Aloha Series (50th state)

Date: January 19, 2017

Location: Kapa’a, Hawaii (Kaua’i) (Aloha Series)

Time: 3:31:05

Distance: 13.1

We did it. Our bucket list goal of completing a half marathon in all fifty states has been accomplished.

both

Celebrating the completion of  a half marathon in all 50 states the year we both turn 50!

I should be happy, but in all honesty, my feeling of accomplishment is tinged with some sadness–kind of like a kid the day after Christmas when they’ve opened all of their presents after weeks of anticipation.

I’ve put off writing this post because I don’t really know where to begin. Do I start with the story about how ten years ago, my best friend from college suggested we run a half marathon in every state? Do I describe our wonderful, week-long Hawaiian vacation? Or, perhaps I start with the story about how I was in the emergency room at the hospital only three weeks before the race?

I’ll start with the emergency room story.

Early in December, I suddenly noticed a sharp pain in my ribs along the lower, right side towards my back. I was sure it was a pulled muscle and didn’t pay too much attention to it. After about three or four days of aggravating pain, I got a massage. The pain went away–further confirming my initial thought that I had pulled a muscle.

For the next two or three weeks, I went about my daily routine–still running, going to yoga, and looking forward to visiting my parents in Arizona during Christmas.

While in Arizona, the pain returned–coincidentally, the next day after a rousing game of Pickle Ball. “There’s that muscle strain again,” I thought. “I really should have taken it easy yesterday.” I was sure that a few days of rest would make it go away again.

I enjoyed the time in Arizona with my family, continued running every other day, and noticed that the pain only hurt when I lay on my back or took a deep breath. At that point, I started considering other possible ailments. Pinched nerve? Kidney infection? Gall bladder attack? While I was up during the day and moving around, though, the pain really wasn’t all that apparent, so I certainly wasn’t worried that it was anything serious.

On December 30th, I drove the eleven hours home without any pain. I was just looking forward to getting a good night’s sleep in my own bed after being gone for a week. A good night’s sleep, though, would elude me. That evening, as I tossed and turned, trying to find a position that didn’t hurt, I finally realized that I probably should go to the hospital.

After getting to the emergency room at about 1:30 am, I learned that the symptom of “sharp, stabbing pain,” and saying, “it hurts to take a deep breath” gets immediate attention.

The hospital staff was great. In the midst of my fear and agony, they tried to keep the mood lighthearted and reassuring. I also appreciated how they explained everything they were doing and why. Those first couple of hours included an IV, blood tests, giving me Morphine, and following the other normal intake procedures. The blood test prompted a CT scan, which confirmed that I had a pulmonary embolism. A giant blood clot that, I found out later, was taking up a third of my right lung.The size of it also prompted the doctors to order an ultrasound of my heart to find out if my heart had been damaged as a result. Luckily, it wasn’t.

I was immediately admitted to the hospital in the early morning hours of New Year’s Eve, and enjoyed the holiday weekend pumped full of anti-coagulants and pain medication.

The three days I spent in the hospital flew by as I mostly slept, and I looked forward to going home–not really letting the gravity of what had happened sink in. In fact, during the first conversation I had with the doctor, I asked if I could still go to Hawaii and run the half marathon I had been planning for so long. He kind of chuckled, then realized I was serious. After some thought, he said it would probably be okay. There would be no restriction on airplane travel, because I was now on anti-coagulants, and he said as long as I had been training (I had), I could do the race as long as I didn’t over exert myself. He said a slow jog or walking would be most appropriate.

So there you have it. I was still able to go. And, I was still not really comprehending what had just happened to me.

My finish time was the slowest I’ve ever had, but I didn’t care one bit. After everything I had gone through, I finished it, dammit. And that’s really all I cared about.

Other things I cared about? Going to Hawaii with my husband, kids, and parents, and celebrating my friend Denise’s 50th birthday while we were there. That whole week was great.

Finishing the 50 half marathons in 50 states goal the year my very dear friend and I both turned 50 is certainly an accomplishment worth celebrating.

Again, I’m somewhat sad it’s over. It’s been an emotional journey as much as a physical journey, and it’s hard to let it go.

People have been asking me, “What now?” a lot. No, I don’t have the desire to now run a full marathon in all fifty states, do a race in all seven continents, start running ultra marathons, or start doing triathlons. Frequent walks with my dogs, a few running miles, yoga classes twice a week, and an occasional race sounds perfect.

What I most look forward to now is the ability to sign up for races purely based on whether or not they sound fun, and which friends and family they bring me together with. Races for me have always provided the motivation I need to exercise regularly, and now I don’t have to plan my races a year or two out and decide where to send my registration fees based solely on whether or not “I need the state.”

The 50 states are DONE. Now I can choose races based on so many other reasons.

group-shot

Our entire entourage celebrating with us at the finish. What great support!!

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Post scripts.

The race put on my Mainly Marathons was incredible. An entire blog post devoted just to the race would be needed to fully explain how beautiful the course was and how great the organizers are. Click here for a great article about the race from The Garden Island newspaper.

My parents. I am so grateful that my parents cheered us on and have provided unwavering support all of these years. The week vacationing with them in Hawaii was a blast.

My kids. One of my kids stayed home to house sit and take care of our pets because it couldn’t get the week off from work. (Thank you, Evan–we missed you). The other two, Kaitlin and Keil, completed the race as well. The two of them made the experience all that more special.

My husband. I also am incredibly grateful that Orlando was able to spend the week with us. His job as an airline pilot often prevents him from getting to every family function. Not only did he get to spend the whole vacation with us, but he walked with me for almost two miles of the race and also got some great film footage. He has been my biggest supporter over this past decade and never once questioned why I wanted to do this or suggest I should be spending my money on better things. Thank you, Orlando, from the bottom of my heart. You are an amazing, supportive husband and I love you.

Denise. We’ve been through three decades of experiences together and I thank you. Thank you for coming up with this crazy idea, for helping me stay young, and for keeping it real. I’ve learned so much by being your friend. (Hug).

My health. I expect to be on an anti-coagulant for at least a year and I’ll have doctor’s visits to make sure I’m on the right path towards healing. I still feel like the news is still too new for it to completely sink in. Also, despite the occasional soreness or run-down feeling, I generally feel really good and pretty energetic so it’s hard for me to remember to take it easy. I often need to remind myself that what happened to me was very serious and could have taken my life. I continue to read as much as I can about pulmonary embolisms and will forever be grateful that I was prompted to go to the hospital when I did. Sometimes pain is a blessing.

Future races. I’m already registered for three upcoming races and want to do more. In time, I will learn more about whether or not it’s possible for me to regain my full lung capacity and how much I’ll be able to exert myself–if at all. Only time will tell.

My yoga practice. I can’t close this post without giving a shout-out to Bikram Yoga. I am 100% convinced that yoga was a huge contributor to the positive outcome I had health-wise. I didn’t need supplemental oxygen while I was in the hospital and my heart and lungs remained strong through all of this. I attribute that, in part, to my running. I also think Bikram Yoga had an even bigger influence on how well my body coped through what essentially was a life threatening condition. Namaste.

Alaska Half

Date: August 20, 2016

Location: Anchorage, Alaska (Skinny Raven Half)

Time: 2:27:12

Distance: 13.1

The 49th state is my 49th state! What a great feeling to be this close to my 50-states goal. This was a whirlwind of a trip, but one made more meaningful because my daughter and one of my sons completed this race with me and my whole family came along for the trip. For Keil, this was his first race ever and even with minimal training, he finished in 2:33.21. I was really proud of him and hope this experience sparked an interest in racing and running for him.

KeilSkinnyRaven

Keil

Kait outraced us all and I was really proud of her 2:18:55 time. Both Kait and Keil plan to run Hawaii with me in January, so I’m really looking forward to that.

Denise was also able to run this race, and that made it even more meaningful. This was her 47th race, but her race calendar allows us to run Hawaii together as our 50th state. After working towards this goal for ten years, it’s so nice to see our plans come together.

I wish we would have had more time to spend in Alaska. On Friday, we barely had time to fly in, get over to the convention center and pick up our packets (then buy Kait a new pair of running shoes since she forgot to pack the ones she had been training in–oops), and grab dinner. The next morning was the race, we showered and grabbed food, then all flew out SUPER early on Sunday morning.

 

SkinnyRavenKaitcropped

Kait

On the plus side, Orlando and I can now able to say that we have been to all fifty states in the country. He was able to accomplish that thanks to his extensive traveling as an airline pilot, and I can thank my 50-states half marathon goal for being the reason I have visited so many states.

While staying in Anchorage, we used airbnb for the first time and couldn’t have been happier. Renting a house for the whole group of us was a lot cheaper that it would have been to get hotel rooms plus it allowed us to have more shared space and kitchen facilities–I would definitely consider that option again in the future.

The race itself was a mostly flat out-and-back course and, despite my irritation that it was raining the whole entire race, I actually ended up enjoying it. The 60-degree temperature with very light rain made for very enjoyable conditions–not too hot and not too cold. The water stations were plentiful, the crowd support was good, I loved the race medals, and the only complaint I would have has to do with the width of the running path in some portions of the course. Because it was an out-and-back, it got a bit crowded at some points. All-in-all, though, it was great and one I would definitely recommend.

Next up: Hawaii in January! Can’t wait.

 

SkinnyRavenStart

Race start. Kait, Keil, and I are at the far right.

 

2016 Missoula Half Marathon

Date: July 10, 2016shirt

Distance: 13.1

Time: 4:06:24

Where do I start?

In 2006 when Angie told me she had cancer? In 2009 when she convinced a bunch of us to complete our first full marathon in Portland? In 2014 when we completed the Missoula Half marathon together? In 2015 when we walked a 5K in Missoula wearing shirts that said “F-you, cancer?” Or do I just go straight to the day when Angie told Todd & Jen she wouldn’t be doing this year’s half marathon with us and two days later passed away?

There’s no good way to start any story than ends in utter sadness, but this is also a story of enduring friendships and the close bonds people can share when they come together in love and support.

I got to be with Angie for three Portland races–in 2009, 2010, and in 2011. For awhile, a group of us were using the Portland race as an annual reason to get together. For Ang, it was also a way to express physical strength despite living with cancer. We all looked forward to those race weekends and the time we got to spend together. In truth, these were all her idea and I’m so glad she made our gatherings happen.

A group of us also completed the Missoula Half in 2014 and celebrated the fact that Jen qualified for the Boston Marathon during that race. That was an amazing day.

When Ang asked some of us to join her for a 5K race in Missoula last October, we were happy to use that as a reason to see each other and offer Angie additional support. That’s when things definitely took a turn, however.

Following that race, we went to lunch and began talking about the next race we would sign up for. Jen, Heather, Holly, and I readily agreed to sign up for the Missoula Half–scheduled nine months later. Angie expressed some hesitation, though, and poignantly said she would join us, “If I’m still around.” None of us really knew what to say and I remember that we all did our best to keep the mood as lighthearted as we could. None of us wanted to face the reality that there might be a time when Angie was gone. This was also the first time Angie ever expressed hesitation about an upcoming race.

Over the next several months as the Missoula Half drew near, Angie’s health deteriorated as her medications lost their effectiveness and particularly after she was told she wasn’t healthy enough to participate in an experimental trial for new medication.rocks

On April 27th, Angie sent me the saddest text I’ve ever gotten after I asked how her appointment with her specialist went. She responded, “Thank you. I’m avoiding updating you guys. There’s officially nothing left to do.”

We talked by phone following that and I simply tried to wrap my head around the news over the next several days.

Two days later, because I had no words, I reached out with simply a heart-symbol text. Her response was, “xoxoxo!

She passed away eleven days later, on May 10th.

I was shocked at how fast she left us. I thought I would be able to see her and tell her goodbye in person. Instead, I will have to be satisfied with the texts, calls, and Facebook posts we shared in those remaining days. Too sudden. Too soon. Too heartbreaking.

Angie’s family honored her wishes and did not hold a formal memorial service or funeral so Todd, Jennifer, Holly, Heather, Debi, and I determined that the Missoula Half would become our way to gather, pay tribute to Angie, and serve as our own sort of memorial.

We met up on Saturday, picked up race packets–including Angie’s–and spent the rest of the day together just talking and sharing stories. Deb and I had also scheduled an appointment to get tattoos. We made sure to schedule with the same tattoo artist that Angie had used when she got her ankle tattoo a few years ago.

bothtattos

Deb’s (left) and mine (right)

It was easy for me to decide what to get–the xoxoxo text Ang had sent me.

It was perfect not only because it was her way of expressing love (hugs and kisses symbols), but it also fits because X in Roman numerals represents the number ten. Angie passed away on May 10th, she had cancer for ten years, the Missoula race was celebrating its ten-year anniversary (on the tenth), and even one of the Portland races I ran with Angie was held on 10-10-10. To our surprise, the number ten also kept showing up throughout the weekend.

Even Angie’s race bib ended in the number 10.

angie'sbib

Angie’s race bib

Most importantly, my tattoo will be a constant reminder that I should show love in everything I do and it will remind me of all the love she brought into my life.

The morning of the race, we all made our way to the starting line as fireworks were cheerfully marking the start of the race and the sun was rising. I shed a few tears at the start–missing the fact that Angie wasn’t with us like she had been the last time we were gathered at the start of the Missoula race–but went on to thoroughly enjoy the race experience. We all walked and talked the whole way–marveling at the fact that it didn’t rain through the whole race, despite the forecast promising it would and despite the fact that later in the day and well into the next morning, it rained HARD.

The best part of the race was crossing the finish line, hand-in-hand with our whole group. And, because we carried Angie’s race bib and timing chip with us, the race announcer exclaimed that, “Heather, Todd, Jennifer, Holly, Debi, Gail, and Angie are all crossing the finish line together!” Angie was truly with us and we completed the race for her, just as Todd and Jen promised her we would.walkingacrossfinish

Yeah. Tears flowed then too.

After the race, we grabbed pizza and ice cream from two of Angie’s favorite restaurants and spent more time with each other as we decorated river rocks and shared stories.

This race weekend is over, but we can’t let this be the last time we all get together. Angie brought us together and we look forward to supporting each other through whatever life has in store for us next.

Thank you, Ang. You are truly loved and you will never be forgotten. We do, however, miss you terribly. xoxoxo!

 

 

2016 Wasatch Back Ragnar Relay

Date: June 18 & 19, 2016

Distance: 188.4 miles

Location: Logan to Midway, Utah

Team of 12, then 11  

Time: 31-ish?

After taking a year off, I returned to Ragnar and got to run with the Westminster havemorefun“Staggering Parsons” again. This was my sixth time running the Wasatch Back, and–as always–had a blast. The team included two people who weren’t directly affiliated with Westminster, but who were friends of team members. The rest, however, included the Provost, professors, staff members, and a graduate of the college. I was especially happy to run with another aviation colleague–until Avon Pass took him out mid-race. That was a bummer and I hope he’ll be back next year.

I was assigned to be runner #2. A position I hadn’t ever run. It was slated to offer the second-highest mileage, until two others in my van picked up extra legs to cover for our injured teammate. They ended up putting in over 20 miles each, with their added legs, but didn’t seem to be phased at all.roster

My first leg was an 8.6-miler that started at 6:30 a.m. on Friday morning. This leg took me through Hyrum, Utah and meandered slightly uphill. I took it easy and finished in an hour-and-a-half.

My second leg, which started around 6:30 p.m. went through a residential area in Morgan, Utah. It was only 4.2 miles, but it was by far my most difficult. The 300+ foot elevation gain, coupled with 90-degree heat, made for a not-fun run. Thankfully, lots of kids were poised in their front yards, ready to spray down passing runners with garden hoses and Super Soakers. This short run took me a slow, 50 minutes to finish.

The final leg I ran in Coalville, was a 5-miler that started at 4:15 a.m. on Saturday morning. I don’t like having to run in the dark, but I was rewarded with a beautiful sunrise as I finished this leg less than an hour later. Had I been able to keep up with the chatty woman I ran with for the first two miles, I would have finished much faster. Alas, I had to hold back.

I’m already looking forward to next year and hope we can put together an all-out Westminster team, complete with Westminster running gear, vans, and swag. I’ll work on that…

Thanks, team, for another great Wasatch Back weekend!

marksphoto

Key memories: HOT, unclear turnoffs, less-than-stellar finish area, breakfast burritos, best three-hour sleep in the van ever, and fun buffs.

Instagram: #staggeringparsons

New England Series

Date: May 15-21, 2016

Distances: 13.1 + 13.1 +13.1 +13.1 

Times: 2:43:52, 2:45:43, 2:45:06, 2:41:28

Locations: Greenfield, New Hampshire; Springfield, Vermont; Northfield, Massachusetts: and Simsbury, Connecticut

This is a very difficult post to write because I ran these races only a week after one of my closest friends passed away. It goes without saying, she was on my mind and in my heart the entire trip. Still is.

Love you and miss you, Ang.

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About the race series.

Thanks to Mainly Marathons, and their New England Series, I was able to efficiently complete four races in one week. The whole series includes seven races in seven days, but I only needed to do the races on days 2, 3, 4, and 6 to complete states I still needed.

I’ve written about Mainly Marathons in the past and they continue to be great races. Previously, I did the Independence Series and the Appalachian Series and became hooked. These are small races–only about 100 to 200 people have run the ones I have done–and it’s easy to get to know everyone participating. The races include full marathons, half marathons, 5Ks, and this year they’ve even added 30Ks for those who don’t think running full marathons on seven consecutive days is enough of a challenge. Crazy, for sure.

I was really lucky that Orlando got to join me since Denise had already done these states when they held the series last October. Orlando served as my cheerleader, driver, and–on day five when I didn’t have to race–my tour guide.

Instead of taking full advantage of a rest day and using day five of the series to REST, we

Empire State

View from top of Empire State Bldg.

decided to be adventurous and take the train into New York City for the day. I’m so glad we did! Orlando lived in NYC for a year so he knew how to make the best use of our limited time. It was a whirlwind of a day that I won’t ever forget. It started with getting up at 4:30 a.m. (just like on the races days) and driving to Hartford, CT to take the train to Penn Station in Manhattan. From there, we walked to the Empire State Building, down Broadway, through Times Square, and to Central Park (with an obligatory pizza stop thrown in along the way). From there, we took the subway to Battery Park to see the Statue of Liberty, the World Trade Center Memorial, and Brooklyn Bridge. Down there, we enjoyed a hot dog from one of the street vendors and still had time to catch the subway back to Hell’s Kitchen near Penn Station and meet a friend for dinner. After that, we were back on the train at 6:30 and in bed back in Connecticut at about 10:30 p.m.

Full day, with almost as many miles logged as a half marathon, and oh, so worth it.

Each of the race days were clear and dry and the only cold day was in New Hampshire. Best of all, I am injury-free and not even sore after logging over 62 miles for the week. Yay.

Only two more states to go. I never thought I would say that.

 

Run the Bluegrass in Lexington, Kentucky

Date: April 2, 2016

Distance: 13.16

Location: Lexington, KY

Time: 2:38:40

What a great race weekend. Denise joined me on this one, and I’m so glad. We had a really great time and it was nice to have someone to hang out with. This state marked her 42nd and my 44th–we can see the end!

Friday was an all-day travel day. Both of us had two flight legs to meet up in Cincinnati where we rented a car and drove the almost one-and-a-half hours to Lexington.

The packet pickup was located where the race would begin and end–the Keeneland Race Track. The expo was filled with all sorts of running swag and some nice local features such as Buffalo Trace Bourbon and bourbon-flavored coffees. Yes, bourbon is definitely a “thing” in Kentucky and it became a continual theme throughout the entire weekend. We were even surprised to be greeted in our hotel lobby, upon check in, with free drinks–bourbon and ginger ale. Later, we also sampled what is probably now considered the best dessert I have ever tasted: Kentucky Butter Cake with Bourbon Sauce. Check out a food review here. Evidently, I’m not alone in my appreciation for the culinary delight.

BourbonCake

Perhaps the best dessert you will ever try.

The race is listed as “one of America’s standout must-run half marathons,” according to Runner’s World magazine, and I can see why. The location was worth visiting, the course was picturesque, and runners enjoyed one of the best post-race food options I’ve ever seen. Overall, too, the race was incredibly well organized and was not too big.

Course: The course, referred to as “technical” by some online postings I read before the race, was very hilly. There was no huge overall elevation gain, but the course consisted of a series of many small hills throughout the entire course. If someone was not used to running on hills, they would certainly feel it in their quads the next day. Luckily for me, I’ve been running primarily outdoors and on hills. My ten-mile training run probably really helped–I did that one in Emigration Canyon two weeks before the race and that consisted of five miles up hill and five miles back down with a 700+ foot elevation gain. Also, all of the awkward poses I’ve been consistently doing in my yoga classes have helped build my quads as well. Gotta keep that up.

As promised, the course was scenic as it looped through a series of estates with stately houses and expansive horse pastures. Had the trees been in full foliage, the course would have been particularly beautiful. The beauty of the course, I think, mostly made up for the fact that the first seven or eight miles of the race were incredibly crowded as runners were squeezed together on narrow roads. No car traffic, though, so that was good.

Medal and Shirt: I’m pretty sure the race medal is the heaviest one of now possess. I like bluegrassthe design of both the medal and the shirt. The shirts are black, cotton, long-sleeved hoodies–the kind of shirt I’ll likely wear on many weekend days.

Post-race food: Yes, for me, it’s all about the food and this race did not disappoint. After crossing the finish line and receiving our medals, runners were handed water bottles, bananas, chocolate milk, and sacks filled with a granola bar, fruit snacks, a bag of chips, and a candy bar. As we meandered along towards the free beer and pizza stations, we were also invited to have maple, cream-filled donuts. So, in essence, the 1200 calories we had just burned were immediately consumed within fifteen minutes of finishing the race.

Weather: On the bright side, we didn’t contend with rain, sleet, or snow like runners in some northeast races did during the same weekend, but the winds really picked up during the second half of the race and that made the cool temperatures feel downright cold. That prompted us to leave the race as quickly as we could to get back to our hotel for hot showers and dry clothes.

Post-race relaxation: In keeping with the bourbon theme, we took advantage of our hotel’s sampling offer after the race and tried three very different types of bourbon along with a great post-race meal. We were able to relax all afternoon and evening and enjoyed sleeping in the next morning as well. Love it when we have late-departing fights.We both made it home without any glitches, and feel satisfied having removed one more state off our lists.

Next Up: Next up for me? Four races in the Mainly Marathons New England series next month. After that, I’ll be incredibly happy to have all 48 contiguous states completed. Then I’ll get to join Denise again in Alaska in August and Hawaii in January as we complete our decade-long goal to complete half marathons in all fifty states. Can’t wait.

Reboot Day 5–I did it!

Yesterday was the last day of my 5-day reboot and I am happy to report, I dropped a total of 5.5 pounds. More importantly, I feel really great.

Again, I didn’t follow the juice plan exactly, but–like yesterday–followed the plan’s intent. I had four juices along with chicken broth.

Sure, I was a little jealous when I had to watch others in my family eat real food, but it really wasn’t that bad. I wasn’t hungry, I had energy, and I will definitely do it again.  Glad to blog about it, too, because it really did help motivate me to stay on track.

What I craved today when I work up? A mango and some peanut butter on a graham cracker. Today’s breakfast seemed so indulgent! Now, I feel as though I’m back on track to following a nutritious, healthy diet. “Reboot” is a great name for this effort.

 

Calcium-Rich Cucumber (I drank this on days three and four and really liked it)

1/2 pineapple

8 celery stalks

2 large cucumbers

2 limes

 

Micro-nutrient Madness (I didn’t try this one)

2 oranges

4 carrots

2 orange bell peppers

4 celery stalks

1 cucumber