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On one of the most beautiful, crisp, autumn weekends this October I had the ultimate pleasure of representing Nuun Hydration during a 200 mile relay party. Somehow a fantastically diverse group of runners came together and formed the ultimate in co-ed relay dream teams for the Bourbon Chase. Five males, seven females, one husband and wife duo, one Olympic hopeful, four Ohioans (yes, Sarah this includes you), a triathlete beast, one CEO, one CFO, multiple entrepreneurs and the ultimate southern belle culminates into one helluva speedy, hilarious synergy.

I agreed to this relay months ago, when I had no idea that I would be making a major life change. Two weeks prior to racing through the hills of Kentucky bourbon country, I told my boss I would rather crawl in a hole and die than work for her and that company any longer. Keepin’ it real since 1982. I of course had my next career opportunity on deck, so I took a three week funemployment joyride before beginning the next, super exciting chapter of my career. And if given the chance again, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

How serendipitous that I was able to leave a job that was sucking out my soul more often than not, and was able to celebrate my newfound freedom and possibility while rediscovering my zest for life through running and friendship? Not only that, I was on a team again with some of my favorite people that I’ve had the pleasure of even meeting, let alone forming bonds with. I owe so much of my nationwide running friendships to the insane opportunity of running Hood to Coast. Mason, Casey, Corey, Elizabeth and Sarah were phase I of project nationwide runningships. Which snowballed into Phase II: Running 13.1 on one of the coldest days ever through Amish country, enter Mel, Dan and Momma Lime! Phase III: #NuunGene: Haiiiiii housemate Holly!!! Phase IV: the final pieces of our team puzzle: Kaitlin, Kevin and Batch. Seriously, Is this real life???

I could go on and on and on about how perfectly mixed up the personalities were on this team, but I won’t. You as fellow runners know, we are a special bunch. If you have the pleasure of meeting any of these characters mentioned above, jump at the chance, it is impossible that you will be disappointed.

Now the running part. I was assigned to be runner #5. I failed to even look at the description of my legs until the night before I left for Kentucky…

F%@!.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a bit nervous about my assigned duties. Having injured my back this summer and being sidelined for two months, I was really only getting back into my typical mileage. The longest run I had done prior to this relay was a handful of 13 milers. I hadn’t attempted running one major hill, nor had I done a single bout of speedwork. I certainly had not raced, or attempted to run three separate solid effort runs in less than a 24 hour period.  F%@!.

Call it sheer determination, call it putting aside my own personal discomfort for the better of the team, call it relay magic, somehow I found my legs, endurance and even a bit of speed and ultimately surprised myself.

The quick and dirty of my running stats:

Leg 1#:4.7 miles, avg pace: 7:02 – Ran through the dark on back country roads, was convinced the pack of death machine dogs caged up that I heard hysterically barking no less than ten feet from my path would rip my face off. 

Leg #2:, 8.6 miles, avg pace: 7:23  - Hardest leg in the whole damn relay, ran past graveyards, dead of night, spooky yet somehow totally peaceful and serene.

Leg #3:, 5.0 miles, avg pace: 6:52 – The skies opened up and and rain began to fall, which was something I secretly hoped for as rain running is my favorite. I actually got to run without reflective gear and in the light of day, albeit overcast. Had the best time testing my speed, dodging raindrops and picking off competitors like a boss.  This run was true love.

Now I could divulge the deets of the hilarity that ensued due to equal parts sleep deprivation, calorie debt, competition and a few extra adult beverages. But sometimes the magic in the adventure are the personal stories left untold to the masses. I will say this, even after giving my all out on the race course, I still have time and energy for a mean Cupid Shuffle. When can we do it again?

I will hold my memories of running through the crazy hills of Kentucky forever in my heart, as it will always remind me of my capacity for resiliency and sheer joy in addition to the incredible importance of friendships both old and new. It will be where I rediscovered my post-injury leg speed, my confidence, my laughter, and myself. I simply cannot convey through words how grateful I am for the opportunities I have been granted in this life. Never did I dream that my running could take me on such a wild adventure, and in the process, expose me to some of the greatest people I’ve ever met, and have the fortune to call friends.

Eugene

I’ve have a bit of time to reflect upon my Eugene experience, and each time I collect my thoughts, the fact that I set a personal record that day is never the first thing to pop into my head. I’m grateful for my health, for a strong training cycle, that I’m injury-free and had the opportunity to fly across the country and run a top-notch race in such a running mecca. But none of these facts outweigh the two biggest things that I will take with me from this experience: relationships and the power of a moment.

Once I boarded my layover plane in Chicago, I scored a sweet seat: aisle, 8th row from the front, next to two women about my age. SOOOOO clutch.  When one flies Southwest you aren’t assigned a specific seat, just a boarding position, so it ends up being kind of a nightmare if you are one of the last to step onto the plane. The final three individuals to join the jam-packed plane were a young couple and their baby. The only two available seats were the seat directly behind me and one way in the very back of the plane. This poor couple missed their opportunity to board the plane first, which is an accommodation made for those with little ones. As I was witnessing the last minute decision of which parent would take which seat, without a thought I stood up and offered my seat and said I would go to the vacancy in the rear of the plane so the couple could be next to one another. It was the least I could do. When I walked back to my new seat, I gave up my perfect position in exchange for one between two men much larger than myself and at least 30 years my senior. Awesome, I just took a deep breath, smiled at my new friends and squeezed in.  Judging these books by their cover, I never in my wildest dreams believed I would end up sitting next to a husband of a marathoner. Shame on me. The entire plane ride from Chicago to Eugene was spent with me listening to this husband boast of his wife and her passion for our sport, her goals like wanting to run a marathon in all 50 states. This man loved that woman, the way he looked over to her (she was across the aisle), how he mentioned they were about to celebrate their 44th wedding anniversary, I couldn’t help but become invested in this couple, without even knowing their names, or even speaking to this woman. As the plane completed its final descent, my new friend leaned over to his wife and whispered that I too was heading out to Eugene to run the marathon. She turned to me which a huge smile and starting asking about me and my goals. I couldn’t help but catch my breath when I first locked eyes with her. There was something so bizarrely familiar about her. The more we chatted the more I realized, this could be me. Aside from obvious similarities, the short, dark hair, the thick, plastic-rimmed glasses, and the Boston Marathon jacket…This was a sister in sport, a reflection of my future. This is who I daydream of being when I am sixty-five. Just think if I didn’t take the opportunity to give up my seat, what I would have missed out on.

From the moment I stepped off the plane I was thrown into a constant whirlwind of embraces, laughter and sheer giddiness. So many times I had to pinch myself to be convinced that yes; this indeed was my real life. Well, at least for a long weekend.

The days and hours leading up to race morning spent in the living room of our rented habitat felt eerily similar to my co-ed days. Sharing our hopes and dreams as well as heartache and elation we’ve endured in our lives was one of my favorite things about the trip. The idea that we were all brought to be with each other on the very same weekend for a reason was never lost on me.

Being reminded of the amazingness that can come from taking a leap of faith was a recurring theme of the weekend.  When I submitted my HTC application, I never dreamed of the friendships and bonds that would come out of that once in a lifetime experience, one that certainly changed my life. To my Nuun family, I can never thank you enough.

Getting in line for the restroom at Ninkasi at the same time as Kelli and discussing our past running attempts, afforded me the opportunity to cheer on someone else. I am living proof that the marathon is equal parts beauty and beast. She can rear her ugly head sometimes and crush our hopes and dreams, but never giving up, that takes resilience, perseverance and faith, that one day all the little heartaches and detours will add up to that one big moment in time where you will have the race you always dreamed of. It is truly worth all the blood, sweat, tears, vomit and portapot stops.  Moments. So fleeting.  So much potential.

Elation far outweighed any sorrow that hung in the Eugene air, but there were definite moments spent encouraging, consoling and lifting up friends whose hearts were broken from running just like mine has been many, many times before. The light of realization shone brightly for me in these specific circumstances, providing a purpose for my previous missed goals and injuries suffered. Ladies, I meant it every single time I said ‘I’ve been there’. Promise me to never give-up on those dreams, you will break down whatever walls are standing in your way, it’s possible. Trust me.

Merle Haggard on the juke box, margarita in my hand, huddled up with my kind of people, breaking bread, sharing our lives post race was the best way I could imagine spending my last night in Eugene. The PR’s will become outdated, the race medal will tarnish, but the bonds of friendship – both new and not as new, that’s what I hope to never forget. That’s what I will cling to on my bad days, that reminder of how fortunate I am to have a support system outside of my inner circle. I have met and clicked with some of the most amazingly strong, brilliant, driven, generous and thoughtful humans through this shared sport.

 And that my friends, is what the magic of Eugene is all about.

Perspective of the Run

Life is funny. Some days I get so absorbed into my work that the day feels as though it flashes by in an instant. Other days I swear I feel every second of every minute tick by so slowly on the surface of my skin that I can’t help but long for my moment to escape from my office, breaking free like a caged animal who has been locked up for far too long.

More often than not this year I have found myself feeling overworked, overwhelmed and in a constant state of irritation and agitation. Every day that I laced up my running shoes and ultimately found myself standing in a puddle of my own perspiration, I found myself again, like bumping into an old friend for the first time in ages.

Exercise, physical activity, movement, namely running is what brings me back to my
equilibrium. It keeps the fire inside me alive and crackling, the very same fire that ignites my creativity and desire to excel in my career. My running habit has equipped me with the ability to dig deep enough to be the best version of myself, the best daughter, wife, sister, friend, employee and citizen I could possibly dream of being. Many don’t understand this phenomenon, I don’t expect them too, all I ask is they respect my joy.

I don’t run to lose weight, or so I can fit into a certain clothing size, or so I can feel confident in this summer’s hottest bathing suit trend like all of the women’s health and beauty magazines claim are my every need and desire. Running is so much more than an exterior appearance. I run because I can, because I was blessed with strong legs, clear lungs and a healthy heart. I run because it would be an absolute crime to waste such a blessing by remaining sedentary. I lace up my Nikes because when my feet rhythmically take turns kissing the pavement on a run, I am living, dreaming, discovering, and on the most special of days, I swear I’ve taken flight.

Today and all the days remaining in my life, I hope to never lose sight of my fundamental reasons for running. I hope I always remember that no matter what struggle I am facing, that hope, joy, freedom and perspective are only a run away.

Why do you run?

Still Here.

Hands-down this has been the busiest, most challenging year of my professional life. Some days all I have time and energy for is working, going for a run and making a healthy meal. It’s taken me awhile, but I have almost learned to be fully satisfied with what I can accomplish, and to not sweat what didn’t get crossed off of my constantly growing to-do list. It truly is a daily struggle, yet an opportunity to constantly grow. This blog has dropped very low on my list of priorities, which saddens me as I love to write. However I love to be away from the computer screen making memories more and I don’t have the option for both most days. A valiant attempt to slow down during my non-working hours has taken precedence as well, which I admit has been really good for me. 

Since our big move I’ve enjoyed activities like transforming our house into a cozy home, and the very regular trip to Home Depot (seriously I’m obsessed, they open at 6am too!), cooking meals, having my siblings over for coffee, antiquing with my mom, taking my mom to church on the weekend, things I never got to do when I lived in the CLE. The husband and I have taken more walks in the last few months than we have in all the previous years combined. I’ve battled a sidelining injury which kept me from lacing up for my fall marathon, and required quite a bit of time and energy to recover from. I’ve conquered said injury and even raced twice this past week! (A 5 mile turkey trot and the hilliest, most challenging half marathon I’ve ever known). More details to follow on these races in the near future I hope, along with finalizing my HTC posts. I have an honestly great excuse as to why I haven’t finished my HTC posts: my laptop is on life support and I’m scared to take it to the apple store before I pull off all of my photos from the last five years of my life. I can’t access the Internet and I have a feeling when I take it in they are going to tell me it is in terrible shape. I just haven’t gotten around to extracting all of my photos and I don’t feel like going to the library to blog. I’m actually blogging from my iPhone I don’t think this will be a regular occurrence.

As the year is coming to a close, I’ve realized how important it is for me to get my thoughts out there in written form. It is very cathartic for me. This year has been so strange, very emotionally draining, leaving me feeling quite out of sorts at times. I hope to get to write more as I wrap up 2012 and prepare for a new year. 

Sent from my iPhone

After Kelly started the race for Team Noon, my excitement skyrocketed. This was really happening and I was completely stoked. But I had somewhere between three and four HOURS before I could start my run. With each relay exchange I witnessed, I became increasingly amped and literally thought I was going to jump out of my skin before my turn rolled around. Kelly handed off to Golf Laura who handed off to Greatist Laura, then Jocelyn had her go-round, then next in line was Sarah. I remember slamming some peanut butter filled pretzels and guzzled more and more strawberry lemonade Nuun when Greatist Laura took off on her leg. I thought it was a smart move because I always have peanut butter before races and long runs and pretzels are essentially their own food group in my life. I decided to stop eating before Jocelyn started her leg, I figured it was plenty of time for my stomach to settle but I was seriously starving, it was my dinner time!

Jocelyn finishing strong!

I was able to scream my face off for each of my van mates and it was, so, so, SO very awesome. When Sarah took off my excitement turned into a bit of anxiety. I wouldn’t say I am fully Type-A, but whatever Type-A tendencies I do have completely come out pre-race. I need to get to the start line unnecessarily early with plenty of time to pee, stretch, tie and re-tie my shoelaces, etc. While lathering up with Body Glide and then changing into a fresh pair of socks it dawned on me that even though the sun was still shining, due to my leg being run during the 6:00pm hour, I needed to be fully outfitted in reflective gear according to race rules. Once driver extraordinaire Casey got us to the vicinity of the exchange zone and parked I started to freak. Due to the location of the exchange zone, the vans had to park on the side of the road, and there was a long line of vans in front of us. I wasn’t exactly sure how far away the exchange zone was, and I had to hoof it to my spot on foot. Awesome. Also not really knowing how fast Sarah was running only added to my growing stress. I had heard and read about Sarah’s horror story of rollin’ through one of her exchange zones in her first big relay only to find her teammate was not ready for her and it completely destroyed her ‘I just ran so amazingly fast buzz’. I did NOT want to be that buzzkill. And I had to effin pee.

Casey, God love him, is a very chill guy, and was taking his saweeeeeet time hooking me up with my reflective gear, I needed to wear a vest and a blinking light on the front and back of me and either have a headlamp or a flashlight. I chose to go with the knucklelight on my hand. Finally after what seemed like eternity I had all of my blinkers on and working, and it was time to leave the van and team and head off on my own. With all of the adrenaline coursing through my veins, pre-race jitters and my bladder at full capacity, I was just a few minutes away from a total freak out, but I took a few yoga-breaths and reeled myself in a bit. I hoofed it and made it to the exchange zone with a few minutes to do my biz in the honey buckets, stretch, and tie my shoes. Then I met up with my twin Nicole in our matching blue tanks and green Team Sparkle Skirts – not planned, we are just that awesome.

http://mollyberrieshodgepodge.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/photo2281029.jpg?w=612&h=612

Nicole & Me before our start!

The one by one other members of our vans were able to join us, which happily distracted me and calmed my nerves a bit. Then before we knew it, we spotted both Caitlin and Sarah charging up the hill to hand off the slap bracelets!!!

Once I grabbed the slap bracelet, it was full-speed ahead. I took off like a bat out of hell, and immediately started hearing a million little beeps. I looked down and realized that my Go Sport ID was bouncing around and smacking into my watch. I wore my regular running watch and it has a touch screen to record laps, so in the first thirty seconds or so of my run I had hit the lap button at least fifteen times. I was not going to be able to endure just shy of seven miles with that most obnoxious beeping so I shoved my knuckle light in my sports bra, and mid stride ripped off the Go Sport ID and put it on my right wrist, and retrieved the knuckle light and was on my way. Then the next thing I had to deal with was the most blinding sun ever. I was running straight into the sun, on the shoulder of a busy highway. Why the heck did I not wear a hat? A visor? Sunglasses? Stupid, stupid choice. So I had no other choice but to look at the ground. Even with mostly looking at the ground and a few feet in front of me, it was still a bit scary running along a multi-lane highway with semi-trucks zooming by me. I tried not to think about it and focused straight ahead on the matter at hand. After the initial rush of my ambitious start, I began wondering if I had started out a bit too fast. Then I started to burp. Repeatedly. And it tasted eerily similar to those peanut butter pretzels. For a second I thought I was going to hurl. But the feeling passed as quickly as it came. Then my mouth and back of my throat all of a sudden was completely dry. What the heck? I thought I was completely screwed. I wallowed in this negativity for a few moments then I gave myself a much-needed pep talk.

I kept saying over and over to myself:  ‘Don’t Give Up, Don’t. Ever. Give. Up.’ – the mantra inscribed on my Go Sport ID, and with each time I said it to myself and out loud, I dug a little deeper. I was thinking this was the only time in my entire life I would ever run my first leg of Hood to Coast, hell I may never get to run this race ever again, I needed to live in the moment and give it all I had. So whenever I was tempted to back off the pace I told myself to suck it up, this run was going to be over before I knew it.

I remember passing some people here and there, but that really didn’t matter to me, I know some people count their road kills, but I was distracted by other things. For chunks of time I thought of absolutely nothing and I locked into the sounds of the rhythmic slapping of my Nikes on the pavement and the inhales and exhales of my lungs. I would then start thinking about ‘oh shit, you have TWO more legs to run, you totally just screwed yourself…but who cares THIS IS HOOD TO COAST!!! Get crazy! Act stupid!’ At times I literally couldn’t believe I was there, I was chosen for this amazing opportunity, and shit, I was RUNNING HOOD TO COAST!!!!!!!!!!!! The entire thought process going on in my head was a bit manic, I admit. But it was so, so, SO very amazing.

Before I knew it I began to see signs of civilization: restaurants, gas stations, stop lights, etc. and not knowing what pace I was running as I wasn’t wearing my Garmin and there weren’t mile markers, I felt like I was running sub 7:00 pace but I just didn’t know how much faster than that. I had a rough estimation of my finish time and I just kept telling myself to hold onto that pace.
I remember a crowd dining al fresco at some bar shout that they liked my skirt and I shouted thank you back to them. That made me laugh a bit. Then I saw a stop light in the distance, and it was on red and there were wearing reflective vests standing at the light waiting for it to turn green. Aw, hell no I thought, there is NO way I am stopping when I’m rolling through what should be my last mile. Miraculously the light turned green when I was just a few strides away and I was able to chick a few of the poor guys who had to wait at the light, I used that momentum to pass a few more individuals ahead of me, and that’s when I heard it. The cheers. I had to be approaching an exchange zone, I just had to. As I grew closer and I could focus a bit as the sun wasn’t quite as harsh as when I began this trek, I saw the crowds of relay participants. I gave it every last bit of effort I had, one final kick, and rolled through the zone to the cheers of all of my Nuun teammates and handed off to Tonia. After finishing my leg, I couldn’t stop smiling, I quickly found some of my teammates, gave lots of sweaty high-fives and then Sarah and Jocelyn took me to get some more hydration.

I remember feeling completely exhilarated and shouting that ‘That was the most fun I have ever had!!!!!’…It was seriously, SERIOUSLY amazing.

Racing to my first exchange zone – Photo courtesy of: http://www.lindsayonthego.com/

Stats:

Total mileage: 6.71 miles

Total time: 44:23

Average pace per mile: 6:36

So I’ve shared with you the warm-fuzziness of the relay. Now it’s time to describe the actual running portion. Nuun gave us the option of submitting our top 3 legs that we wanted to run, and they would do their best to accommodate everyone as best as they could to give us one leg we were hoping for. To be honest, my biggest criteria was wanting to be in van #1. I wanted to see both Mt. Hood and the Coast. Those in Van 2 can’t go up to the start are of the race due to vehicle congestion and logistics.

Oh haaaiiii, Mt. Hood!

Additionally, I didn’t want to run leg #1 with the crazy downhill first leg. With my history of IT Band and hamstring issues, I didn’t want to run a leg that would potentially leave my legs trashed shortly after the start gun sounded. I have tendonitis in my right hamstring and when I run two consecutive hard days in a row, my hamstring screams at me. I had to listen to my body and be true to it and having no experience in this sort of race situation, I didn’t want to deal with the fear/anxiety of hamstring issues the rest of the weekend after handing off the slap-bracelet.  I was also petrified of Leg #5 for essentially the same reason. I wanted longer runs and I wanted them to be challenging, but I didn’t have confidence that I would be the best suited for the hardest leg of the relay.  So I threw my name in the hat for three of the other four legs and I actually came out with the one I wanted the most, spot number six.

If I were to go back in time and choose my first choice leg all over again, it would absolutely be leg one, six, seven or twelve because those are the major exchange zones, when both vans full of your teammates are there to cheer you on. When so much of the race is out in the middle of no where, your run is basically you and yourself, but once the exchange zone enters your frame of vision, you begin to hear the cheers, screams and cowbells. The atmosphere is like a mini version of the Wellesley Scream Tunnel, or let’s be honest, the ENTIRE NYC Marathon route – minus the Queensboro Bridge.

Team AfterNuun Delight was divided into three segments: Team Morning, Team Noon and Team Night. I was on Team Noon and our start time was 2:45pm on Friday. I was projected to start my first leg somewhere around 6:00pm. Typically during a race day I am eating breakfast around 5:00am. I was definitely up bright and early that day, packed and repacked my bags to make sure I had all the essentials and then went on a nice morning walk in search of the nectar of the gods with dear Jess. I scored a banana and a soy vanilla latte, that was really my only option other than oatmeal or a bagel and I knew we would be stopping for food at some point that morning after we got on the road. I was nervous, real nervous about this. It is no secret that I love me some coffee. But I never drink coffee before I run, it is something I drink after, always after. Lattes? Those are special treats AFTER a run, never before. This could turn out to be just fine, or really terrible, but whatever. This whole experience was about fun and building friendships, and spreading the Nuun love. I wasn’t trying to qualify for Boston or break a world record, so I went crazy and had a latte. Livin’ life on the edge.

After we loaded in the vans to head to Mt. Hood around 8:00am, it wasn’t long until we stopped at another Starbucks. I had already finished the first coffee of the day, I decided I should just get a black coffee and not another latte and scored another banana. And then on the ride to Mt. Hood I only drank half of my coffee as the other half landed on my shirt the first 5 minutes in the van. Yes, I’m the dirty kid. I slammed the second banana and a Smooth Caffeinator Picky Bar. With every calorie I shoved in my mouth I thought to myself ‘I seriously have no idea what the hell I am doing’.

Breakfast of champions! #pickybars #sbux #NuunHTC

Breakfast of Champions!

A few hours into the ride we made a pit stop at a gas station that had a grocery store next door, I was craving something that didn’t come in bar form as I knew I would be eating my fair share of picky bars, Kind bars, etc. I bought some carrots and hummus. Carrots and hummus. An entire grocery store full of food and that’s what I chose. What the hell was I doing?

Then we stopped one more time for lunch at Subway. I ordered a six-inch veggie sub on wheat, extra pickles and water. I should also note that I was drinking plenty of water and Nuun. Slamming it actually, thank God we had as many options for pit stops as we did or I would have straight up peed myself. (I swear my all the deets of what I consumed will come into play later in the story).

We eventually wound our way up to a parking lot at the base of Mt. Hood. The air was cold and crisp, yet warm enough to rock shorts and tank-tops, or even a swishy little Team Sparkle Skirt.

Team Sparkle FTW

Team Sparkle FTW

After taking in the sights, posing for many group shots, it was time for Team Morning’s first runner Caroline to toe the start line and begin her journey.

Caroline just a few minutes before the start!

I loved that Team Morning and Team Noon started only 15 minutes apart, it only added to the excitement of the event and the camaraderie of the team.

Team Nuun, Van 1!

With Hood to Coast there is a rolling start, multiple teams start the relay in 15 minute increments. Nigel (I think that’s his name, but I may have made that up) is the MC of all MC’s and announces each and every team and entertained the crowd and made all of us feel awesome in his own special way. One random thought, how does Nigel make it to the beach in time to announce the finishing teams? I think it was a group consensus that he must take a helicopter ride. Nigel seems like a baller like that.

Best announcer ever.

Shortly after Caroline took off and we said our goodbyes to Team Morning, it was time to get amped for Team Noon’s first runner, Kelly. Dance parties ensued.

Kelly breakin’ it down!

When Kelly entered the starting corral I think it finally hit our team, we are at HOOD TO COAST and there was no turning back now. After we bid our good lucks to Kelly and she crossed the start line with gusto, it finally began to fully sink in that the fun had only just begun.

Van 1 of Team Morning, Noon & Night at Mt. Hood!

In keeping with the theme of my application to this amazing event, I decided to provide you with the top 10 songs describing my Nuun Hood to Coast experience. I’ve never had such a challenging time describing an event in all my life, so I apologize for the tardiness of my post. Perhaps there aren’t enough words in the English language to adequately convey my thoughts, feelings and perspective of this phenomenal experience, but I hope what I have written below will at least do it justice.

10. Come as You Are – Nirvana

Representing a company that is local to Seattle, it was only fitting that this list pay homage to Nirvana. I have to admit, I was a bit nervous going into this weekend. I didn’t have as much time as I had hoped to scour every one of my teammates’ blogs, and even if I had, bloggers only reveal the sides of them that they want you to see. It was very possible that if I really loved someone’s blog, they may not be what I expected in real life. I was also nervous about fitting in and connecting with others. When entering any new situation, I think everyone struggles with the internal debate of ‘Will they like me or think I suck at life?’ I find myself to be somewhat of an introvert, especially around strangers, and let’s be honest, working from home doesn’t exactly enhance my face-to-face social skills. I was so worried that I had become socially inept. I decided to go into the weekend with being 100% true to myself and it resulted in one helluva good time. I feel like my teammates saw the real me, and it felt so good to be myself and feel comfortable in my own skin. I didn’t get to connect fully with all of my teammates, being 36 of us total, but I am beyond grateful for the relationships that were formed. Thank you ladies for coming as you are, as each and every one of you are strong, beautiful, inspiring women and I am truly blessed to call you teammates and friends.

9. Run This Town – Jay-Z, Rihanna & Kanye West

So with six vans containing thirty-six sparkle-clad bad ass runners, Team Nuun was a force to be reckoned with. I can’t even count on my hands the number of people who asked me ‘How many are there of you?! I see your teammates EVERYWHERE!’. We wanted to be noticed, because our main responsibility was to spread the Nuun love, naturally as Nuun was the Hood to Coast hydration sponsor. In order to do so adequately, we needed a brand, a uniform, so we wore insanely bright colors and Team Sparkle skirts to represent the myriad of Nuun tablet flavors. We might not have gotten first place in our division, but I guarantee people will remember our well hydrated glittery crew. I am sure some found our rainbow brightness obnoxious, but to each his own. This was intended to be a fun event, and what we lacked in first place finishes, we made up for in spirit. Our team not only stood out in terms of the color spectrum, but I’d have to say our screams and cheers dominated as well. I am so proud of all of my teammates for getting out there and giving their all in terms of cheering and running. You all are complete bad asses in my book. We showed this Mother of all Relays what’s up! And how could we not? I think it’s safe to say when the baton was in each of our hands, (or on our wrists) the only thing on our minds was who’s gonna run this town morning, noon and night.

8) Three Little Birds – Bob Marley

I have made it no secret that life has been all sorts of crazy around these parts, especially in terms of job-related stress and overload. I can honestly say once I met my first group of teammates at the airport, all the stress that had been pushing me down evaporated and I was left with a sense of calm and relaxation for my entire stay in the PNW. (Except for the time I missed my flight back home, which is a story for another day). I have come back to a shload of work to do from my employer, but I have just shrugged my shoulders, and have faith it will get done eventually and accepted that it is what it is, and life is too short to get all bent out of shape. Maybe I’m still a bit Hood to Coast drunk which will eventually wear off, or maybe I have been permanently changed by this experience. I honestly feel like I have reverted back to the laid-back individual I used to be during my early co-ed years and it feels pretty damn nice. I never used to be wound so tight, and for a long time I have been searching for that balance in my life, the familiar steady ground I used to stand on. I have 35 other phenomenal women (and some men of equal quality) to thank for getting me back to equilibrium. The days I spent with all of you were relaxed and care-free. Being fully immersed in all things running with so many like-minded, phenomenally unique women was just what the doctor ordered to get my mind right. If I could figure out a way to bottle up the magic in the air from my trip last week I would and I allow a little bit leak out whenever I feel myself slipping back into the cycle of stress. Since I can’t do that, I need to remind myself that life is meant to be savored, enjoyed and FUN, my priorities have shifted as I have realized what my soul was craving all along: for me to not won’t worry about a thing, ’cause no matter what, every little thing is gonna be alright.

7. Dude Looks Like a Lady – Aerosmith

So the theme of Hood to Coast with Team Nuun was women who blog and run, but the male employees of Nuun definitely played a huge role in the success of the weekend. Each van was equipped with a male driver which was so clutch because it prevented all of us relay runners from worrying about getting the vans to the next exchange zone, I wish I had a chauffeur every day of my life!  As the sun began to set and the moon and stars became visible in the sky, the Nuun men graciously offered to accompany any of us ladies on our evening legs. Chivalry is not dead. During an event such as this, it is possible to run your entire leg without seeing another soul, and to be honest, it can be a bit eerie and lonely especially in the dark of night. Some of our teammates jumped at the chance to have a running buddy, but in order to join the fun, we requested that these men rock a Team Sparkle skirt. Our drivers were fantastic sports and happily obliged to get their sparkle on. We even spotted an entire team of males sharing one Team Sparkle skirt for their entire relay.  I’m not sure I will ever again see so many lady-like dudes in my life. Unless of course I meet Steven Tyler in real life.

@WalkThisJay22 outshining us with his sparkles.

6. Learning to Fly – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Each of my three legs were amazing, I can’t remember the last time I have felt so phenomenal and found so much joy on a run, let alone three consecutive ones. There were many points where I honestly thought to myself that this feeling was what I imagined flying would feel like; with the wind blowing through my hair as I maneuvered up and down hills, around sharp turns in both the daylight and dark of night a sense of freedom I’ve never known washed over me. In a not so literal sense, this entire event from the time I drafted and submitted my application to join this team, to this very moment as I type these words, I have learned so much about myself; my capabilities, my hopes, my dreams and my fears are all much clearer to me now than they were a year ago. All it took was a leap of faith when I clicked the send button the day I emailed my application off to the computer screens in Nuun headquarters to come to these realizations. With each passing year I can honestly say I enjoy getting older as I continue to evolve into the best version of myself.  It may have taken me 29 years of life but I finally feel as though I have sprouted my wings. During my days in the PNW not only did my wings continue to grow, I found I was able to soar above my own expectations.

5. With a Little Help from My Friends – The Beatles

Coming into this weekend I didn’t know what to expect but one of my hopes was to walk away with legit friendships. Maybe it was the common threads of running and blogging all of us Nuun women shared that made it easy to initially connect in some way with one another, maybe it wasn’t. But I can honestly say that I have never felt more comfortable in a room full of women than I did this past weekend. We all share some major similarities but there were definitely differences as well, whether it be age, marital status, those with children, those without little ones, current college students, entrepreneurs, some were on Team Morning, others on Team Noon and the final group on Team Night. Regardless of our similarities and differences, which van we were riding in, or what segment of Team Nuun we were representing, we all came together as one unit. I have to say, this experience and feeling of togetherness filled the hole in my heart that was created the last time I laced up my spikes for my final collegiate cross country meet as a Fighting Muskie. Running during the different hours of the day with little sleep and a not so typical diet, left me experiencing emotions ranging from sheer elation to rock bottom. I wouldn’t have been able to revel in the greatest moments of the event and simultaneously get through the lowest of lows without leaning on these new friends that I have discovered. I definitely survived this weekend with more than a little help from my new forever friends.

Jess is one of the most beautiful souls I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and calling a friend, all thanks to the magic of Hood to Coast.

4. One Moment in Time – Whitney Houston

One thing I have really been focusing on in the past year is living in the moment and trying not to think too much about my next move. It is so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, and striving for bigger and better in all realms, never fully being satisfied. One thing that has gotten lost on me in the last year is taking the time to savor moments, regardless of their size. Whether it be a deep conversation with a person I just met, a hug from a new friend who I feel as though I have known forever, a group run along the water in a new to me city, cramming into a messy van for hours on end, or sitting around a table rehashing the events of the previous days, each moment that occurred this weekend I made sure to savor. During each of my legs I focused on just that run and digging as deep as I could, being sure to give it all I had at that very moment. I risked the possibility of my legs being completely trashed for my next leg, but that was a risk I was willing to take. This entire trip was a once in a lifetime kind of experience, I would never get to run my first Hood to Coast Relay again, I would never get a chance to live these exact moments over. I actually had points during my runs, especially the last leg where I was tempted to slow down because I didn’t want this experience to end. But I quickly pushed those thoughts aside and seized these unique gifts of moments in time that I was granted and gave it all I had.

3. Runnin’ Down a Dream – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

For so long I have run for myself. My goals have been centered around my hopes, my dreams. Hood to Coast reintroduced me to what it felt like to share in the dreams and goals of others. I shared in the joys and frustrations of teammates as they put it all on the line during each of their assigned stretches of the course. The AfterNuun Delight family included women who were just coming back from injury and killing it on their legs, far exceeding their own expectations. I shared in the struggles of those who sustained injuries the weeks prior to our weekend on the roads of Oregon covered in KT tape and refusing to give up and push through the screams of pain their bodies were attempting to convey. The frustration of those who developed injuries and illness on our 200 mile trek was definitely not lost on me. I witnessed the truly indomitable spirit of the human heart as I witnessed these amazing women, pouring their blood, sweat and tears into each of their assigned legs. We all, as a unit were running, chasing and catching our dreams this past week, no matter what tried to get in our way.

2. In My Life – The Beatles

When my father was diagnosed with cancer in the midst of my care-free collegiate years, I was surrounded by my wonderful family members and friends. However, no matter how many people were there for me, a large part of me felt so very alone. I didn’t know anyone else who was experiencing what I was, not exactly at least. Sure I have siblings, but they are all so much older than me, I was still just a kid, I wasn’t ready to be a full-fledged adult, I was in college, I wasn’t supposed to be dealing with such a serious situation in my life. As the cancer in my father’s body grew, I was left with no other choice than to simultaneously grow as well, quickly forcing me into adulthood in order to survive the emotional turmoil that had developed in my heart and mind. As the years have passed, I have come to find myself a woman who had to grow up before her time and has remained alone as a result. Before Hood to Coast, I honestly can say I hadn’t met anyone who I felt could even begin to understand what I went through, and what I still continue to deal with. Most days I still feel very alone with my feelings and scars from my past. As I began to have conversations and share stories with my new friends, I realized that I am not alone. I was never alone, I just hadn’t had the opportunity to cross paths with these kindred spirits. Going into Hood to Coast I knew it was going to be a special event, for nothing other than it being a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. I knew I would think about my dad a lot on this trip, and I most certainly would dedicate my runs to him, like I have done so before. I often find strength knowing that though he is gone, I am still on the front lines battling this horrific disease and am able to do so on my own two feet. I had no idea how profound the entire event would be, and how many other souls I would connect with due to our tragic losses. All of these events of my life, these places, they have their moments, their purpose and I hope to never underestimate the power of a touch, a kind word, or a listening ear moving forward.

1. Now and Forever – Carol King

When beginning to reflect upon this epic journey, I couldn’t deny the fact that this song kept popping into my mind. There is just something about sport, especially running that brings people closer together. We were put in a situation bigger than ourselves, an event and terrain that would be impossible to traverse individually by our own two feet. With each passing moment, each exchange zone, each story shared, our bonds grew bigger and stronger. We all came into this situation individually from different parts of the country, with our own unique life lessons, expectations, hesitations, hopes, and dreams. We left as one, a team that shared this larger than life experience full of laughter, tears, moments of victory and others of heartbreak. As a result of this whirlwind unbreakable bonds were formed, ones that I will cherish for the remainder of my life. We are the lucky ones, some people never get to do, all we got to do. Now and forever, I will always think of you.

Team Brunch all smiles after leg 3

One last thing, just remember, the adventure isn’t over, it has only just begun…

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