Tie-Dyed White Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting


For my daughter’s 10th birthday, she asked for “a white cake with colorful swirls and chocolate icing with green and pink decorations.” Very specific, and I aim to deliver what people ask for. Not only do I deliver, I like to over-deliver by taking the idea a bit further.

I have a basic white cake recipe that I love to make – it is so simple but so delicious. Super-moist but light, dense enough to stand up to a thick buttercream but airy enough to layer without getting too heavy. I’ve tweaked it over the years ’til I’m happy with the results every time I make it.

I took my basic recipe below and doubled it, creating four layers (two 10 inch and two 9 inch) with a different colored swirl inside each. Then I assembled and frosted it with my chocolate buttercream frosting. My daughter and I tinted a bit of the Caramel Buttercream I had left over from the chocolate cupcakes I made for the party (I like for people to have options, and I also like to stuff my guests uncomfortably full – that’s my love language) and used it to add decorations, along with roughly 2 pounds of sprinkles (I exaggerate, but that kid is seriously pretty heavy-handed with the edible glitter).

The reactions when I cut into the cake were great – nobody knew what the inside looked like until the first piece was served. The kids all went “WHOA” and one usually-hard-to-impress girl exclaimed, “that is friggin’ COOL!” Validation achieved. 😉

Let me know how yours turns out. The color combinations are endless and you can swirl together as many as you like.


** This recipe makes one two-layer round cake (9 and/or 10 inch pan). You can double the recipe like I did if you’d like to build more layers! **


12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) softened (NOT melted – it makes a big textural difference, trust me) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups cake/pastry flour (lends a much lighter texture than all-purpose)
2 teaspoons baking powder (make sure it’s fresh – old baking powder yields less rise)
6 (3/4 cup) egg whites
3/4 cup milk (I use 2%)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Gel food coloring and a few small bowls to divide and tint cake batter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom of two round pans (I used one 9 inch and one 10 inch and made two batches for the layers). Line bottoms of pans with parchment or waxed paper. (I cut circles of parchment paper to fit in the bottoms of my pans. This step will really help you avoid the stuck-to-the-pan blues that often result in torn cake.)

Using your stand mixer or an electric hand beater, cream butter and sugar together on medium-high until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes).

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. In another bowl (sorry, I’m really making a mess of your kitchen) whisk together the egg whites, milk and vanilla extract.

Add 1/4 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture in the mixing bowl and beat for a couple of minutes, then add 1/4 of the milk mixture and beat ’til incorporated. Repeat this process until all dry and wet ingredients are incorporated into the butter/sugar mixture. You’ll probably need to stop the mixer a few times to scrape down the sides of the bowl so that everything gets combined thoroughly.

We’re gonna dirty up more of your dishes now. Depending on how many colors you want to make, evenly divide the prepared batter into separate bowls. Using a toothpick or the tines of a fork, dip a tiny amount of the gel food coloring into each bowl and mix thoroughly into batter. Repeat as needed to reach the desired intensity for each hue.

To make the swirls: You’ll need small scoops, measuring cups or spoons for each color (more dishes to wash, hooray!). I use 1/4 cup scoops for mine. Using your scoop/cup/spoon, place a dollop of one of the colors of batter in the center of each pan. Give it a minute to spread out a bit, then scoop a different color and pour it directly on top of the dollop already in the pan. Don’t mix them together! Let the batter spread a bit before adding the next dollop, again to the center. Keep repeating this process until you have concentric rings in each pan, like a bulls-eye dartboard. Don’t mix them together, although you can use a spoon to lightly push the edge of each new dollop out so the mixture continues to spread to the edges of the pan. It’ll look like this when the pans are full:


Bake cakes about 22 to 25 minutes on the middle rack of your oven (or until a toothpick inserted in the center emerges clean). I turn/rotate them halfway through to ensure even baking.

Cool in pans on a cooling rack for 5 minutes, then carefully turn out onto rack (I like to put the rack upside down across the top of the pan and hold them together as I quickly flip the pan so that it drops easily onto the rack), remove the parchment/waxed paper and let the cakes cool completely on the rack before frosting.




1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, softened (NOT melted – you need the structural integrity of soft butter to make this frosting set up right)
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 pound confectioners sugar
1/2 cup milk (I use Horizon 2% chocolate milk just to pump up the cocoa flavor a bit more)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract


Add cocoa powder to bowl of stand mixer or large bowl that you can use your electric hand mixer in. Whisk powder thoroughly to remove any lumps.

Using your stand mixer or electric hand mixer, beat softened butter into the cocoa powder at medium-high speed for about 5 minutes – you want the mixture to be really creamy and fluffy. (I use the paddle attachment in my Kitchenaid stand mixer for the best results.)

Reduce speed to medium and add 1 cup of the sugar and 1 tablespoon of the milk, then crank the speed back up to high for a minute or two until well-combined. Repeat this process, slowly incorporating the sugar and milk until it’s all combined with the butter (you’ll need to frequently stop the mixer to scrape down the sides and beater with a spatula). Add the vanilla extract and beat on high for another two minutes.

** If frosting is too dry/hard, add a little more more milk – a tablespoon at a time – until it reaches the right consistency. If it’s too wet/soupy, add a bit more confectioner’s sugar – again, a tablespoon at a time – until the texture is right.

To assemble cake: using a spatula, spread a thin layer on the underside of the bottom layer of cake to “glue” it to the cake board or plate, then lay a nice thick layer of frosting over the entire bottom layer. Frost the underside of the next layer so it’ll stick to the bottom layer better, then set it in place and frost it entirely too. You can then smooth out the frosting, add a thicker coat to hide the “seams” of the separate layers and/or put additional frosting into a decorating bag with a piping tip to embellish your cake. (My daughter chose the large star tip to outline the layers and to write her first initial on top of the cake before dousing it liberally with sprinkles and colored sugar.)


Let me know how yours turns out! I’d love to see pictures. (I really need to start taking more “process” pictures of my own recipes! I always forget or take sloppy ones.)

Caramel Buttercream Frosting

Let me just state from the very beginning that this is not a clean-eating, healthy-living recipe.

I have plenty of those and I love to share them – roasted veggies, salads, lean proteins, etc. But when your 10 year old asks you for cake with “that really good frosting you made last year,” you deliver, calories/fat/sugar be damned.

So yeah, this definitely qualifies as a “sometimes” food. But sometimes you just need a really great buttercream frosting – the thick, rich stuff that spreads and pipes beautifully and sets up nicely in the fridge and holds its shape.

Per my daughter’s request, I made a white cake with chocolate buttercream frosting for the main cake – it was 4 layers tall and each layer was swirled with a different color to resemble tie-dye. I’ll post the recipe and method for that soon too, because it was majestic and I am absurdly proud of the reactions it garnered from everyone who saw and tasted it. I wanted to provide a little variety though, so I also made chocolate cupcakes and frosted them with caramel buttercream frosting.

It’s a very basic buttercream recipe, but it requires the addition of my salted caramel, made with an extra two tablespoons of cream so that it was more saucy than I make it when I’m molding it for individual candies. (If you don’t want to take this extra step, then you can use store-bought caramel sauce and it will still taste great! I was just dead-set on it being 100% from scratch.)

I usually make this frosting a day or two in advance and store it in a plastic bag (with as much air squeezed out as possible) for a day or two in advance. When it’s time to use it, I plop the mass of chilled frosting back into the bowl of my stand mixer and whip it back up with paddle attachment until it’s fluffy and smooth enough to spread or to spoon into a decorating bag.

Let me know what you think! As always, I welcome feedback. BTW, if you’d like to make this a basic buttercream without the caramel, omit that ingredient and just add a couple of teaspoons of vanilla extract instead.



12 ounces (3 sticks) softened (NOT MELTED) butter (I let mine sit at room temp for about an hour before I start)
1 pound confectioners sugar
2-3 tablespoons caramel sauce (store bought is fine, but this caramel recipe made with an extra two tablespoons of cream added to the 1/4 cup it calls for will really elevate the flavor and texture)


Using your stand mixer or an electric hand mixer, beat butter at medium-high speed for about 5 minutes – you want it to be really creamy and fluffy. (I use the paddle attachment in my Kitchenaid stand mixer for the best results.)

Reduce speed to medium and add 1/2 cup of sugar, then crank the speed back up to high for a minute or two until well-combined. Repeat this process, 1/2 cup at a time, slowly incorporating the sugar until it’s all combined with the butter (you’ll need to frequently stop the mixer to scrape down the sides and beater with a spatula).

Turn mixer off and drizzle 2-3 tablespoons of caramel sauce into frosting (you can add a bit more cream by the teaspoon if it’s not thin enough to drizzle in – you want it to be liquidy enough to blend into the frosting completely). Turn the mixer back on and beat until caramel is fully incorporated and frosting is light and fluffy.

From here, you can tint the frosting if you like (I use gel food coloring when I tint mine, adding a teensy bit at a time to the mixer). Spread on cake with an offset spatula or spoon into a decorating bag with a piping tip attached and squeeze to your heart’s content.

BTW, a light sprinkling of sea salt on top of the frosted product is pretty spectacular, especially if you’re frosting something chocolate – I love how the sweet and salty complement each other.

Peppermint Sugar Cookies 

Every Christmas, my domestic side kicks into high gear and I make a ton of treats for friends, family & neighbors. I have a few old standards that I turn out each year (like my salted caramels), but this time I added a new treat to the mix: peppermint sugar cookies.

Like most of the things I make, it’s an easy recipe that tastes fancier than it really is. I used the basic sugar cookie recipe that I’ve been baking for years & just tweaked it a bit. The result: soft, melt-in-your-mouth cookies with flecks of peppermint in every bite.

I’m including a recipe for a minty royal icing if you want to add a glaze to dress them up a bit. It’s not necessary and I skip it if I’m baking multiple batches (I’ve baked 30 dozen so far this year), but it does add some eye appeal and you can even sprinkle on a little more crushed peppermint before the icing hardens if you want to make them extra-fancy.

This recipe makes 5 dozen small cookies; if you keep them bite-sized then each cookie contains about 85 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, 12.5 grams of carbs & 1 gram of protein.

Peppermint Sugar Cookies 


  • 1 cup (2 sticks) of butter, softened (not melted – that will change the texture)
  • 1 cup of white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon peppermint extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup crushed peppermint candies (or 4-5 crushed candy canes) – I use a food processor or put them in a plastic bag & beat ’em up with a rolling pin
  • 1/4 cup Andes peppermint crunch baking chips  (if you can’t find them, just double the amount of crushed peppermint)


Preheat oven to 350F & line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Set out cooling racks if you have them (the air circulation makes a difference in the texture of the finished product).

Cream together butter and sugar for a few minutes until light and fluffy. Add egg and extracts and mix until combined. A cup at a time, add the flour until just combined, then gently fold in crushed peppermints and baking chips until they’re incorporated into the dough. Don’t over mix!

Roll dough into 1 inch balls and evenly space apart on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper (I can fit 15 – 5 rows, 3 columns – on each sheet).

Bake cookies for 10 minutes. They’ll still be light – browned edges mean they’re overcooked.

Cool on cookie sheets for a few minutes, then move cookies to your cooling racks until completely cool.

Minty Royal Icing & Crunch Topping (optional):


  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 2 tablespoons warm water
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 3-4 tablespoons crushed peppermint candies (or red sugar sprinkles  if you’re tired of crushing mints at this point)


In a small bowl, whisk sugar, water & extract together. Dip tops of cookies in icing or brush on tops of cookies with a pastry or basting brush, then sprinkle each cookie with a bit of crushed peppermint or sugar sprinkles & let the topping harden.


That’s it! These cookies taste great with my peppermint cocoa, by the way. But that’s a post for another day!

Episode 106: Dara O’ Bannon is on Fire!

The wonderful hosts of the Back of the Pack Endurance podcast interviewed me last night about running, roller derby, aerial arts, my experiences as a first-time race director and my upcoming gig as a balloon art model. I come in around the 1 hour mark in this episode and they let me ramble and giggle to my heart’s content!

Source: Episode 106: Dara O’ Bannon is on Fire!

On longterm sobriety

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be an alcoholic and/or an addict in longterm recovery, I can shed some light on the subject. My credentials: six years of sobriety down, a lifetime to go.

It’s when the novelty of being newly sober wears off and the reality of being sober from now on sets in. “This is it!” turns into “so this is it, then.”

It’s having dreams that you drank or used again & waking up in a cold sweat thinking that you have to reset your sobriety date & start all over again.

It’s avoiding menu items with a “wine sauce” or “bourbon glaze” because even a hint of alcohol will make you feel like you’re breaking the promise you made to yourself. Quietly asking the server for a flute of water for the champagne toast at your cousin’s wedding. Feeling like a jerk when you have to turn down the kahlua truffles your teammate made for everyone. Choosing alcohol-free vanilla extract or mouthwash at the store because yes, even that bothers you. Realizing that obsessing over not drinking has replaced obsessing over drinking.

It’s turning down the painkillers you legitimately need for an injury because you don’t want to get too attached to the way they make you feel. Not even letting yourself buy a damn bottle of nighttime cough syrup because you understand your potential to abuse something so simple, something that normal people don’t think twice about taking when they need it.

It’s fumbling over a response to an invitation from a new friend to “go grab a beer sometime” or deciding how to answer a request to buy you a drink. Making excuses and being vague or potentially making them uncomfortable by being frank. Avoiding parties or happy hour meet-ups with old friends who eventually stop inviting you to hang out any time alcohol is involved (and alcohol is pretty much always involved).

It’s having to explain to people you haven’t seen in awhile that you still don’t drink or use. It wasn’t for a diet or a challenge or to get a job. It was to save your life, and it still is. It was to get your shit together & to keep it together.

It’s laughing off your friend’s joke “don’t worry, I’ll drink enough for the both of us!” even though it’s really not funny at all (& maybe a little insensitive, and maybe a little sad). Feeling uncomfortable about the saying “I feel sorry for people who don’t drink; when they wake up in the morning, that’s the best they’re going to feel all day” because you know how true it really is. Feeling weary when someone makes light of their own drinking, but knowing how it will be received if you say something about it.

It’s yelling at the TV every time that stupid Passages Malibu commercial comes on, the one with the smarmy bastard who smugly proclaims “I should know. I was an addict for 10 years, and now I’m not.” You yell because you know it’s bullshit, that addicts can change their habits but not their personalities. That choosing not to drink or use does not mean you are magically cured of who you are, who you will always be. Knowing that no fancy rehab resort can change the way the addict brain is wired.

It’s understanding that if you like something, you will end up loving it so hard that it scares you a little. You’ll latch onto whatever it is and make it your new obsession. You’ll wonder if it’s just passion for something awesome or if it’s your addict brain doing what it does best (or worst).

It’s never having a crutch again. No social lubricant, no escape from reality. No pick-me-up, no nightcap, no reward for making it through the day. Your reward IS making it through another day. Your reward is functioning like an adult without trying to check out for a bit mentally when it gets too hard. And it does get hard, because life is like that and you used to have an escape hatch that could temporarily take you away from the anxiety, the stress, the depression. You know logically it never really took away any of that, it just numbed it all for a bit. Knowing that you can never numb it again is exhausting sometimes.

But you keep on doing it – or rather, not doing it. One day at a time. Day after day. Year after year. The same thing, over and over from now on. It will always be this way, because this is what life is like when you are sober.

Fresh Ink x2

I am flattered and honored to be the subject of an article on Runner’s World’s Zelle website!  Many thanks to Megan Birch-McMichael for such a fantastic writeup.




This awesome article, which makes me seem much cooler than I actually am, was published the morning after I got my first running-related tattoo – I am covered in derby ink, so I really wanted to get something that represents my running life as well. Meet Pacer and Miles, my running spirit animals. Myles Bryant designed and inked this piece for me, and I am over the moon about how much I adore it.


Pacer says Miles is going WAY too fast and will burn out by mile 9.

Pacer says Miles is going WAY too fast and will burn out by mile 9.


Everything is coming up Milhouse today! Now I’ve gotta go be awesome so that I can live up to the press. 😉 Have a blessed day!

Run for God @ the Honor Connor 5K

Race report, Proud Coach edition:

FUMC Hurst FIT Class, Spring 2015

FUMC Hurst FIT Class, Spring 2015

For 12 weeks, I led a paired fellowship class @ our church called FIT: The 5K Challenge, using the Run for God 5K book as a guide for our discussions and training. It was a diverse group that enjoyed a lot of insightful conversations and there were moments of epiphany and growth for all involved, especially me.  Our group ended the session together by running our target race, the Honor Connor 5K & Smile Mile. We had 13 runners total – most were running their first or second race ever.

The start was delayed 2 hours, thanks to heavy rain/lightning/flooding. When we finally got to run, the humidity was pretty intense & there was standing water on many sections of the courses. None of us let the conditions deter us from enjoying our races!

Both my mile & 5K groups did an amazing job – two of my women placed in their age group (2nd & 3rd in the same AG). One of my gentleman was initially listed as placing 2nd in his, but a recalculation bumped him – he would’ve been first in the next AG if he’d been a few months older. As he put it, “I’m not too slow for my age, I’m too young for my speed.” 😀 He was just ahead of me the entire time & finished right in front of me – watching his joy throughout the race (he is a former runner who took some time off & has used this class to return to running) was better than running my own race (which was still a lot of fun – good course & great support).

I want to be the lady next to me when I grow up.

I want to be the lady next to me when I grow up. She was so cool. I made her race me in the last 20 steps.

I finished my 5K, then went back out & ran in each of my remaining students – I got them just to the line so they could cross on their own, then turned back to run down the course to find the next one. After my 3rd time coming down the home stretch, a few little girls on the curb asked, “how many times are you gonna run this race?” When I explained what I was doing, they cheered “go pink lady!” and repeated it on the rest of my return trips. I may have that printed on the back of my coach shirt for next session.

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I had secretly ordered medals for everyone in our group, and the shock & joy on their faces as they received them brought tears to my eyes several times. I also cried as I crossed the line with each of them. I’m a sap.


I’ve run about fifty 5Ks, but this one was one of the best race experiences I’ve ever had. To see my little group achieve their goal was sweeter than any award I could receive. I can’t wait to do another one of these classes in the fall!

I want to be as cool as Kim when I grow up. This lady rocks.

Kim rocks!

DIY Medal Racks: Race Bib Covered Wooden Letters 

I used to tack my race bibs to the wall in our old house, but I wanted to turn them into art in our new home. The solution: I cut them to fit onto wooden letters, adhered them with Mod Podge & added towel hooks on which to hang my medals.

The finished product:

Here’s what you need to make your own!

• Wooden letters

• Race bibs

• Mod Podge (I used the Gloss, but any will do)

• Black paint for the edges (looks nicer than unfinished wood)

• Towel hooks & short screws

The how-to is really easy – here’s the step by step:

1.) I ordered 23″ wooden letters from Home Depot online. Hobby Lobby & Michael’s sell smaller letters, but I had a lot of bibs to use up & I needed decent width for plenty of medal hooks.

2.) I painted the sides of the letters black so none of the wood would show & so they’d really pop against the pink walls in my gym.

3.) I laid my race bibs across the letters ’til I liked the arrangement, then cut them to fit. (You can photocopy yours & cut the copies if cutting up the originals freaks you out)

4.) Using Mod Podge, I glued each bib piece onto the fronts only (no overlap on the painted sides).

5.) After they dried, we screwed on towel hooks that we bought at Home Depot:

6.) Lastly, we hung them on the wall using drywall screws & started adding the medals.

That’s it! It’s a lot easier than you think & the minimal amount of work produces major impact on your wall! Please let me know if you have any questions, and if you make your own, please send me a pic!

Stuffed Energy Dates – a natural, Paleo alternative to energy gels

Since going Paleo, I’ve started experimenting with natural race fuel – the chemical-laden Gu and Chomps just taste weird to me now and upset my stomach. I’ve carried dried fruit, made my own gels using fruit, chia seeds and sweet potatoes, and I’ve messed around with the recipe I’m about to share now – medjool dates stuffed with coconut oil and cocoa powder. It’s my absolute favorite way to fuel before, during and after a race, training run or workout.

Dates contain easily digestible simple sugars plus fiber that helps stabilize blood sugar. The high levels of potassium help keep your electrolytes balanced and the magnesium is a natural anti-inflammatory. Iron and B-complex vitamins help boost energy. Dates also contain calcium, Vitamin K and phenols (antioxidant compounds that protect cells against damaging free radicals). So much nutrition in such a small package!

I use the coconut oil because of the MCT (medium chain triglycerides). Coconut oil is metabolized like a carbohydrate – The fatty acids are sent directly to the liver for conversion into energy and not into body tissues as fat. The cocoa powder is rich in potassium and contains energy-boosting caffeine and theobromine (which is also a mood booster). Potassium chloride AKA salt substitute helps strike a better electrolyte balance than sea salt (although for training sessions shorter than 3 hours, you don’t really need the extra potassium anyway, as long as you replenish post-workout).

Okay, so now you know why. Let’s talk about how!

Mise en place (Anne Burrell would be so proud)

Mise en place (Anne Burrell would be so proud)

What you will need to make a dozen of these little energy bombs:

12 large medjool dates (fresh are softer and easier to work with than dried)

1/4 cup coconut oil

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Potassium chloride (sold as “salt substitute” in your grocery)

The process:

Using a sharp knife, carefully slit each date without cutting completely in half and remove the pit in each, then spread the halves apart so they fold open like sticky little books.


Next, mix the 1/4 cup of coconut oil with 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder until it forms a brownie-batter like consistency. You can use less cocoa if you like. I won’t micromanage your taste buds.


Use a teaspoon to measure out the amount you’ll put in each date. You may use a bit more or less depending on the size of each date.  Spread cocoa/oil mixture inside each half and then sprinkle with the salt substitute.


Smush the halves of each date back together and pinch the edges slightly to seal. Now it’s time to wrap them!  I use Glad Press’n’Seal, although foil works well too. I wrap these as shown below (more info later on why, beyond easy wrapper removal):

corner to corner instead of edge to edge is easier to open on the run

corner to corner instead of edge to edge is easier to open on the rundates9

After wrapping each date individually, they’re ready to go into a baggie and then into your fuel carrying system. I can fit 6 dates into a snack-sized bag, which goes into my SPI belt. It’ll hold more, but this is usually all I need.


These are great for pre- and mid-run, but for fast post-run fuel (or for when I need a little change in flavor and a bit of protein), I like to stuff them with cashew butter or almond butter instead. Same concept, less mixing.


To tell them apart in my bag without having to inspect them, I wrap the ones filled with nut butter like candies, twisting the long ends of each. I usually mark a C or A on the wrapper depending on which nut butter I use, but it’s easier to feel the difference in wrapper than it is to read the writing when running.


There you have it! Natural, portable energy that can be consumed on the run, on the bench in a derby bout or between sets in the gym. Nothing fake and you can control what goes into your fitness nutrition.

For the sake of comparison, here are the nutrition facts for my recipe vs. Gu. Since it is not an exact 1:1 ratio on carbs, you may have to play around a bit with how frequently you consume these as opposed to how frequently you’d use Gu. As I become fat-adapted, I notice I need fewer and at longer intervals than I did when I was weaning myself off of the carb-heavy diet I used to consume.

Nutrition info for coconut oil stuffed dates

Nutrition info for coconut oil stuffed dates

Nutrition info for Gu (varies slightly by flavor)

Nutrition info for Gu (varies slightly by flavor)

I hope you enjoy these – please let me know what you think!  I welcome feedback and I’d love to know what works (and doesn’t work) for you. My next post will be about some of the other options I’ve tried – I’ll include the recipes for the homemade gel and sweet potato puree I like to use.

Dallas Marathon 2014


It has taken me a month to recap this race on my blog, partly because I already wrote about it on my running group but mostly because I was waiting for my mixed feelings to resolve into something ultimately positive. I have a tendency toward self-flagellation after any athletic event or performance, regardless of outcome – I spend ages obsessing over how I could’ve done better. It’s a blessing and a curse, but it keeps me striving for bigger/better/faster/more, so I choose to embrace it.

This was my 1st full marathon and it was full of meaning. Dallas was my 1st half marathon in 2009 – I quit drinking while training for it, so this medal is my version of a 5 year chip. I trained for months, hitting all but one of my scheduled runs. My right knee wasn’t always thrilled, but I felt ready after record mileage, a half-marathon PR and an AG award for my last half before the marathon.

About a week out, I developed an ache in my left thigh/buttock that quickly went from uncomfortable to excruciating. I thought it might be a hamstring tear or piriformis syndrome, but a visit to my beloved chiropractor confirmed that it was sciatica due to a bulging and possibly herniated L4-L5. I’ve spent nearly 2 years rehabilitating the mess between my C2-C5, so this news was pretty demoralizing – I wasn’t ready for more traction/decompression.


The pain was slowing me down considerably & there was concern from family, friends & Dr. Cox about the distance, so I briefly considered switching from the full to the half. Then I received my crazy bib # – 999 – on what would’ve been my grandmother’s 99th birthday, so I took it as I sign that I had to try. Worst-case scenario? I would start but not be able to finish, which felt preferable to finishing the half & realizing I could’ve gone farther. I recalculated my goal pace based on my decreased ability and estimated my finish time at 5 hours. I was 2 days out & could barely sit or stand up without searing electric pain down my left leg. As long as I was in motion, though, it was tolerable.

The weather was overcast on race morning & heavy rain was forecasted for afternoon. I met up with my brother Kris, my sister-in-law Jen & a few of their friends, most of whom were running the half. Jen is my favorite running buddy & the races shared the same course for the first 9.5 miles, so the time with her flew by.


We hugged goodbye at the split & I was on my own, maintaining a slower pace than I’d planned but still in pretty good shape. The hills were starting to hurt a bit around mile 13, but the promise of seeing my awesome husband every 3ish miles (he found me 8 times on the course, carrying a backpack full of just-in-case) in his bright pink Wonder Woman shirt kept me in good spirits. He even ran a bit with me, even though he hates to run.

At mile 15, the intermittent rain became a torrential downpour. It would continue for the entirety of the next 11.2 miles. Good thing I had my custom-made poncho with me.


Despite the weather, the volunteers were all cheerful & the spectators were amazing. Great course support, even when the 25mph wind gusts made it impossible to keep water cups on the tables.

By mile 20, my back & leg were pretty wrecked but I was still enjoying myself. The rain made the potholed streets a bit harder to traverse and my knee was starting to lock up, so my pace slowed to a shuffle. I never hit the infamous wall and I never doubted that I could finish the distance, but I was starting to worry that the course would close before I could cross the line – the time limit was 6.5 hours & judging by my recalculations, I would be cutting it close.

By mile 21, I’d already decided to do another marathon (maybe Cowtown in March). My Garmin died around this time, so I quit caring altogether about pace & just looked for mile markers. The sag wagons were nowhere in sight, so that gave me hope.

Around mile 22 I passed the Doublewide, the bar where I used to get blackout drunk & make terrible decisions before I traded drinking for distance running. I flipped it the double bird and picked up my pace.

Downtown Dallas never looked so beautiful as I shambled toward the finish line. I was amazed by how many spectators were still there, despite the rain & the late hour.

I finished in 6:19:16, over an hour slower than I’d hoped. But I made it with a grin on my face & a profound sense of gratitude for the ability to run, even when it hurts.


I picked up my finisher medal & my Dallas Duo medal (for also running RnR Half in March) & I found my husband. Hugging him felt better than any medal or PR ever has, and that’s when I finally cried.

He had doughnuts & hot coffee waiting for me in the car. I may have run all day, but he was the one who worked his ass off to support me – I am so thankful to have him on my team.

I rode the finisher’s high into Tuesday, when my depleted endorphins & exhaustion finally caught up with me. I spent about 24 hours disgusted with myself for finishing nearly 80 minutes slower than I’d hoped, for not pushing myself harder, for walking part of the last 10K. I was a marathoner, yeah, but I still felt like I’d failed.

As with any failure (or half-assed success), I ultimately chose to use the disappointment as fuel for my fire. I registered for Cowtown & started my training cycle again. The upshot is, unless I fall asleep or into an open manhole, I’ll most likely PR my next marathon!

If you made it through this ramble, then I sincerely thank you. I needed to get it out there so I can finally shake off the disappointment & move forward. I still have severe sciatica, but I’m running through the pain & treating with a TENS unit and an inversion table. Eventually I’ll go get that MRI & schedule some traction/decompression sessions, but for now I’m just focusing on my training schedule. We’ll see how Cowtown goes!