garmin watch all set up and ready for me – with the sweetest message on it – Good Luck, Dede! I needed that.

Slowly, the others began to stir. By 2:30 a.m., we were all ready and heading out the door. We had quite a debate going about whether we needed to leave quite so early, but Disney made it clear we needed to be parked in the lot by 3:30 a.m. With this in mind, we managed – sort of by not following clear directions – and landed a parking spot almost near the entrance to the race. Total score! I would need this post-race.

So we probably got to the lot a tad too early, but it wasn’t long before other cars had piled in around us. It had warmed up only slightly, but we stayed in the car enjoying the warmth until about 3:00-ish.

It was odd, usually I’m donning tutus and costumes galore, but this time I easily hopped out of the car and was ready for pre-race activities without a hitch. Today I was wearing a polka-dot Sparkle Athletic skirt and matching shirt – credits to Sweet Pea in a Pod Designs on Etsy – and a sparkle Sweaty Bands headband with a matching Minnie bow. It was comfortable and about as costumy as I was getting for this race.

Since we were so early, we took plenty of pictures and even had a chance to stand in line for a photo-op with Minnie – something we never seem to have enough time for. By now, two of my friends I had been training with gave me a call and we managed to meet up. When I began this adventure, I was planning on racing on my own. Then, by happenstance, I met these two amazing women out running one Saturday morning where we discovered we were all participating in the Disney full. Truth be told, I was really excited to have someone to hang out in the corral with. I wasn’t sure how far or how long we would be running together, but at least for the start we would be going at this together.

As I waved goodbye to my family, I set off towards the corral with my friends.

Everyone kept asking me weeks preceding the event if I felt ready, if I was nervous, if I was excited. To be honest, I felt somewhat neutral. Sure, there was a little bit of uncertainty about how the marathon would feel, but I had been preparing over the past 21 weeks and I felt good. I am a firm believer in the power of positive thinking, and I believe that mental preparation is what really helped me to get ready for this race. So, as we sat there together at the corral, I was ready.

I had been getting texts of encouragement already from sis and hubby. The whole family was already posted out at mile 4 awaiting my arrival and sending me pics of coffee and donuts. Lord, help me, I would have knocked someone over for a cup of coffee. As a side note, sis had spent a good amount of time planning out their route literally chasing me around the parks for the 26.2 miles. We weren’t sure if they were actually going to be able to pull this off and meet me at their designated points, but I was hopeful. I sure needed all of the support I could get!

And then, suddenly, the fireworks went off and it was our turn. I took off, quickly falling into a comfortable pace with my friends. I felt flipping amazing.

Miles 1 – 4 – I was on fire. In fact, my energy was bursting through the seams. Sis and hubby sent me super detailed texts about where to find them. Perhaps this kept my mind busy on this first leg of the race. Suddenly, we were at Mile 4 where my family was waiting for me at the Ticket and Transportation Center. There were so many runners and so many Minnie’s in the sea of runners, I wasn’t sure my blonde hair would even stand out. But then I remember the bandana I had stolen from Jake – the bandana he had forgotten to bring for his Woody costume for the 10k and the bandana I thought would be perfect as a sweat rag. I didn’t know at the time it would also be the perfect flag to wave in the air to catch my family’s attention. As I found them standing there cheering me on, it was like a rush of joy. I was jumping and yelling and full of excitement. I even managed to snag a kiss from hubby.

Miles 4 – 7. Life was good. I felt good. I was amazed, however, at the short lines for the characters. I wish I had known this ahead of time. I would have had plenty of time to jump in line for a quick picture and been able to keep with a good pace. Next time. We ran through Magic Kingdom, the infamous castle, which was absolutely beautiful at this time of the morning, and wound our way towards Animal Kingdom. At mile 7, sis had informed me they were waiting just outside of the Polynesian on the back stretch, just after Shades of Green. I was just as equally excited to see them here. I jumped around, weaving that silly bandana. They were across the street from me this time, since Disney needed to leave one side of the street open for drivers. But that didn’t stop me from blowing a kiss to hubby.

Mile 7 – 14 Around mile 11, I lost my two friends. They decided to start implementing a run/walk pace and we agreed would see each other at the finish. I didn’t mind running alone. In fact, that’s sometimes the beauty of running to me – alone time. So I started my music and just did what I loved to do – run.

As I was running through Animal Kingdom, which is between miles 12 – 14, I noticed a line of people at the Expedition Everest ride. I wasn’t sure if there was a character I was missing or something really cool, but then it dawned on me. They were waiting in line to ride! If this hadn’t been my first full and I wasn’t worried about timing, I definitely would have jumped right in line. Another addition for next go-round.

As I came out of Animal Kingdom, I knew the family was waiting for me just outside of the entrance. This time, however, there seemed to be soooo many people. Between the runners, the spectators and the regular Disney patrons, it was a bit crowded. But, with my lucky bandana, I was able to jump around and catch their attention. They cheered me on, literally the best cheerleader squad I could have ever asked for. I snagged another quick kiss with hubby and kept running, feeling absolutely empowered and still full of energy.

Miles 15 – 24 After I left them at Animal Kingdom, I knew it was going to be a number of miles before I saw them again. We weren’t anticipating meeting up again until Mile 25 somewhere in Epcot. I’ll give it to Disney, there was ample entertainment – even live donkeys outside of AK – and lots to see. There were even spectators hanging out in open parking lots and standing along the side of the course with signs and loud cheers. Some even were handing out fuel! They had clearly done this before.

I decided to FaceTime mom because, well, why not. Since she and other grandma couldn’t be there, I still wanted them to be a part of this. We chatted for a brief few minutes where I was able to share the course with them and their quick iterations of good luck. After we said goodbye, I focused my attention back to the road.

And then mile 17 came. Oh, you silly wall. You stupid, infamous, awful wall. I’ll be honest. I didn’t question why I was doing this, or start rethinking my once clear-decision making skills. Instead, I felt like this would be the longest nine miles I had ever run. We were nearing the ESPN Wide World of Sports when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and there was one of my friends! She had managed to catch back up with me. It was a God send. Perhaps with someone else to commiserate with, I could tear this wall down.

As we came into ESPN, the course wound deep into the park. We ran through the entrance, past the intramural fields, and around the baseball field. As we came out of the park, we were led back onto the main roadways where the sun was out in all its force. I tried to remind myself that it was better than being cold, but at that moment, I could have used a pair of sunglasses, some shade, and perhaps a scooter to get me to the finish. Truth be told, I can’t really remember much about the next few miles. I walked some, ran some, trying to keep my head in the right place.

Mile 25 – finish – If I could just make it to Epcot, I knew sis and Jake was there, waiting on me with a beer in hand. I do believe that this was the longest loop around Epcot I had ever run. Usually, I love this part. At this point, it was questionable. But there, just as sis described, they were waiting for me. Jake held out a beer where I stopped long enough to take a great big swallow and keep on running. The finish was ever so close. The patrons in Epcot motivated me to keep on running, whether they even realized it or not. The last few miles were long. In fact, the longest I had ever run. One step at a time. One foot in front of the other. And then, we made the last turn towards the back lot. I knew that turn well. The finish was just around the corner. And what was there as we made the turn? My choir. I nearly started crying. As they sang, I cheered for them, knowing I was going to make it.

And then there it was, the finish. I pushed my legs and my lungs, willing them to keep working. Hubby had given me a landmark to fund him and dad by and I was so grateful. In the sea of spectators, without that landmark, I never would have found them. They were there, cheering me on, watching me cross that finish line.

I didn’t cry as I thought I would. Instead, I felt pure joy. I hugged my friend and we parted ways. And slowly, ever so slowly, I limped my way towards the parking lot where hubby and dad were there waiting for me. Hubby greeted me with a beer and told me how proud he was of me. I had actually done it. 26.2 miles. I felt amazing.

I sat down with my goodies and beer, trying to stretch out my legs. Sis and Jake managed to find out in the parking lot where we all began to share stories. And then, the beer started to taste not so great anymore. I handed the beer back to hubby and started to stand up. As we slowly started making our way out of there, everything started to look a little funny – that’s about the only way I can explain it. I was going to see if I could walk it off, but then it felt funny as in I might pass out. So, I said, I feel a little off. Before I knew it, they had me sitting back on the ground, in the shade behind a sign, and had opened a packet of applesauce and told me to eat. That did the trick. Apparently, I needed that influx of sugar.

Once I felt better, we made our way back to the car. There was no time to waste now. We had Epcot eating and drinking around the world waiting for us!

Once back at the condo, I showered quickly, donned a pair of flip flops, super comfty yoga pants, and was ready to head out the door within 30 minutes. We got to Epcot around 2:00 that afternoon. Our first stop, Mexico. I had a margarita and a plate of Mexican food with my name on it. In fact, what started in Mexico went to Japan, Morocco, France and Italy. I ate my body weight in delicious food that day.

As I sat there that evening, I realized I would absolutely do this race again. Perhaps it was a little like childbirth, as they say. You tend to forget the pain and instead remember the joy. And I also decided I’m not sure I would do anything different next time. I had trained right, I discovered what fuel worked best for me and I was mentally prepared. I would, however, take the time to jump into that Expedition Everest ride next go ‘round. Maybe, just maybe, next year.

Old guy running, 70 years young

Seventy years old is never too late to begin a career in running….. or at least break a 30-year-old running hiatus.

That’s my dad. Super hero, kick-butt seventy-year-old guy who took his two daughters’ advice to pick up running again after a long stint of attending his kids’ sporting events rather than trekking out on his own.

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Here’s a little bit of background. Dad had run a few marathons in his time. In fact, he rocked a 3:37 time at the Miami Marathon in the mid-1980’s. But balancing work, family and marathon training was just too much. After running that incredible time and accomplishing a major PR, he put up his sneakers for a bit. Although, perhaps that time off from running turned into a bit more than he anticipated. So, after cheering me and sis on from the sidelines for so long, we FINALLY convinced him to start running again.

 

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That’s dad standing with his Metro Dade running group along with Don Johnson from Miami Vice and David Soul from Starsky and Hutch
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Metro Dade Police Department running group

He began by running a quarter of a mile and working his way up. He would set up a one-mile loop, run a bit and then walk the rest. We did scold him a couple of times. Slow down, we told him. You’re going to roll an ankle or send yourself to the hospital. I think sis and I even had a conversation that consisted of, dad just goes from zero to sixty….

Well, it wasn’t long before sis and I were getting regular updates on the new goals he was achieving and longer and longer distances he was climbing. In what seemed like a matter of weeks, this old guy had broken a new record and ran his first 10k in nearly 30 years. I couldn’t have been more proud.

Fast forward to a hot and steamy Saturday morning in June. Me, hubby and dad had all signed up for the Watermelon Festival 5k. It’s June in Florida and it’s hot. HOT. In fact, it’s so hot and muggy, I’m sure that we’ve somehow managed to space-time-warp into the middle of the jungle. Nonetheless, we set off towards the quant and lovely town of Monticello, Florida early that Saturday morning.

The town of Monticello is not large. In fact, downtown consists of close to roughly the size of six city blocks. However, whether from lack of coffee that early morning or in anticipation of my performance on this race, we had one heck of a time finding parking and race packet pick-up. We wanted to park close enough to walk to the start, but also far enough away from the main thoroughfare that we didn’t get caught up in the Watermelon festival parade that commenced immediately upon conclusion of the race. After a brief disagreement about the best place to park, we finally agreed on a spot and made our way towards packet pick-up. Fortunately, pick-up was held at a church with ample room and clean restrooms. Yes! It was like scoring a running goldmine.

After collecting our awesome race t-shirts, we had plenty of time to make our way back to the car and get ready for the race. Although, once we did that, there did seem to be a bit of confusion and misconception about where the race was to begin. We had numerous folks ask us if we knew where the start was. I assumed it would be where the most activity was going on and usually with the ones who had the clocks and timing mats, but that was not the case here. The start was in the center of the street.

We had one minute – literally – to gather our thoughts, set our cell phone apps to start, and hit the pavement. The local police cars whipped into the street, blocking oncoming traffic – including large semi-trucks which I’m sure reveled with joy at our slowing their deliveries down – and after a fast countdown, we took off.

Hubby and I waved goodbye to dad with promises to meet him at the finish line. I said a quick prayer for him, hoping that his first race after all these years turned out to be amazing.

From the start, the race seemed to bring out the community spirit. As we turned off the main highway and wove into the local neighborhoods, we were greeted by a couple standing at the end of their driveway playing banjos for us. Yes, I said banjos. Honestly, they were pretty amazing, although I was tempted to whisper to hubby, run faster, I hear banjo music.

As we wound our way into mile two, community members stood outside of their cars and houses and cheered us on as we went by. Yes, it was about 100 degrees and felt like 130 with the humidity, but the excitement buzzing around us kept me going.

However…..there is always a but, isn’t there… we were forewarned about two of the major hills towards the end of the race. I was prepared for hill number one. I channeled my CrossFit nothing-will-defeat-me attitude and charged at that hill like a beast. I rocked it! I knew I was in the homestretch.

And then, the last hill. Agonizing. I will just leave that there. Or perhaps with the lack of water I had consumed, zero breakfast – so dumb on my part – and the sun that was now beating down on me, it felt more like I was on the verge of meeting my own demise. The hill was huge, I was on the edge of near disaster and I wasn’t sure I could make it. But I did. I kept going and pushing, watching that finish line creep closer. If my dad could do this, so would I.

As I crossed the finish line, I realized how ridiculous I was for not having eaten breakfast this morning, or for assuming there would be bananas at the finish. But after guzzling two cups of water, I was starting to feel a little better. However, I would have given just about anything at that point for some food and a cup of coffee.

Looking down at my watch, I fully expected we had about a good thirty minutes before dad would start cresting that hill. I almost even convinced hubby to walk with me to find that coveted cup of java, but instead we hung around the finish and chatted with some friends.

And then, well before I ever expected to see him, there he was. My dad. I ran to the finish line screaming at him to keep going and to keep pushing forward, all the while trying to take videos and pictures. The funny thing is, I don’t think he ever heard me at all. He was so incredibly focused on that hill and keeping himself moving forward. Perhaps that’s where I get my tenacious I-can-do-anything-I-set-my-mind-to attitude.

As he came to the finish, my heart was filled with pride and, yes, I even choked back a couple of tears. He had done incredible and knocked nearly ten minutes off his time. What a PR! What a comeback!

 

Afterwards – after he managed to catch his breath and celebrate his amazing finish time – we slowly made our way to the church where packet pick-up had been. Maybe there I could snag my banana. But what did I find instead? Watermelon. It was the best tasting watermelon I had had in a long time.

We decided to stay for the awards where I found out I placed second in my age group. We didn’t stay for the parade. We did, however, walk over to Tupelo’s and snagged a delicious cup of coffee and a scone. Not exactly the most nutritious post-race treat, but it sure was scrumptious.

Despite the slight mishap at the beginning, this was a great race. The community spirit was alive and invigorating and the course was challenging enough to make you know you earned that watermelon… or scone.

However, the best part of all of this was watching my dad. Not only had he conquered something he had been working hard for over the past few months, but I think he found his passion again.

I asked him just a couple weeks ago if he was going to stop running again. He said, no way! He felt too good. He also told me not long after he started running it was like a light had opened up inside of him. Welcome to the cult, Dad. We expect to be cheering you on well into your 90’s.

 

New runner tips

Start slow. Be patient with yourself. Some days will be good days, other days will downright suck, but go out on every run day and simply put one foot in front of the other. Soon, you’ll be able to go farther than you ever imagined.

There are some fantastic apps out there. The one I am simply in love with is Runkeeper. I have both hubby and my dad hooked on it. You can set up training sessions or simply log in every day to track your runs. It’s motivating to receive those award badges every time you hit a new record. There is both the free version and a paid version. Try it out for free! I think you’ll love it.

I haven’t personally used Couch to 5k, but I have a ton of friends who have and love it! This is a great app for those who are wanting to begin running or run/walking and have no clue where to start.