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Race Report: Big Sur Marathon AKA “We Were Promised Strawberries”

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I’m terrible at timely race reports, mostly because I go through a multi-stage process every time I run a race.

* Stage 1: Finish Line – Elation. Over-the-top, I-love-everybody-and-everything style joy. I want to dance and sing and kiss strangers. I am the greatest.

* Stage 2: A Few Hours Later – Critical Analysis. I review my performance and nitpick how I could have done it better. I could have been so much greater.

* Stage 3: A Couple of Days Later – Endorphin Crash. With dopamine levels completely depleted, I am convinced I am the slowest runner ever and that I had no business running a marathon. I am the worst.

* Stage 4: When Race Pictures Are Released: Self-loathing. I swear I was running and not slowly walking like every photo seems to depict. Also, do I really look that heavy in person? At least I’m smiling…I mean, I look vaguely maniacal, but it’s a smile. Is there something worse than worst? If so, I’m that.

* Stage 5: Acceptance – Generally a few weeks post-marathon, when I can look back and laugh. (I also call this my Apathy Tipping Point, wherein I have cared so much that I finally stop caring entirely.) I’m cool.

So yeah. That’s why I’m typing a race report tonight for a marathon I ran 3 weeks ago. It’ll be long. Settle in.

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On Sunday, April 24, I crossed #1 off of my running bucket list: Big Sur Marathon.

A bit of background on why it was such a big deal to run this race: after shattering my left tibia/fibula in 2007, I spent about 5 months on crutches recovering from ORIF surgery (2 plates, 17 screws & a rod). My surgeon told me I’d walk with a permanent limp, that I would have to quit roller derby & that running long distances probably would be too painful. So of course I immediately started looking up destination marathons (after I ordered new derby skates, naturally). Google Image Search brought up Bixby Bridge – I was in awe of its majesty & the beauty of the entire coastline. My Running Bucket List was created right then with Big Sur Marathon as my first entry.

Fast forward through 6 more seasons of derby, 2 marathons, 25 half marathons & around 60 shorter races to 2015, when I entered the lottery for Big Sur. I told my awesome brother Kris what I was doing & he immediately put my sister-in-law/best friend/favorite running buddy Jenny on the list too, unbeknownst to her. In fact, Jenny had no idea she was running a 2nd marathon until I texted her to let her know that we’d both gotten in! Thank goodness she is incredibly cool about surprise race registrations.

Training went smoothly and I got to the start line without any injuries (unlike my first marathon). Jenny, our friend Ted and I had all been stressing for awhile over the strict 6 hour time limit and the drive up and down the course the day before hadn’t exactly set our minds at ease. This was going to be the toughest course I’d ever run by a long shot.

Start line smiles

Start line smiles

For the first 5 miles, we were physically (and mentally) sheltered from the coastal winds by redwoods. We were ahead of our goal pace (Ted was even farther ahead, disappearing into the distance with the 5:30 group while I had Jenny and me on target for a 5:45 finish). We were appreciative of the cool weather and the peaceful beauty of the woods.

We’d read that the first 5 downhill miles are deceptively easy, but knowing that didn’t prepare us for the force with which the 30-40mph winds hit us when the trees gave way to coastline. By the time we hit the 10K mark, it had started drizzling lightly and the headwind was already brutal. We were in danger of dropping below cutoff pace if this wind kept knocking us back.

Jenny and I had made a pact that if one of us was hitting the pace faster than the other then we would part ways. I hated to take off without my favorite running buddy but I was still trucking along despite the headwind, so she urged me to run my race and she’d see me at the finish line. I ran into Ted around mile 7 on a rough uphill and we spent a few minutes together before I pushed ahead. I was on a mission to beat the clock (and the 6 hour cutoff pacer that was now far enough behind me to relax a bit).

The sound of the taiko drummers at the bottom of the 2 mile, 45 degree climb up Hurricane Point made my heart beat faster as I approached. Miles 11-13 are the most grueling of the course with a few false summits and morale-crushing views of what’s to come before the top of the mountain. I was so happy to have applied my ElevationTat to help me track my progress and anticipate water stations – it came in handy so many times during the back half of the course, too.

I kind of want this tattooed on me for real.

I kind of want this tattooed on me for real.

I kept my head down and pushed onward and upward. At the very top of the mountain, just as the Mile 13 marker came into view, an extra-hard gust blew across a few other runners and me – it was like nature was trying to knock us down one last time before the descent to Bixby Bridge. I later heard that the gusts were up to 49mph and I absolutely believe it, as we were staggering sideways and seriously discussing holding hands to keep from getting blown off the cliff into the ocean.

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The descent to Bixby Bridge was as emotionally charged as I expected it to be, and when I heard the first strains of Michael Martinez on the famous grand piano I burst into tears. Crossing that gorgeous bridge represented so much for me – the realization of a dream I’d held onto for so long, the accomplishment I’d worked so hard to get to. I thanked God, wiped away my tears for the photographer and then prepared myself for the second half of the course.

The back half of Big Sur features 13 rolling hills over 13 miles. They’re nowhere near as steep as Hurricane Point, but they’re bigger than this flatlander is used to and the roads are steeply banked, resulting in a dramatically uneven camber that might be more of a challenge than the actual hills. 15-19 are lonely miles, since there’s not much out there besides ocean and mountains – I saw more cows than humans, which is cool because that pretty much sums up my childhood on the farm anyway, minus all the water. I cannot tell you how happy I was to hit the 22 mile marker with 15 minutes to spare on the cutoff time – this is a sweep point with a clock and a large sign that lets you know you’ll be riding the bus back to the finish if you’re not there by 11:50am. At this point, I texted my husband (finally had reception after 20 miles) to tell him “I think I’m really going to finish this race!” There may have been more swearing involved, but you get the point.

I had read a lot about the famed strawberries around mile 24 at the top of Strawberry Hill – people went on and on about these strawberries and how they were the best anyone has ever tasted. Naturally, I was looking forward to finally eating one of these berries. Naturally, they were all gone by the time I passed the empty tables. I told myself I’d eat all the berries I wanted after a couple more miles and pushed on.

The last 2 miles were filled with spectators telling me how close I was to the finish. I couldn’t wipe the goofy grin off my face as I heard the announcer’s voice wafting out from the finisher village. I made the turn into the chute and I was finally, FINALLY there. The announcer said something sweet and funny about me being the most colorful runner on the course, but I barely heard her as I looked up and saw my friend Ted waving at me from the side. He got this picture of me getting my medal, which I deeply appreciate.

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My official time was 5:47:45, which was nearly 3 minutes slower than I’d hoped for but good enough to earn a medal. I finished this one without the crippling back pain and sciatica that caused me to limp like a wounded animal at Dallas Marathon. My knees even felt pretty good and I was relatively agile for somebody who’d just run for nearly 6 hours. I expected to be more sore but was incredibly thankful not to be (especially next morning when I had to sprint up/down stairs and through a terminal to avoid missing my flight due to a mobile boarding pass issue).

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I got a wonderful hug from my Sub-30 Club friend Shannon, picked up my post-race snack box (which was seriously nice, although there were no strawberries) and found Jenny, who had a horrible migraine from the wind. I hate that she felt so miserable for so long while waiting for me to finish, but I was so thankful that she was there.

We got home the next day and the stages of marathon processing began. Then my husband made this shadowbox for me (to hang next to the one he made after Dallas Marathon) and I finally found a 6th stage of the process: Pride.

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Thanks for making it through this looooong read. Hopefully my next marathon report will be shorter, since I plan to be a little faster in general by then.

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Runner Girls Podcast!

I had such a great conversation with Katie and Sue when they interviewed me last week for Runner Girls Podcast. I talked a lot about falling in love with running as a kid, about running as a pacer and about coaching Girls on the Run. The interview can be found here:

https://runnergirlspodcast.wordpress.com/2016/03/03/season-4-episode-7-all-the-things-all-the-time/#more-1314

Enjoy!

Tie-Dyed White Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

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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.

TIE-DYED WHITE CAKE:

** 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! **

Ingredients:

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:

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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.

CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM FROSTING:

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Ingredients:

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

Method:

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.)

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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.)

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!

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.

 

http://www.runnersworld.com/run-matters/she-runs-dara-obannon

 

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.

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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!

Dallas Marathon 2014

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!