Blowing through the Windy City

Last Thursday, the girls in my family flew up to Chicago for the Windy City National Qualifier.  Alli and her teammates were looking to get a bid to Nationals in the 12s division.  Luckily, I was able to meet some Twitter running friends and squeeze in some sight-seeing and drink A LOT  of beer before the whirlwind trip was over!  The weather was so cooperative and beautiful – it was *almost* like Texas!!

The Important Stuff: Volleyball

After a series of unfortunate events, we finally opened the door of our hotel room at 11:30 PM Thursday night.  (Hint: this was NOT the way to start a weekend of virtually non-stop volleyball.)  Luckily, Alli was asleep before midnight.  Those few extra moments of sleep didn’t help much, though, because the team was meeting for breakfast in the lobby at 6:45 AM before heading to the convention center to start day 1 pool play.

We were at a disadvantage, as our first 2 matches were scheduled back-to-back.  Our girls played like zombies, as if they had never seen a volleyball before in their life.  We lost the first match in 2 sets (should have easily won) then had to go right into the next match, which would be the most difficult team in our pool.  The girls still didn’t have their wits about them because they had not recovered from the first shocking loss and lost in 2 sets….again.  Me?  I was in my own zombie-like state court side, too tired to care that we had just screwed ourselves for THE ENTIRE TOURNAMENT.

Alli has....defensive issues. I get SO EXCITED when she digs the ball!
Alli has….defensive issues. I get SO EXCITED when she digs the ball!

After a break, we played again and this time, won easily (LIKE WE SHOULD HAVE THE FIRST TWO GAMES!!).img_8001

Saturday proved to be much better and we easily won all 3 matches, even though they still didn’t play up to their normal level.  Sunday play was the same – the competition was a tad bit more difficult but we still pulled off wins easily.img_8007

When it was all said and done, we ended up 9th.  Not too shabby, but still disappointing because we know how much better these girls can play – how much better they actually do play!!img_8029

Running Friends are THE BEST

I have some Twitter friends in Chicago that I was hoping to connect with and…..it worked out!!

Jenn came up on Friday after the tournament and drove me all around Chicago showing me the city.  She even brought me some protein balls so that I could have healthy snacks for the tournament!  She is just as fun and sweet as she comes across on Twitter!  We made it back just in time to have dinner with Alli’s team.  I enjoyed visiting with her so much and am so thankful that I was able to get that opportunity!img_7946

On Saturday, Elizabeth and her husband, Steve, drove in and actually spent the afternoon stuck in the convention center with me!  I am so glad that I was able to meet them both!!  I LOVE Elizabeth and would have been so sad if meeting up hadn’t worked out.  She came bearing gifts as well.  She definitely knows the way to my heart!  (I feel the need to confess that we also had a beer in the hotel bar that is attached to the convention center! LOL)

I shared Jenn's protein balls with Elizabeth :)
I shared Jenn’s protein balls with Elizabeth 🙂
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SO. GOOD!!!

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Wisconsin beer. Pretty damn good.
Wisconsin beer. Pretty damn good.

I am SO LUCKY that my running pal, Rebecca, came along on this trip.  I actually met her through this team and am SO THANKFUL that our paths crossed.  We are actually very compatible runners (or at least I think so), and we had the most wonderful time running along the lake and river fronts early Saturday morning.  This was the highlight of my trip (besides meeting new friends), for sure!!img_7954

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Beer, Beer, more Beer and Other Things

I am not going to lie – I drank quite a bit of beer in Chicago and it was all DELICIOUS!!!  In between my beer breaks, I managed a little sight-seeing.

I downed this in the airport before leaving Texas. It just seemed appropriate.
I downed this in the airport before leaving Texas. It just seemed appropriate.
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The Poet Oatmeal Stout. You can never go wrong with an Oatmeal Stout.
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Eh. I drank this one because it was Easter weekend and this was called Messiah.
Left Hand Milk Stout - my new favorite!
Left Hand Milk Stout – my new favorite!

I took Alli to Dylan’s Candy Bar on Saturday….not surprisingly she claims this as the most treasured part of her trip!img_7979

Sunday included a MUST – deep dish pizza at Giordano’s.  It was SO GOOD.  If I lived in Chicago, I would have to work out a lot more because I would be eating ALL THE FATTY FOOD!img_8044-1

Taylor and I managed to get to “Cloud Gate” in Millennium Park on Sunday before leaving for the airport.  Most people call it “The Bean”, because of its kidney bean shape.  Whatever you want to call it – it was cool!img_8054

And, of course, couldn’t resist a pic of the famous “L”!!img_8031-1

I still haven’t recovered from the trip, but it was so worth it!  We had a great time!!

Happy Hump Day!

EPIC weekend: amazing running friends and the best race ever!

St. Louis with friends

For months, a group of my running friends from Twitter have been planning racing Rock ‘n Roll St. Louis.  Luckily, none of us had to do anything except register and book our flights and hotel as our Type-A Canadian friend planned every single minute for us and was over-the-top organized nice enough to create an itinerary with all our events about 6 weeks in advance!  She even made dinner reservations for us.  We did have to purchase our tickets to the Arch and Riverboat on our own (oh, the horror! LOL!!), but a 5 year-old couldn’t have messed it up because her instructions were complete with screen shots.  IT.  WAS.  AWESOME!!!

Words can’t describe how excited I was to meet these people in person, and they did not disappoint!  I’m not going to go into great detail about our weekend, because my Type-A Canadian friend beat me to the recap and hers is better than I could have managed anyway. 🙂 (Plus, she had the selfie stick and is a great at photo documentation.)

I arrived Saturday and was blessed that my St. Louis-area friend Carli offered to pick me (and Mark, who arrived just before me) up from the airport.  She was so gracious and took us to check-in to our hotel then drove us to the expo for packet pick-up.  I picked up a long sleeve shirt at the expo to race in after near hypothermia coming off the plane……all I brought for the race was a tank (#TexanProblems)!

We then rushed to meet Jane, Pood and Jenn for the Riverboat cruise.  After the cruise, we walked the 1.5-2 miles back to hour hotel, then 45 min later walked the same distance back to the Arch area to eat – Chrissi and Carli, both from St. Louis joined with their families – and then back to the hotel!  LOL  I wanted to look less slobbish than usual, so I wore boots.  (Can I just say now that was a bad idea?)  By the time the evening was over, my shins were sore!  I NEVER have shin issues…..and I should learn to never say never.

I shared a room with my Sole Sister, Jenn, who is a New Yorker by way of California and we had the best time!  I swear we must have been separated at birth…except for our hair, which I will discuss later.  We got to bed as quickly as we could, but it was well after 10 when my head hit the pillow.

Best.  Race.  Ever.  

I actually got up late on race day.  HOW that was even possible, I’ll never know – especially when you consider that I woke up at 3 AM every morning the 5 days prior.  I had my Fitbit alarm set for 5:00 and 5:15 as a back up and woke up to Jenn’s alarm at 5:30.  Contrary to my usual obsessive-worrying self, I took it in stride, got ready quickly without rushing too much and headed down for breakfast.

Jane generally likes to get to the corrals an hour ahead of time.  Yes. An HOUR.  And it isn’t like she has to jockey for a place because she is ALWAYS in corral 1 (we don’t call her the Ottawa Cheetah for nothing)!  This time, though, the corrals didn’t open until 30 minutes prior to start and since Jane was “taking this one easy” (I suspect it was mostly because it was cold), Jane wanted to wait a bit before heading down to the corrals.  We were well after 6:30 before we made it down to the start.

The breathtaking view as we walked from our hotel to the start line.
The breathtaking view as we walked from our hotel to the start line.

I actually wasn’t nervous at all.  Somehow, I managed to let go of all the stress and decided that I would accept what I could get.  I could tell the weather was going to be perfect and my last few runs prior had been nothing short of amazing, so I was hoping to come in around 2:20.  I couldn’t have high expectations, because I was still working through the heel injury and had not “trained” for a half AND I didn’t even taper!  As we were parting ways, Pood asked if he could hang with me for a while, since he didn’t feel like running his usual 1:58.  It’s hard for me to type that without giggling.  I made it very clear that I had to stay in my heart rate zone but that my coach had given me permission to open up at mile 9, “if I was feeling it.” (In other words, Pood, prepare to run S L O W.)

The race finally started with this beautiful view of the sun beginning to rise behind the Arch.

Another gorgeous Arch pic!
Another gorgeous Arch pic!

And now, for the miracle.  I DID NOT START OUT TOO FAST.  (Go ahead, read that again.)  I even told Pood that we had to slow down!  What runners EVER say that about their race??  I knew that I had to keep my heart rate in check for the next 9 miles.  I also knew what my heart rate would do over the next 9 miles, and that there were some “hills” sprinkled in that would make things interesting.

Pood and I laughed, talked and joked through the first part of the race.  I told him at mile 4 that I was feeling REALLY good and if things continued, I would crank it up at mile 9.  At mile 7, I told him that I was definitely going to push on at mile 9.  Somewhere around mile 8, a woman started gagging as I was passing her.  Thank goodness it was a dry heave, because otherwise I would have been covered in someone else’s bodily fluids.  GAG

Around mile 8, I began to realize I had a shot at getting close to my PR.  I had to be mentally strong for this part of the race, because at this point, it took a lot to hold back until I reached mile 9.  It’s ALWAYS easier to push yourself.

Pood ran ahead of me at one point to get in line with a bunch of cheerleaders to give me a high-five.  How awesome is that?!?

At mile 9 I opened up the pace by about :45/mile.  I really felt that I could push it quite a bit more, but I knew that I would tank if I tried to run 4 miles at a pace much faster than where I was.  Mile 10 was a tad bit faster and I managed to kick it up a little bit more in mile 11.  Even though I could feel that my quads were getting fatigued, I felt that I could push myself harder those last 2 miles.  I was motivated, because I knew how close it would be for me to cross that finish line with a PR.  While I did not feel that the race was hilly at all, the inclines on that last mile were excruciating.  There was one last “hill” at mile 13, then thank goodness it was downhill to the finish!

I NEVER divulge my pace info, but that is changing today.  The splits for my last few miles were: 9: 10:24, 10: 9:44, 11: 9:38, 12: 9:09, 13: 8:40.  I’m really proud of those last 4 miles. 🙂  This is the first time I’ve ever managed to finish that strong at a race.  It felt so good, and I managed a PR!  My time was 2:13:17, beating my old PR by a whopping :43 seconds! LOL  I’ll gladly take it, as I NEVER expected to run this race that well!!

Pood and I after the race!
Pood and I after the race!

Fun always comes to an end

After the race, we found Jane (who had to wait an eternity for us to cross the finish after her 1:38 LOL) and some other local St. Louis twitter peeps.  We stood around talking and joking until all our crew had caught up with us and then we talked some more!  We finally started making our way back to the hotel to shower and grab a bite to eat.

Since I have the thickest hair West of the Mississippi, I showered first so that I could start the drying and straightening while Jenn showered and got ready.  She was able to shower, get dressed, dry her hair, straighten her hair and put on make-up before I finished straightening mine.  #thickhairproblems

My Sole Sister Jenn
My Sole Sister Jenn

Carli and Mr Carli (Greg) met us for lunch at the hotel restaurant (which was actually quite good) and we laughed and talked some more before realizing we needed to get moving if we wanted to catch the tour of Anheuser-Busch AND make it to the Arch tour on time.

The Budweiser tour was actually one of my favorite parts of the trip.  We toured the stables, which are immaculate and house a chandelier (yes, a chandelier in the horse stables) that apparently has a twin somewhere in Dallas.  We were given a sample of Budweiser during the tour but afterward we were able to choose a full glass from a much larger selection.  I ended up with an Apple Ale, which may have turned me into a beer drinker!

I am now on a quest to locate this chandelier's Dallas twin
I am now on a quest to locate this chandelier’s Dallas twin
Apple Ale....my new favorite!
Apple Ale….my new favorite!

After the Bud tour, we rushed to our Arch tour.  Another highlight of the trip.  I think the ride up in the little 1960’s pod elevator was the best part!  We then headed to meet the Carli, Mr. Carli (Greg), Chrissi and Mr. Chrissi (Jeff) for dinner, but stopped first for a drink!

The Arch's shadow revealed by the setting sun.
The Arch’s shadow revealed by the setting sun.

Sadly, all good things must come to and end and I was back on Texas soil Monday morning, but not before a Jen moment….. I printed my boarding pass at the airport so I didn’t notice that I had achieved the allusive and lofty TSA pre-check status until the screener pointed it out for me.  He told me that I could go to the pre-check line, but I was already there so I decided to continue on my fake-security path.  I regretted that choice almost immediately, however, when I was randomly chosen for an extended search.  The worst part was waiting for the screener to come to our line.  He simply asked if I had a cell phone, then he took a swab and tested it.  Luckily, I passed!!

Can’t wait until our next adventure!

Happy Friday!

Jen