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I am safely returned from an awesome weekend in Chicago and Wisconsin, where I ran the Wisconsin Marathon 1/2.  I’ll get the sub-headline out of the way: The weekend was great and I walked away with great memories and a new PR. Holla! The big headline: I am more proud of this race and what it represents than I was of the marathon.

Now for the details:

Flew in Friday morning. Barely were the wheels down than Kristiana and I headed to the Doughnut Vault for some carby, fatty goodness. We arrived around 10 AM to this line (pretty standard for the Doughnut Vault):

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I had faith there would be doughnuts remaining. We knew it would be close. We did not expect to be next in line with two stacks of Gingerbread doughnuts left. I think you can guess what the guy in right front of us did. Yup, he bought the LAST TWO. Sauntered up, leaned on the counter and said “Yeeeeeeah…. I think I want them both.” I know he  overheard us talking about being from Atlanta and coming all this way for  a doughnut. Whatever, dude. If that’s where you get your power from, then I hope you enjoyed your doughnuts.

We went to Whole Foods for groceries and then back to Kristiana’s apartment to unload and change shoes for a bit of walking around and shopping. It was COLD! Cold weather makes me grumpy, but K puts up with me like a champ. We got on the bus down to the loop and I checked Twitter only to be greeted by the news of MCA’s death. Ugh. This child of the 80’s, who has plenty of Beasties on her playlist, was kinda sad. I indulged in some retail therapy to dull the pain (a warm hoodie to wear the rest of the weekend and a Flashdance-style Chi-town shirt. Yessssss.)

Shopping done, it was time for lunch. Past time, actually. I’d heard about the Protein Bar and decided to try it on the off chance that they might also have some carbs that would help me out in Saturday’s race. I had a classic Bar-rito, hold the quinoa. It was delicious. I’d eat there all the time if there were one in Atlanta. Hint, hint, Protein Bar. If you’re listening.

After all that healthy eating, it seemed like a good time for sweets. We found the Chicago outpost of Magnolia Bakery, and Kristiana had yet to try their cupcakes. So in we went.

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They were featuring Hummingbird cupcakes, and I must say they were delicious. I’ve not had a decent hummingbird cake since Harry’s in Atlanta was sold to Whole Foods. Look at the cute sign for them, too!

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Back to the apartment for a little chill time, and then a walk by the lake. After a light dinner (tortilla chips. This runner is fueled by corn chips) it was bedtime. Problem was, who wants to go to bed when this is the view from your bedroom? The clouds of earlier in the day had lifted and the lights of the city were twinkling by the lake. To say my friend has an awesome place would be a massive understatement. I really did not want to go to sleep.  But 4 AM was coming fast sooo… Goodnight moon.

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Off went the alarm but, as usual, I’d been up for quite some time. I can’t recommend you eat the way I did Friday, the day before a big race. I haven’t had GI issues in a long time but… I was worried. Not that you can tell by this pic. I look ridiculously happy for 4 AM. Do you like how I represent the A when I run out-of-town races? And let me just plug those Brooks arm warmers. Super soft, warm, and bright enough to fit my criteria of clothes I’ll train in, since they are bright and drivers can see them. Well, drivers who do not have their nose in their phone. But that is a topic for another day.

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So, off to the races. On the way I texted with my friend Angie, the saint who picked me up and took me to the race with her last year. She had a preemie baby 3 months ago and wasn’t sure she was running the race at all until a couple of weeks ago. But she told me she was pacing some girls who wanted to break 2:00. My official goal was 2:03-2:05 but I felt like maybe… if everything lined up just so… that it wouldn’t be out of the question to go below that. So I told her I’d try and find her and maybe run with her, too. I also said I’d drop back if I needed to; I just wasn’t confident that I’d be able to go sub-2:00 just yet.

We stopped just off the interstate for a bathroom break before we got into Kenosha. We got into downtown right at 6:30 but somehow with finding parking and then walking to the start, it got to be really late, and I really needed to use the bathroom again before the start. I finally told Kristiana I needed to run for it, and we said goodbye. (She was registered for the race but got injured and March and was not able to run. Yet hauled my rear all over Chicago and Wisconsin like it wasn’t killing her to not be running too. THAT is a true friend. You’ll remember she also flew to DC to be my race support for the marathon. Not sure I”ll ever be able to repay her.)

I started running to the start. At 6:50 I spotted a municipal restroom with a line of about 6 women. I got in line and was out by 6:55. Winning! I ran to the start as they were singing the National Anthem at 6:56. I stationed myself on the sidelines and looked for Angie, on the off chance I’d see her as the crowd swarmed to the start line. The gun went off and I kept looking until I had to jump in (Gun vs. Chip time tells me this was about 2 minutes in. I love little races.) Oh, well, no Angie. No pacer. And now I was stuck in a crowd that was going a little slower than I’d like. But I knew that it would thin out within a 1/2 mile so I just hugged the curbs heading away from the lake and tried not to get puddle water on my shoes–it  had only stopped raining about 15 minutes before the start.

We headed south through town and turned back toward the lake. I heard they changed the course some this year and I *think* this was where they did it. It seems we were back by the lake later than last year. But along that residential road, around mile 1, I caught sight of a woman in a pink shirt, black capris, and a black hat–exactly what Angie said she’d be wearing. She was going faster than me but I wanted to say hi, so I caught her and hung with her for about three-quarters of a mile. We chatted but I was seeing lots of 8’s on my Garmin, and started to see her girls pulling away. I told her to go on and that I’d see her at the finish and/or at church the next day. (I’m so glad I did–she finished in 1:53 and was there to greet me as I crossed the line!) Mile 2, when I was with her, was my fastest of the race, though. 🙂

By now we were in my favorite portion of the race, with the lake on the left and gorgeous big homes on the right. Like a movie set. LOVE. I’d taken off my headband at mile 1, and my gloves by mile 2.  I wrap my  headband around my arm and thumb when I can’t get rid of it, but was holding my gloves. Not soon after the arm warmers came off, too, and hung on my fuel belt (I’d never run with them like that but they stayed put and didn’t bother me. Hurrah Arm Warmers, my new favorite accessory!) When we got to downtown and approaching Mile 4, I started looking for Kristiana in case she’d decided to leave the safe harbor of the coffeehouse where she was parking herself. If so, I was going to throw the headband and gloves at her, confident I’d be okay with just my arm warmers. I didn’t see her and I’m SO glad I didn’t. It was on/off on/off with the gloves the rest of the race. Last year I thought the temperature dropped during the race. Now that I’ve visited the area a little more and run the race, I realize what a drastic difference there is between the temperature right on the lake and the temp when you have just a building or two between you and the water. I was hot, then cold, then hot, then cold the whole time. So thankful for my gloves to give me a little more warmth. And, frankly, sometimes, putting them on or pulling them off was just something to do to distract  me from the effort.

But back to mile 4. Did I tell you my left knee has been hurting me? So weird–my knee hasn’t bothered me since 2010, before I lost a bunch of weight and got a good deal more strength. I am worried about it. I’d taped it that morning and it wasn’t painful but I didn’t want to damage it, either. But at mile 4, it seemed to be time for a decision. And here was the decision: “Knee. Listen. We are putting 13 miles on you today. We can do that slowly and perhaps with more force. Or we can be speedy and get a nice PR and possibly be lighter on you if we aim to be fleet of feet. What say ye?” Frankly, I didn’t care what the knee said–it was time to take off and get this thing rolling. Right around this time, my iPod did it’s thing, too. I’d almost taken off any Yeah Yeah Yeahs from the playlist as they are more of a winter band for me, but I’d left Zero on there. We rounded a bend. It felt chillier. Grayer. The lake was in full sight. Zero came on . I’ll put the video here so you can see what I remembered in my head, it’s at :50-1:03.

It was at this point that I basically threw up my metaphorical collar and took off. Thank you, Karen O, for inspiring a decision to be awesome! And once I committed to take care of business, the race got even better. We were nearing the first hill, which is  not much of a hill, and I remembered I had on my RunATL shirt–which says ‘Heat, Hills and Humidity’ on the back. No wussing out now! Thank you, Atlanta topography, for training me well. Now, here’s the great thing about the hills in Wisconsin–they all have corresponding downhills! It’s not like Atlanta  where they never seem to go back down. And the other thing that rules about Wisconsin hills–they defeat people who are from Wisconsin! I can’t recall a time where I have ever chicked guys over and over in a race. But the hills were killing the guys (and girls) while I was able to power through. I’ve never been one to engage in ‘picking off’ runners, but that may have to change. My competitive side did enjoy the small victories of those hills.

The course was beginning to feel familiar and coming back to me more after year. Especially as we neared mile 7 and the out and back I remembered that this out and back seemed like forever (it’s about 2 miles each way). I steeled myself for that and noted more hills ahead.

Once again the out and back is where I saw my Georgia Twitter pal Laura Scholz. She was headed for a bigtime PR and was wearing easy-to-spot lime green compression socks. Being as I like to inject a little South into the air when I am surrounded by Midwesterners, I yelled at her and may have said something resembling “Get ‘Er done!” Or it may have been exactly that. It’s the little things, people.

The last 3 miles are a bit of a blur. My massive PR was becoming apparent. That bouyed me at just about the right time. I remember at Mile 10, telling a girl who looked like she was fading on a hill that ‘we got this.’ Then it was back through downtown. Back through the crowds. Back down the initial residential area to the out and back and turn around at mile 12. Then we headed straight into a wall of wind. It was a fight–that wind off the lake is brutal. But, onward–and around the last turn toward the finish. Lots of kids to high-five at the end, and saw Kristiana waiting, too.

Chip Time: 2:04:37.  That’s 5 1/2 minutes off my previous PR (from the same race in 2011). And, more importantly, it’s 35 minutes off my first half-marathon, two years ago. I gotta say, I’m pretty proud of that. Possibly more so than I am of the marathon. I just remember being so sorely disappointed with my first 1/2, so to have progressed that much makes me really, really happy.  You can only imagine how happy I will be when I go sub-2:00 for the first time. Pretty sure I’ll be that weepy girl at the finish line, blubbering on my medal. But not this time; just all smiles.

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How else do you celebrate smashing your PR in Wisconsin? With Kringle, of course. Thanks Wisconsin! ‘Till next time–you rule!

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