My PBSC Donation Experience

On this beautiful, sunny day in June, I'd like to take a look back on the dark days of February. My least favorite month, to be sure, but one with a story to tell. 

This past February I had an interesting experience. I was given the opportunity to donate Peripheral Blood Stem Cells (PBSC) for a cancer patient! 

A lot of people have asked me about the experience since, so I figured what better format to tell my story than through a blog post. Obviously, the donation experience is different for everybody, so I don't want to generalize too much here. But this is basically how it went down for me. 

To start my story I'll have to rewind a bit. Let's go back to August 2009. I was 22 years old and fresh out of college. I'd recently completed a summer working at the Zoo's Camp Kangazoo, but after that was over I had no job, no grad school applications and no plans for life whatsoever. Well, that's not entirely true. I did have a trip to Spain and Austria booked for that October, so I guess that was a "plan" of sorts, but that was about it. 

In the spirit of my open ended adventure embarking into real adulthood, I decided to join my good friend, Alex, on a trip to Colorado for her cousin's wedding that August. As part of the wedding festivities, everyone attended a Yonder Mountain String Band concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater. It was a gorgeous, Colorado summer evening and Alex and I enjoyed our fair share of wine as the concert got started. There was a table set up at the event by an organization called DKMS. DKMS actually stands for Deutsche Knochenmarkspenderdatei because it's a German bone marrow donor bank working to "Delete Blood Cancers" like Leukemia. The table at the concert was staffed by a few young women who were trying to convince concert goers to swab their cheeks and sign up for the national bone marrow registry. 

I have a friend/sorority sister who donated bone marrow to her younger sister when she was in high school. With this story in mind I thought, sure, why not. Alex and I figured we had nothing to lose in helping someone--and remember, ZERO life plans--so what was the harm in signing up?? I swabbed my cheek and then promptly forgot about that moment for the next eight years. 

 

Alex and I at Red Rocks the night I signed up for the registry. Ah, to be young and carefree again! And capable of drinking more than one glass of wine. 

Alex and I at Red Rocks the night I signed up for the registry. Ah, to be young and carefree again! And capable of drinking more than one glass of wine. 

Fast forward to 2017. Now, I have plans. Lots of plans. Sometimes, I think, too many. I've been a zookeeper for almost eight years (yep, I started in the Children's Zoo shortly after the above trip to CO), I've been working as an author for five years, I've moved three times, saved some money, spent some money, traveled as much as possible, ran a few marathons, met John, dated forever, got married and attended over 40 weddings together. I did not spend one moment of that time thinking of DKMS. 

That was until early 2017, when, after a school visit I got a voicemail from a lady named Marissa. "I just wanted to inform you that you're a match with a cancer patient," she said. What? I thought. Sure, I remembered that night at Red Rocks (despite the wine), but still, was this legit? 

Like any self-respecting girl of the 21st century, the first thing I did was google it. I read a bit about DKMS online and decided that it sounded like the real deal. So, I returned the call. 

Marissa explained to me the basic process and answered any questions and concerns I had (i.e. Could I keep running/ever run again? Or have kids? How much would this cost? etc.). She also made sure that I understood that even though I matched I may not be able to donate, and it likely would be PBSC not bone marrow. Often a patient's condition can change and they might become too sick to receive a transplant, or medical plans or insurance changes. Also, I might not physically pass the requirements needed to donate and on top of that it was all about schedules and timing. 

About a year after the Red Rocks trip, I'd taken another trip to visit Alex who, in the summer of 2010, was now living in Colorado. Together, with our friends, we went white water rafting. When the guide was giving us our instructions for the journey he constantly said things like "IF you fall in the water this is what you do (but that is NOT going to happen)...and IF our boat wraps this is what you do (but that is NOT going to happen)..." and on and on. Well, everything he told us was likely not going to happen on that trip DID, indeed, happen. Our boat capsized, we all fell in the water and the raft wrapped around a huge boulder for several hours. 

So, when Marissa gave me all of her disclaimers about what probably wouldn't happen, I didn't really buy them for a minute. I knew/had a feeling that if I gave my consent I was in this thing for real. At this point in my life I had a lot to lose. Lots of plans, remember? Plus a very difficult, inflexible work schedule and a physical job. But I also feel like I am, in general, a pretty selfish person who tends to just go to work and focus on my own projects. I don't volunteer much or really help out in my community, and here it was, an opportunity to do just that presenting itself right on my doorstep. Or on my voicemail, rather. I told Marissa I was in. I'd like to move forward with the donation process. 

The first step was to visit my local LabCorp (one I was quite familiar with from my good, 'ol Accutane days. Ah, memories.) to get my blood drawn to be sure I was a close enough match. I did this, it went well, and about a week later, after a confirmation call from Marissa, I was able to move forward with the process. 

I was told that the cancer patient I matched with was a 45 year old woman with Leukemia. John lost his Aunt Barb two years ago to cancer, when she was close to that age, so though I did not know the woman's name or anything about her, I sort of kept Barb in mind during this time. She was my inspiration and motivation to see it through and to try to do my best to help this person who, of course, had a family and friends who loved her just as Barb did. 

The only thing I was really told about the patient was her age and sex. Other than that it's all anonymous. It is important to note that no money was exchanged during this process, and that I did not spend a cent on anything related to the donation--travel costs, food during travel, medical tests and expenses, John's travel costs for the donation etc. 

The next step was to fly to Washington D.C. to have a physical at Georgetown University Hospital. Georgetown is apparently a hub for bone marrow/PBSC donation, and one in which I could supposedly be scheduled rather quickly. This was February, and I was still planning on running the Boston Marathon in April. Obviously, running a marathon (even Boston) is no excuse to not try and help somebody, after all, it's not how I bring home the bacon. That being said though, I did hope to get the donation done early enough to be able to return to my training, if possible. I was able to schedule my physical for Thursday/Friday on my weekend so that I did not have to miss work for this part of the process. 

Shortly before my trip to D.C. Marissa called me again and informed me that the patient's doctors were requesting bone marrow. Remember the raft story? Yep, it's true, not only was I a close enough match and the schedule was open, but they also wanted bone marrow, all of the things Marissa had said likely would not happen. 

My initial reaction was fear, but for a stupid reason. I'm not afraid of pain or the process of recovery (sort of a lesson you learn running marathons, I guess?). My fears were a lot sillier than that. Anyone who has known me for any significant length of time knows that I have a deep and irrational fear of throwing up. I'm not proud of it, but it's true. The last time I was under general anesthesia was when I had my tonsils/adenoids out when I was 9, and I threw up a lot after that, so I was kind of scared. 

Of course, cancer patients often have to deal with that and much more, so it was very silly and immature of me to be afraid for that reason. And, I told myself, being afraid is no excuse not to help someone. Death is always a risk with anesthesia, Marissa told me. But I knew that that risk was minimal. I told her, yes, I was willing to donate the bone marrow. I'd deal with my fears later. 

I read a lot about bone marrow donation online in the next few weeks, and I talked to my friend Eliz who had donated to her sister. I found out that it wasn't quite as painful as public opinion makes it out to be. I'm sure it's uncomfortable, but Eliz said that the worst part was recovering from the anesthesia, and lots of online blogs said that it just felt sore, as if you'd been punched in the lower back or something, which I knew I could deal with. After talking to Eliz and reading blogs online, I became much less afraid and felt fully committed to the process. 

Just before my trip to D.C. for my pre-donation physical, however, I got another call from Marissa. She informed me that since I'd had an avulsion fracture of my iliac crest (aka broke my right hip bone) when I was in high school, I was not going to be allowed to donate bone marrow. 

I was surprised to react to this news with first anger, and then sadness. First of all, I told her, did they not see that on my medical records when I first filled out the numerous forms required to donate??? Second of all, I was a perfectly fit, healthy, 30 year old lady, and I was willing to donate! Why did they want to waste such perfectly good bone marrow?? Then, when I realized that I had no dog in this fight, I felt sad. Like I said, when I was first asked to donate marrow I felt nervous, but then I completely got on board and had mentally adjusted to the idea. I felt sad that I couldn't give the patient what she needed. I really felt let down and disappointed. I never claimed to be normal, by any standards, but I'm just telling it like it is. This is how I felt about it. 

They still wanted me to donate PBSC, so shortly after our conversation I flew to D.C. This was very exciting for me. I don't travel a lot for work or anything, so anytime I get to fly someplace new it makes me pretty happy--even if the majority of the trip was going to be spent inside of a hospital. When I got into town I was able to get dinner with my good friends from college, Chloie and Matt (who I call Calbs), which was an added bonus, and they drove me around to show me some of the sites of the city. The physical took place the entire next day. I had to give blood samples, urine samples etc. etc. and have a full physical. Of course, this too was an added bonus. Free physical and blood work! Can't complain about that. 

I was declared healthy and ready to donate PBSC. According to Google, "the same blood forming cells that are found in bone marrow are also found in the circulating (peripheral) blood." The blood forming cells are collected during donation and given to the patient in need. The Georgetown doctor was very nice, and I explained to her that I felt perfectly healthy and if she wanted the bone marrow instead of PBSC, than she should just take it. She told me, no, they could not take bone marrow from someone who had fractured their hip, but that PBSC would be more than adequate for my match, and that in the last 10 years donation has trended that way anyway. Improving technology and medical advances have made PBSC donation as valuable as bone marrow for many patients. Finally satisfied with this answer, I left the hospital, spent a whirlwind few hours at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, and flew home with my donation date scheduled for the end of the month. 

Checking out the Smithsonian Natural History Museum 

Checking out the Smithsonian Natural History Museum 

Dinner with friends! 

Dinner with friends! 

Now, here's the meat of my story--the actual donation. The whole thing started about a week before my return to D.C. I had to get injections of a drug called Filgrastim for five days leading up to the procedure. The injections arrived in a package that I had to put in my refrigerator and take with me to a local Urgent Care. Filgrastim is a drug that helps the body make more white blood cells and stem cells for the donation. After five days my body would have enough excess cells to collect some for my match. 

It was definitely a time commitment to get the injections. I had to drive to an Urgent Care every day after work. The folks at the Urgent Care did not do Filgrastim injections often, so each night was a process as they all figured out the formalities involved. The injections were pretty large, so they injected me in a different body part each night so that I would not get too sore. All in all I think I got shots in both my arms, both my thighs and both of my butt cheeks. So pleasant. The shots hurt as much as any shot does (like a bee sting) but I didn't really mind all that. The worst part of the process for me (including the donation day) were the side effects of the Filgrastim. 

For example, Filgrastim might make all of your bones ache, might give you a headache, might influence your appetite and make you feel fatigued. Just like my whitewater rafting experience, I experienced ALL OF IT. During my physical I'd asked the doctor if it was safe for me to continue my marathon training while taking Filgrastim. "Safe? Yes," she said. "But you're not going to want to. I'd suggest resting for the week while you are getting the injections."

Lady, I thought, you don't know me. I'm going to keep running. Ha. So funny.

Of course, the good doctor knew best and was totally right. I did NOT want to do any running and was quite incapable of it during that time. I began to feel the side effects on the second day, waking up with an immediate headache that lasted for about eight days total. I think that the entire process would have been better and easier for someone with a desk job. But, alas, I do not have a desk job and had to move around all day Sunday, Monday and Tuesday in order to keep up with my keeper work. My bones ached in a very strange way. I felt like I could not move my body, I mean, I was literally shuffling around like an eighty year old. If I tried to take a large step it felt like my hips locked up. I was surprised, and humbled, to discover that the most painful part of my body was my right iliac crest--the one I'd fractured in high school. I guess the doctor really did know best. 

The worst day of all of this was Tuesday. I worked two routines at work, could barely move my body and had a splitting headache all day. You also cannot take any powerful headache medicine while on Filgrastim, so that didn't help. Tuesday also happened to be our first married Valentine's Day. It wasn't exactly the height of romance. I immediately put on my sweatpants after work and John picked up some soup from our favorite Thai place, but that's about all I could manage. The next day I was scheduled to fly to D.C. for the donation so I did not have to go to work, and I felt much better. 

One bright spot in a rough day was spending Valentine's Day with Kali!

One bright spot in a rough day was spending Valentine's Day with Kali!

John and I flew to D.C. together. Moving through the airport when my bones didn't really work was awkward and painful, but somehow I managed to make it to the plane. The next morning, we reported to the hospital for the donation. 

Ironically, the other donor in the room with me was also from St. Louis. She was a woman in her 50s and I was shocked to hear that she felt no side effects from the Filgrastim injections! I still had a horrible headache, so I kind of felt like a wuss. They started the morning by taking more blood samples, giving me one final pregnancy test and my last Filgrastim injection. 

Then the procedure began! I had to lay in a hospital bed with both arms hooked up to IVs. Blood was going out one arm and being filtered through a machine that took out the needed cells, and then it was being put back into the other arm through the other IV. Basically, this meant that I had to lay very still without moving my arms. I thought this would be difficult, but it was not. My arms fell asleep right away and I couldn't even feel them. The process was supposed to take around 6 hours, so I was prepped for the long haul (we'd packed many a Harry Potter dvd). 

When the nurses found out that I still had a terrible headache they offered me morphine. "I don't think that's necessary," I told them. "Why not?" they said. "It will help!"

"Well, alright," I said.  So they hooked me up to a morphine drip. I've never taken morphine before, and I was surprised to find that it did not make my headache go away, but it did make me feel like I'd had 2-3 drinks, so I was feeling pretty chill. 

This is what the donation set up looked like. So attractive. Let's just all take a moment and be glad that it's not still February. 

This is what the donation set up looked like. So attractive. Let's just all take a moment and be glad that it's not still February. 

Meanwhile, John was waiting in the hallway because the nurses were having trouble with my roommate's (the woman from St. Louis) IV. After the lab work was run the doctor came in and informed me that the Filgrastim had worked really, really well on me and my white blood cell count was off the charts. It had not worked as well on my roommate--hence the reason why I had ALL the side effects and she felt none. Not sure what is worse--eight days of headache/bone aches or being stuck with an IV six times, but that being said I did feel pretty bad for her. She was a good sport and very patient with the process. 

Finally, my roommate got all set up and John was allowed to enter the room. He helped me eat lunch since I could not move my arms, and we watched some movies together. Just under three hours later, the nurses informed me that I was done! They told me that the donation had taken the least amount of time possible because I have big, fatty veins, so I was, obviously, pleasantly surprised about that. I had been very nervous about having to go to the bathroom because I was told that if you have to go during the donation then you had to use a bedpan. So, I was very pleased that this was not an issue for me at all. 

And that was it! That was all there was to it. John and I returned to the hotel. I was still tired and had the headache/bone aches (because, remember, I'd received the last Filgrastim injection that day) so we took a nap before meeting up with some D.C. friends for dinner. 

D.C. has a lot of awesome restaurants, including this one that served kettle corn for an appetizer! 

D.C. has a lot of awesome restaurants, including this one that served kettle corn for an appetizer! 

The next day I was still slow and had a headache, but felt up to going to a few museums with John before we flew home that night. I worked the next day, which was rough, and continued to have a headache for a while, but, like I said, I think if I worked a desk job I might have experienced a faster recovery. All in all, I felt back to my usual self and fully returned to my marathon training (as in not super fatigued on runs anymore) about 1.5 weeks after the donation. 

Checking out some monuments at night. 

Checking out some monuments at night. 

Thought this was an apt quote to keep in mind for 2017...

Thought this was an apt quote to keep in mind for 2017...

John, enjoying lunch at the Museum of the American Indian 

John, enjoying lunch at the Museum of the American Indian 

Museum of the American Indian

Museum of the American Indian

D.C. is such a neat town with SO many things to see. I'd love to go back again! 

D.C. is such a neat town with SO many things to see. I'd love to go back again! 

The process was both easier and harder than I expected. DKMS was great and super accommodating along the way. Everyone thanked me for donating and made sure that it was a smooth experience. However, the Filgrastim injections definitely made me feel worse than I expected to, again, likely aggravated by my not so typical work life and schedule. At the end of the day though, I am very happy that I was given the opportunity to donate and I'd recommend the process to anyone. No regrets, whatsoever. 

Several months later I was given the best news! My match received my donation and is doing well! By next February we will be allowed to contact one another, and hopefully I will learn that she is continuing to heal. That news, of course, made all of it worth it. To participate in someone's care like that is an opportunity that I will always cherish. I am very grateful for that table at the Yonder Mountain String Band concert in 2009 and grateful for the experience I had with DKMS.

One of the best/most exciting parts of the experience was the social media factor. I debated posting something about it on social media because I can sometimes get a little self-conscious about health stuff, but with John's encouragement, I went ahead and posted anyway. I was blown away by the response! Lots of people commented and shared my post and many, many people contacted DKMS to get their own cheek swab kit in the mail so that they too could sign up for the registry. Some of my friends posted it about it too and their friends signed up for the registry. It really spread quickly, in the best possible way. 

If you are interested in donating/joining the registry you can sign up by clicking HERE. 

Many, many cancer patients need to find matches and it is a wonderful feeling to have been given the chance to help someone out in such an important way. I would gladly donate again, if asked (yes, I will stay on the registry and may even be asked to donate to my match a second or third time if needed).

This blog post was really long and hopefully answered any questions about my experience, but I'm always happy to answer more if you are curious and want to reach out. 

So, that's it. A story that started in the summer of 2009 and ended in February of 2017. I think that 22 year old Carolyn would have been happy with 30 year old Carolyn's decision to donate. In 2017 I may have more of a life, with plenty of goals and responsibilities, but I hope that whatever age I am and wherever life takes me I will always work it into my plans to try to help someone when the opportunity arises. I'm very grateful to have had the chance. 

 

 

Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston.

Two weeks post-race seems as good a time as any to write a recap of this year's Boston Marathon. I'm proud to say I can now walk down the stairs on my fire escape WITHOUT using the railing OR cursing, so I'm well on my way to recovery and ready to write. 

This was truly an excellent trip to Boston. Luck had it that Patriot's Day, the third Monday in April, happened to fall on Easter Monday this year. This was to our benefit since John had Thursday, Friday and Monday off from school! I, as always, had Thursday/Friday off for my normal "weekend" and then took vacation days so that the two of us actually got a nice, little trip out of the thing. 

We flew to Boston at 6 am, meaning we had to wake up at 4 am St. Louis time, which was terrible, but worth it when we arrived in Beantown before noon. We spent the cool, sunny day exploring with my cousin/BFF, Katie. Katie and John helped me pick out a new running top for the race, and we enjoyed the sites in Boston Common and The Public Garden

 

The three Boston explorers. 

The three Boston explorers. 

Near this area, I was delighted to find a statue of the one and only Alexander Hamilton. I know I'm a little late to the party, but I started listening to the Hamilton soundtrack during this marathon training cycle and soon became TOTALLY addicted. Let's just say this Founding Father helped me during marathon training non-stop (too corny?). 

Telling Alexander Hamilton's life story to Katie and John. They were very happy to listen. Just like everyone I've talked to about Hamilton in the last month. 

Telling Alexander Hamilton's life story to Katie and John. They were very happy to listen. Just like everyone I've talked to about Hamilton in the last month. 

We finished the day with a dinner near Fenway with my cousin Mary and her fiancee, Chelsea, along with Katie's husband, Markus. 

On Friday, John and I headed out to the Marathon Expo. I've been lucky enough to return to Boston quite a few times since Katie moved there in 2014, and every time I'm there I just fall more in love with that city (Side note: I do make a point of never visiting in Winter). So, John and I took the scenic route to the Expo, exploring the side streets on Beacon Hill and enjoying all of the spring flowers along the way. 

LOVE all of the flower boxes! 

How can you not love Boston? 

How can you not love Boston? 

The Expo is a great place to get pumped for the race. All of the runners are excited and happy to be there. The atmosphere is totally charged. As always, the B.A.A. volunteers could not have been nicer. New Englanders, of course, have a reputation for being a bit cold, especially compared to Midwesterners. John is the ULTIMATE kind and friendly Midwesterner. He says "Hi" to everyone he meets on any sidewalk, any time of day, anywhere, and everyone at our local grocery store knows him because he talks to them so much. That's John for you. So, you can imagine the unsuspecting drug store clerks and taxi drivers of Boston were a tad surprised (put off?) by John's continual stream of "Hi, how are you? How's your day going?" throughout our trip. The exception, though, to the cold, New England stereotype, are those involved with The Boston Marathon. Truly every volunteer that we met, from the Expo to the finish line, was just beyond nice to us. In fact, as John and I walked down Charles Street on our way to meet the buses for Hopkinton on race day, we had several random strangers call out to us and wish us good luck. It's as if that stereotype just does not apply on Marathon weekend. 

One of the best parts of the Expo was being there with John. John Kelly is actually a very famous name in relation to The Boston Marathon. There are TWO famous John Kelleys in Boston. One is Johnny "The Elder" Kelley who ran in Boston 50 times. "Heartbreak Hill" is so named because of an anecdote involving this John Kelley. It's said that in the 1936 Boston Marathon Ellison "Tarzan" Brown was in the lead when Johnny Kelley caught up to him on the last of the four Newton Hills. Kelley tapped Tarzan on the shoulder as he passed him. This boldness infuriated Tarzan, and Brown went on to win the race. A Boston Globe reporter wrote that Tarzan broke Kelley's heart on "Heartbreak Hill" and that's how the infamous beast got its name. Johnny Kelley finished in the top five fifteen times and he won in 1935 and 1945. 

 

Johnny Kelley in 1935

Johnny Kelley in 1935

The second famous JK is John "The Younger" Kelley--who also happens to be John Joseph Kelley, just like my husband. John The Younger won the race in 1957, and then went on to coach Amby Burfoot, the winner in 1968. Needless to say, John Kelly is a name of Boston royalty, and every volunteer who my John checked in with commented on this fact. "John Kelly, huh? You gonna sign autographs after the race?" and on and on. It was hilarious and I think John was bright pink the entire morning. 

John "The Younger" Kelley

John "The Younger" Kelley

I always say, in my next life I plan to create products marketed to marathon runners. High on the electric atmosphere and pride in the completion of our training, John and I, along with the rest of the Expo attendees, promptly emptied our wallets. Though we did have a lot of fun doing it. 

After the expo, the four of us attended what I'll call "Drunk Shakespeare" (except substitute the word "Drunk" for something a little less blog-appropriate). This show involved classically trained Shakespearean actors putting on a short production of Romeo and Juliet. The catch, though, is that one of the actors was given a substantial amount of Maker's Mark before the play began. This time it happened to be the man playing Mercutio. He was completely wasted and, let me tell you, HILARITY ensued. 

Later that night we had a "Raclette" dinner with Katie and Markus and their Swiss friends, Emma and Eric. Raclette is a Swiss tradition involving a lot of melted cheese, which we were all for.

We used Saturday for a day trip to Rockport, the small, artsy, seaside town were our Mueller relatives live. As always, we enjoyed the salty sea air, sunshine and a visit with our aunt, uncle and cousins, before heading back to Boston to meet John's parents (who had arrived from St. Louis) for an Italian dinner in The North End. 

Rockport will always be one of my very favorite places to go. 

Rockport will always be one of my very favorite places to go. 

Sunday was Easter, so we decided to prepare a brunch. Mary, Chelsea and John's parents came to the Schober's place, and it was quite festive. Of course, nothing will replace being with the entire Mueller family on Easter Sunday, and our brunch fare did not compare to my Aunt Susan's strawberry/banana cake, but it was still fun and nice to be with family for the holiday. 

That day it was a whopping 85 degrees in Boston! For a city who was still stuck in the 40s prior to our arrival, this came as a bit of a festive, Eastery shock to its winter weary residents. It was a beautiful day to explore The Freedom Trail! I absolutely love The Freedom Trail. I'm a bit of a history nerd, and now that I'm full on Hamilton obsessed, I couldn't wait to discover some Revolutionary War gems. Plus, it's a great way to get some fresh air and see the city on foot. 

That being said, it probably was not the smartest thing for us to do the day before the marathon. I don't regret it. I mean, we weren't exactly in the race for the prize money or anything, so why not enjoy being tourists...but still we did have 26.2 miles to cover the next day. 

All in all it was a delightful afternoon, and our group was proud and happy to make it to the top of a very windy Bunker Hill! 

Our Freedom Trail crew! 

Our Freedom Trail crew! 

Made it! 

Made it! 

So, that brings us to RACE DAY! Enough of the touristy crap. Here's the  nitty gritty story of what The Boston Marathon is all about (at least according to me). 

John and I woke up at 5 am the day of the race. I'd been nervous all weekend, of course, but on Monday morning my nerves struck a fever pitch. This is it, don't get scared now. 

One of the best parts of staying with the Schobers (besides the excellent company and German practice, of course) is the fact that we can easily walk from their apartment to Boston Common to meet the buses on the day of the race. It was a cool, sunny morning, and we didn't really need our long sleeve t-shirts, which is not exactly a good sign on when you're supposed to run a marathon. 

Good morning, Boston. Happy Patriot's Day! 

Good morning, Boston. Happy Patriot's Day! 

We easily checked our gear bags and boarded our buses, and before we knew it we were off to Hopkinton! There's something surreal about the drive to Hopkinton. It's scary to ride those many miles down the highway thinking, we have to run all the way back. Yikes. Since we'd woken up so early I sort of dozed on an off during the bus ride. After a while I was very suddenly startled awake by a loud sound, like an explosion! A tire had blown on the bus right in front of us! Luckily, we were just about to turn into the Hopkinton High School at the time, so everything worked out OK, but, damn, I was suddenly wide awake! 

One of the highlights of this year's race for me was our accommodations in Hopkinton. Usually, I spend my time in the Athlete's Village, waiting in line after line by the Port-O-Potties up until it's time for the race. This year, however, some of John's running group friends invited us to spend the morning with "Boston Betty." 

"Boston Betty" is a woman who lives very near to the start line in Hopkinton. She hosts a group of St. Louis runners each year before the start of the race. Apparently, as I understood it, the previous owner of her house was actually from St. Louis and he was the one who started the St. Louis runner party tradition. When Betty bought the house she simply kept it going! What a kind and generous soul! It was easy to find Betty's house, and once inside we were welcomed into a warm, comfortable runners' pre-race sanctuary. She had all manner of pre-race foods, from pancakes to bananas, to peanut butter and fresh fruit. There was water, coffee, a basket full of band-aids, vaseline, Advil and Immodium and, best of all, four, count them, FOUR bathrooms fully stocked with more toilet paper than a runner could ever dream of! If you've ever run in Boston, you know that this is a REALLY BIG DEAL! In years past I've actually stuffed my bra with TP because of the typical Port-O-Potty sitch. 

The other very cool part about being at Betty's was that we got to watch the start of the wheelchair and elite women's races on TV! That definitely got me pumped and ready to run. 

The pre-race time flew by. From inside of Betty's house I heard the fighter jets fly over and the National Anthem play. Since John was in a faster start corral than me, he left the house before I did. Eventually, around 10 am, I made my way out onto the street and proceeded to the start. 

And then we were off! I've got to say, aside from the massive crowd, there are no easier miles to run than the first four miles of The Boston Marathon. The downhill slope, the excitement, the cheering of the crowds, all add up to an ideal running experience. I had a giant smile on my face the entire time. I was high fiving kids, grinning at clever signs, rocking out to my carefully curated playlist...it was great. 

Boston is a course that rewards the patient, so this year I was determined to keep my pace in check for the first 6 miles. Of Boston, John Brant wrote, quoting Dr. George Sheehan, in Duel in the Sun, "Accept your limitation and, with care, the thinking runner will have a comfortable, creditable race. But go for broke and prepare to be broken." That's what everyone says about this race. It's so easy to go out fast in the downhill and have nothing left for the hills and beyond. Think of it like two separate races: A 20 miler and a 6 miler. Yada. Yada. Yada. Prepare to be broken. 

I really decided to take this advice to heart and I so had decided to run the first 6 miles at an 8:00 min/mile pace and then drop down to a 7:00-7:30 min/mile pace for the rest of the race (if I could...). I hit each of the first six miles at just about 7:50. I congratulated myself each time I saw that split pop up on my watch. "Good job! Keep it slow! Take it easy...wait for it..." etc. 

I thought it would be totally badass to run this marathon with a negative split. Spoiler Alert: This didn't happen. 

This is an actual photo of the start of the race. Mooooo! 

This is an actual photo of the start of the race. Mooooo! 

Around mile 5 it began to sink in that, once again, it was going to be hot. Every time I've run Boston it has been so freaking HOT. And this year was shaping up to be no exception. There was no cloud cover, no leaves on the trees to provide shade, and with my heat starting at 10:30 am the sun was rising high and fast with temps creeping up into the 70s. 

Around mile 6 we passed a lake on our right hand side. There were two swans swimming in the lake and one of them dunked its head under the water for an extended period of time. "Wow, that looks nice," I thought. "I'd love to be that swan, dunking my head into that lake." As soon as this thought drifted through my mind I knew I was in trouble. I still had 20 more miles to go and I was already hallucinating about the idea of being a swan??! Yikes. Realizing this, I encouraged myself to take it easy, and to make sure to hit every water station along the way. I wasn't really hitting my 7:15ish pace, but bounced around 7:30-40 or so. Fine, I told myself. Save it for after the hills. Negative split! 

Having run the race just last year, I felt more familiar with the layout of the towns and the course. As always, the crowds were incredible. SInce it was a perfect day to watch a marathon, people were everywhere, being loud, positive and helpful in turn. I just loved it. 

Before I knew it we were all the way to Wellesley--the halfway point in the race. I took my headphones off so that I could completely appreciate the noise level of the famous Wellesley "Scream Tunnel" and it did not disappoint. I was never a video game person as a child, but at some point in the 90s my sister owned a Gameboy and I went through a brief phase where I would play Donkey Kong. In the game the gorilla (Donkey, I guess?) would sometimes hit these areas that made him speed up and shoot through the course. That's how the Wellesley Scream Tunnel works. It's like you're not even running during this stretch because you're so caught up in the cheering and the creativity of the signs. Of course, I did get bumped by two different gentlemen as they attempted to make their way to the sidelines to get a kiss, so that was unfortunate, but all in all this was a really fun part of the race. 

They were actually wearing sports bras and biker shorts, but this was pretty funny...

They were actually wearing sports bras and biker shorts, but this was pretty funny...

At the half marathon point I was around 1:40, which felt good to me, like I was on track to run about the same time as I did last year (3:25). But, man, it just continued to get hotter and hotter. I tried to drink water at every stop, and I ate Gu packets to keep my energy up, but I just felt dehydrated the entire way. I began to find myself daydreaming about various cold, delicious drinks I might have if I were not currently running a marathon (beer, Kool-Aid, as much water as I wanted...) which is never a good sign. 

I could feel myself running out of energy in the heat, and so I dropped my pace back to the 8:00 min/mile mark through miles 14-16 in anticipation of the Newton Hills. I wanted to have something left to charge up the hills and carry me into Boston. Negative split, remember? 

The Newton Hills are a series of four large hills that are spread out between miles 17-21. There are steep downhills between the climbs and the final ascent is the behemoth known as "Heartbreak Hill" (see above note involving Johnny Kelley). 

It is possible to pass A LOT of runners on these hills purely by NOT slowing to a walk. I slowed alright, but I did not walk. So, I was able to pass a lot of people, but as I climbed up Heartbreak I was nowhere near my 7:30 min/mile pace. 

I actually tried to train for these hills this year. After every long run I'd go to the bottom of a hill in Forest Park and charge up it as fast as possible, even after I'd run 21 or 22 miles. I thought that I was ready for them. Ha. Hilarious. I don't know what I'd have to do to be ready for them, but I can tell you I was not. This race is just not for the faint of heart. After 16 miles of downhill my legs were shot, and turned to pure concrete as I made my way through Newton. Ugh. 

Can you see Heartbreak on this map? Blah. The WORST. 

Can you see Heartbreak on this map? Blah. The WORST. 

At the top of Heartbreak Hill I saw a few people holding signs that read:

And even though I was exhausted and totally out of it I thought Yeah, it is. So that helped. 

So, I'd survived the hills. Here was where I was supposed to drop into a 7:00 min/mile pace and blaze into Boston with a course PR and a negative split, right? But no, the downhill and the uphill and the heat had done their worst. I couldn't make my legs go fast than a 7:30, but most of my miles were still right around 8:00. At this point I knew that I would finish. I knew that the ever building crowd from there to Boston would at least carry me to the finish line if I needed it. But it also quickly became apparent that I was not going to get a PR nor a negative split. 

Around mile 22 I saw Katie. Seeing Katie cheering gave me a boost and I sped up for a bit, but after .25-.5 miles my body seemed to say Hey, now, what are you doing? You CANNOT handle that speed at the moment, and so I slowed back down. 

The crowds continued to grow and I continued to fight dehydration and exhaustion. The marathon truly is a lesson in pain management and I just kept repeating one of my mantras to myself in order to keep myself going. Ask yourself can you give more? The answer is usually YES. Yes you can give more. Keep going. (I added that last part out of necessity at the time). 

Kate's pic at mile 22. I'm soaked from dumping so many cups of water on my head in order to deal with the heat. 

Kate's pic at mile 22. I'm soaked from dumping so many cups of water on my head in order to deal with the heat. 

Around miles 23 or 24 I saw a few interesting signs. One guy's said "You're Halfway There!" with the woman next to him holding a sign that said "Don't Listen To This Guy." Another's said "Don't Trust That Fart" with a picture of a poop emoji. Now, both are admittedly funny and clever, but in my hazy, exhausted, overly emotional mile 23 of a marathon brain I actually got really mad at them. How can they say such things?? I don't need to see that now! I need encouragement! I NEED to finish this race! I was seriously so dramatic. 

From mile 24 onward it was really just guts and one foot in front of the other. There's nothing better than seeing that "Welcome to Boston" sign, and the crowds are just incredible. They really carried me forward with their enthusiasm. 

I hit mile 25 and soon I approached Hereford. The Boston Marathon includes very few turns, but two of them happen right at the finish. It's become a famous Boston mantra--Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston. That's the dream. I saw a street up ahead and thought it might be Hereford, but prepared my exhausted brain for disappointment. My heart literally leapt when I saw that it really was Hereford! Almost home! 

This street is "affectionately" called Mt. Hereford because it has a slight incline. It's not much, but after 25.5 miles...ouch. 

This guy knows what to do. 

This guy knows what to do. 

And then there it was...the most glorious lefthand turn! Just like last year I expected that the finish line would be right there, and, well, it's not. It looks SO far away once you turn on Boylston. I almost wanted to let out a sob. Why is it so damn far away!! I decided to sprint for it. My watch was at 3:29 and I wanted to make it in at 3:30. I at least wanted to qualify for next year's Boston if I couldn't get a PR. 

Truly though, as tired as I was, as much as I wanted to guzzle a giant glass of water, running toward the finish line of The Boston Marathon is an amazing experience. The gentle downhill allowed me to build some speed and with every step the finish line came closer. The flags, the crowds, the atmosphere, all are simply incredible. I think there is no better place to run anywhere in the world than right there--Boylston Street on Patriot's Day. The best. I know that the memory of that moment will bring fire to cold, lonely runs come winter. When I'm exhausted or feeling unmotivated to run, I'll simply think of Boylston. 

With one last final effort, I crossed the finish. I tried to put my arms up in triumph, but none of the pictures from the Marathon Foto people captured me doing that, so I guess I didn't exactly succeed. It felt so good to stop running. I collected my water, banana, medal etc. in a dazed euphoria. It was done. 

I finished in 3:31 overall. It was slower than I'd hoped for, but with the day's heat I wasn't disappointed. I do wonder if my "patience" tactic actually hurt my time in the long run. When I was feeling the heat mid-race and destroyed after the hills I didn't have enough of a speed cushion to preserve my optimal time. Had I gone out in 7:30 min/miles perhaps I'd have had a better race? Who knows. I might have also just burned through all of my energy and not even been able to finish. I'll never know. All in all my average pace was easily around an 8:00 min/mile and it was pretty much consistent the entire time. 

There were a few "special" events happening at the 2017 Boston Marathon. Last year I was lucky enough to run the race exactly 50 years after Bobbi Gibb's historic run marked the first time a woman ran in Boston. This year's occasion marked 50 years from when Katherine Switzer registered for the Boston Marathon under the name K.V. Switzer, acquiring a bib number and becoming the first registered female runner to participate in the race. 

During the course of the 1967 race the director, Jock Semple, attempted to rip the number off of Kathrine and kick her off the course, but Switzer's linebacker sized boyfriend knocked him silly and Kathrine was able to finish the 26.2 miles. 

The famous photo that catapulted women into the marathon scene at a time (ONLY 50 years ago!!) when it was thought that women were not capable of running 26.2 miles. 

The famous photo that catapulted women into the marathon scene at a time (ONLY 50 years ago!!) when it was thought that women were not capable of running 26.2 miles. 

This year, at 70 years old, Kathrine was returning to run the race! She also got to start the elite men and women. Very exciting! On the plane from New Jersey to Boston, John and I sat next to a woman in her late forties or early fifties who told us that she was actually going to run the race WITH Kathrine! This woman was a part of an organization called 261 Fearless. Named after Kathrine's historic race number (261), this group empowers women to be fearless in their pursuits, starting with the very simple act of actually moving, be it walking or running. The woman on the plane and Kathrine would be joined by one hundred other "261 Fearless" women and 7 men (representing the men who ran in solidarity with Kathrine during the 1967 race), all running for Switzer's organization. It was pretty neat to chat with this lady and then to see her in all of the post-race pictures with Kathrine Switzer. Sort of a fun connection to history for me and John. 

Speaking of John. I didn't have to wait long to find him after I crossed the finish. I was collecting my gear at the bag check when he just tapped me on the shoulder! The two of us sat on a curb trying to snack on our post race goodies until someone made us get up and move (for the better, of course, but seriously painful...). 

I have to say, I am just so proud of John. This race season did not go as he wanted or expected it to. He began training for Boston right around Christmas. He seriously picked up his mileage with his running group and was really working hard. Around the end of February or early March though, he suffered an overuse type injury--a strained muscle in the lower back/upper glute/quad area. John's had trouble with this injury before and knew, of course, that the only fix for it was to run less. So, he essentially had to halt his training for quite a while. 

Post-marathon pics are the BEST. Not. 

Post-marathon pics are the BEST. Not. 

The most John ran during his training was an 18 mile run, once. To put that in perspective, I typically do at least two 20+ mile runs and several 18ish mile runs scattered throughout. If it had been any other race besides Boston he would have likely dropped out. But it was Boston. And he has been working toward this goal for a long time. John has qualified before, but not by a big enough margin to make it into the race. He's a much smarter and faster runner than I am and has always deserved to run this marathon. It was high time he had his turn in Boston and he was bound and determined to make it happen. He qualified this year in 3:01--a great margin for being able to register. 

When he showed up on the start line, John was not sure if he'd be able to finish or if he did, how bad it would hurt. Well, he did finish! Despite his legs cramping up in the Newton Hills and having to walk a bit he was able to finish in 3:37, a time to be proud of after the adversity he faced during training. I am so impressed by his bravery. It takes guts to toe the start line any old day, but when you've been injured and unable to truly prepare, well, that's borderline madness. But John stood up to his very realistic fears and ran a good, solid race. I am so proud of him. His strong heart and bravery are what Boston is all about. 

Tired eyes and smiles. 

Tired eyes and smiles. 

Running a marathon is truly like embarking on an expedition or journey. There is so much unknown, so much that can happen during those miles. The distance always humbles me. I respect it. I feel like every time I run this race I learn a little bit more about what it can do to a body and mind. Nonetheless, I suspect that even if I ran in  50 Bostons I still would not be able to figure out this course. It is such a beast. 

You never know what you'll face during a marathon. This Patriot's Day John and I battled heat, exhaustion, black toenails, cramps and injury. But I am so grateful for the experience. To run this race feels like playing a small role in history. The spirit of this city is contagious and I love having the chance to fan that flame with my own willingness to run and train. Every day that I get to run I feel lucky. I am lucky. But especially in Boston. There really is no better race. 

Some of my Favorites from the 2017 Marathon Season:

Best Music: The Hamilton Soundtrack

Best Audiobooks for long runs: Running with the Kenyans and Shoe Dog

Post-Run Snacks: Dried mango and tart cherry juice

Place to train: Forest Park (duh)

Motivational Movie: Boston (a documentary about the race that John and I both loved!) 

Long Overdue Wedding Recap

Hello! Blog? Are you out there?? I have not visited this little guy in SO long! 

What are my excuses this time? Wedding planning is obviously over. Why did I leave this corner of my website vacant for months on end? 

Well, to be honest, I pretty much had to catch up on everything that I'd been putting to the side for all of the aforementioned wedding planning. 

What have I been up to since my last blog post?

-Wrote another serial story for the Missouri Press Association--this one featuring Jim the Wonder Dog

-Wrote 120 thank you notes. Seriously. If you were at our wedding and you have not received a thank you note, well, then you are on "Slow and Steady" John the turtle biologist's list and...it's coming soon. (That's right. new husband, meet underside of the bus). 

-Once again struggled to keep up with friends/family who work regular work schedules during the magic of the holiday season. 

-Worked on a new (and exciting!) project with Reedy Press with an entire team of authors--more to come about that one! 

-Started (and almost completed!) training for this year's Boston Marathon. 

Needless to say, not a lot of time was left for blogging. And, honestly, shortly after our wedding a few major shifts happened here in the good ol' USA that sort of made it seem like blogging about a wedding was, well, pretty trivial. Even now, it still seems silly to me. Like the world is burning and here I am still thinking about flowers and cake. (Let's be honest, I'm always kind of thinking about cake, though.) 

But, alas, in honor of our six month wedding anniversary, I've decided to write this blog, if only just for my own record keeping and memories. After all, isn't that what blogging is sometimes about? Escaping from the harsher realities of the world and just focusing on what is light and fun in our lives? Sometimes? Ok, good.

So, without further ado, here is a little recap of our wedding weekend: 

REHEARSAL DINNER

We had our rehearsal dinner on October 6 at the Golf Club in Forest Park. John and I always wanted our wedding to center around Forest Park. We met here, live here, work here and run here every day. And since it is the prettiest city park EVER it only made since for it to be the center of the festivities. 

The weekend really kicked off with this dinner. It was the first time I got that surreal feeling of looking around a room and seeing my family and John's family, and our friends from high school and college and grad school and all walks of life mingling in one room! It was crazy and, also, the very best feeling. Obviously, I got to experience that rush for a few days during the celebrations! 

 

Why hello college/post grad roommates and new sister in laws all together in one photo! 

The dinner was so much fun. John's mom planned a Fall theme, with flowers and autumn-y menu choices. My sisters made us a picture video and we got to visit with all of our friends. 

After dinner we went to Double D's for some karaoke action, which is always a good time. 

T-minus two days until marriage begins! 

T-minus two days until marriage begins! 

WEDDING MORNING

I woke up a little before 6am on our wedding morning, completely relieved that I'd actually gotten some sleep! The night before my sister Nancy's wedding in May of 2015, I got myself so hyped up and excited that I hardly slept at all and was exhausted the next day. To avoid this, I did everything I could NOT to think about the wedding the night before. It was hard for me not to take stock of this huge life moment, as I'm the type to really think about and consider major change. But I determinedly relaxed with my sisters and read to keep my mind off of it. And it worked! I went to bed around 11 and got up close to 6. A very typical routine for me. 

The wedding morning was a blur, of course. I made a smoothie and tea. The sun came up and the forecast was confirmed--it was a PERFECT day. My friends started arriving, as well as the hairdressers. There was a garage sale happening down the street, which made things a little more interesting as a steady stream of cars kept appearing, even at that early hour. 

We got our hair and makeup done. We laughed, drank coffee and tea and bellinis and laughed some more. Quite suddenly, it seemed, the photographers and videographer arrived and it was time to get dressed! 

My mom helped me into my gown, and my sisters worked on the veil. 

John had given me earrings for my 30th birthday (two weeks before the wedding!) and a beautiful bracelet as a wedding gift, so those, along with my dress, were my "something news."

My "something old" was the toasting cup we used for our champagne. My grandparents used it in 1949, and my parents in 1983. 

My "something borrowed" was my veil. My mom sewed it for my older sister, Kristin's, wedding in 2010, and my sister Nancy wore it as well. 

And, finally, my "something blue" was a blue dragonfly brooch that belonged to my Nana, which I pinned to my bouquet. 

THE CEREMONY

The ceremony was everything I'd hoped it would be. The weather was unbelievable--sunny, about 70 degrees, just a perfect October day--and some good person had opened up all of the doors throughout the round church to let the sunlight in. 

Our musicians did an incredible job. Anyone who knows me well knows how obsessed I can get over music. But from the first moment of hearing the violin while I waited with my dad to walk down the aisle, I knew that we'd chosen some of the best. They sounded amazing.  

Before walking down the aisle, I was not nervous, just focused, like before a race. My dad told me that he loved me, and for a moment I almost choked up, but I held it together. I wasn't really in the mood for crying and destroying all of those hours of getting ready that morning! 

Of course, actually walking down the aisle I was my normal, awkward self. I've walked down quite a few aisles in my time (as flower girl, junior bridesmaid, bridesmaid, maid of honor yada yada yada...) and it's always the same. I never know where to look and how much to show my teeth. Sorry, but those facts were still true on my wedding day, bride or not. 

That being said, of course, it was incredibly surreal and wonderful to see all of the people from all walks of our lives gathered together in my family church. I wanted to soak it all in. 

 

 

My sweet niece, Isabella, nine months old at the time, of course, made those last few moments before walking down the aisle lighthearted and fun. 

My sweet niece, Isabella, nine months old at the time, of course, made those last few moments before walking down the aisle lighthearted and fun. 

Here we go! 

Here we go! 

When John and I got to our kneeler (the same kneeler my parents were married on, I might add) at the altar I immediately began thinking "What if we pass out?" Which was dumb of me, but true. I kept telling myself not to lock my knees. I could hear John breathing so I kept asking him if he was OK. Which he was--but me asking was making him nervous! So, we were not exactly "chill" for the first part of the ceremony, if only because it seemed like it would be such a terrible idea to pass out in front of 300 guests. 

Plus, though we'd decided (as if the Catholic Church would allow anything else...) to recite the traditional vows, we'd hoped to memorize them. So, we were both nervous about "forgetting our lines." When the time came to be married, I was so focused on saying the right words I didn't have time to cry or get emotional! As soon as I said them though, all of the nervousness, all of the dreadful thoughts about locking my knees left me, and I felt relaxed and really ready to enjoy our ceremony time together. Once we'd said "I do" our priest, Fr. Drew, turned to us and whispered, "Congratulations, you're married." and it just felt so crazy and wonderful at the same time. 

The big moment! 

The big moment! 

Trying to fit the ring over my old, zookeeper knuckle. 

Trying to fit the ring over my old, zookeeper knuckle. 

My favorite part of the ceremony was communion, because we got to see all of our friends and family. The rest of the time, our backs were to the congregation, but during communion we got to watch everyone come forward. I felt so much love. 

Smiling because we can actually see our friends. 

Smiling because we can actually see our friends. 

After communion, we brought peach roses to Mary and to our grandmothers. On our way back up the altar steps, my long veil got stuck on the railing, which was funny--could have been bad, but ended up OK. 

Finally, it was time for the big intro and first kiss as a married couple! I had insisted that Fr. Drew announce us as Mr. and Mrs. John and Carolyn Kelly. I did NOT want to be introduced as Mr. and Mrs. John Kelly--after all, as I told Fr. Drew, I do not plan on changing my name to John. This was important to me, and I was nervous that it wouldn't happen. I had no need to be nervous. As you can see below, our talented photographers captured the very moment I heard them announce us correctly. Mr. and Mrs. John and Carolyn Kelly! For the very first time. 

My cousin, Katie, and I are smiling so big because Fr. Drew got it right! My friend, Alex, seems to be waiting in suspense...my bridesmaids knew how important that was to me! 

My cousin, Katie, and I are smiling so big because Fr. Drew got it right! My friend, Alex, seems to be waiting in suspense...my bridesmaids knew how important that was to me! 

Then it was time for the kiss! When we were gathered in the bride's room before the ceremony, I mentioned to Nancy that John and I had not practiced our "church kiss" (tongue or no tongue? that is the question.) Nancy looked at me and said, "You've been practicing for six years! You'll be fine." She was right! We didn't even have to think about it! There was so much joy. 

Happiness! 

Happiness! 

POST-CEREMONY

This was by far one of the most hectic parts of the day! Did I mention we had just over 300 wedding guests? People were just pouring out of the church! Pictures were taken, congratulations were yelled our way...chaos! In a good way, but still. John and I pretty much stood there as various people came forward and took pictures with us. There were a few people we missed out on getting pictures with during this portion of the day, just due to the sheer craziness of it. 

But, as always, the sunshine could not have been more PERFECT! 

Our darling group of flower girls/ring bearers. They were troopers for sure! 

Our darling group of flower girls/ring bearers. They were troopers for sure! 

The big Mueller family! My family has been going to Little Flower Church for three generations, and many of the people in this photo were married here. 

The big Mueller family! My family has been going to Little Flower Church for three generations, and many of the people in this photo were married here. 

The Church looked so beautiful that day! 

The Church looked so beautiful that day! 

Enthusiasm! Ready to head to Forest Park! I just love how John's navy suit turned out. He tried on so many different versions, and this was the perfect one. 

Enthusiasm! Ready to head to Forest Park! I just love how John's navy suit turned out. He tried on so many different versions, and this was the perfect one. 

THE FALL

I can't move forward with our story without mentioning that I fell on our wedding day. Yep. It's true.

It's only about a mile from Little Flower to Forest Park, so once we left the church, we were there in no time. All of our friends left the bus and headed to Kennedy Forest, our first location for pictures. 

I'd purchased a pair of lacy, white Toms shoes to wear in the park, so before I left the bus I took off my heels and put on the Toms. I assumed these would be my comfy, "don't have to worry about walking in these babies" type shoes for the day. Spoiler Alert--I was wrong. I had not worn the shoes at all before that day. I mean, come on, they were white Toms. I did NOT want to get them all dirty. So the bottoms were rather smooth. 

Literally the moment I stood up and took a step forward to walk off of the bus I slipped on the soles of the fresh, new Toms and completely bit it on the bus. I mean total wipe out. The only one who saw it was the bus driver, who, I think, was thoroughly freaked out. (Had he ever seen a bride fall before? If this had been caught on camera somehow it would have made my '90s child dreams of being on America's Funniest Home Videos Wedding Edition come true!). 

I assured him that I was fine, left the bus and then told everyone that I fell! Of course, the bridal party swarmed around me asking if I was OK. I said that I was, and shortly after, the photographer's assistant pointed out that my elbow was bleeding. Sure enough, there was blood gushing out. Lucky for me, I had a medical doctor, a veterinarian and a PhD in our wedding party. All three of them rushed to my aid. 

Suddenly, I began to feel a bit light headed. And that's when I almost passed out. Yep, me, the sister who never passes out, almost did so on my wedding day. Classic. I told Nancy that I needed to sit down and we went back to the bus, where, with some chocolate, Sprite and strategic fanning, I quickly recovered. 

I think that the fall gave me a quick shot of adrenaline on a day when my nerves and energy were already amped to the max. This little head rush was enough to make me a bit light headed, and my blood sugar dropped. I recovered quickly, though, and was back in the game. And, honestly, those few quiet moments on the bus with our matrons of honor, best man, my new husband and my mom, were kind of nice. We laughed about the fall and had a few moments to compose ourselves before the next chunk of the day. 

Am I happy that I fell? Of course not. But it is kind of funny. And it was fine. And even though I had bandaids on my elbow during all of our reception pictures, I do have a pretty nice scar. Not many people can say that they have a scar from their wedding day! And that's kind of cool, right? 

And don't worry, I still love my Toms. 

The fall. This whole ordeal was made that much more attractive by the fact that I had a huge chunk of Gus' pretzel stuffed in my mouth while it happened. Sorry, John, you're stuck with me now! 

The fall. This whole ordeal was made that much more attractive by the fact that I had a huge chunk of Gus' pretzel stuffed in my mouth while it happened. Sorry, John, you're stuck with me now! 

PICTURES IN FOREST PARK

After I eventually recovered from falling, taking pictures in Forest Park was one of my favorite parts of the day.

We went to Kennedy Forest, one of the prettiest sections of the running trail. It was just so beautiful. Did I mention the weather yet? A few times? Maybe? I know everyone hopes for lovely weather at their wedding, but I was especially obsessed with it. I don't know if it's because I work outside, or because I'm a runner, but I'm pretty much always obsessed with the weather. So, needless to say I was very, very happy about the weather on October 8. 

Taking pictures in Forest Park was the perfect time to enjoy it too. Usually, this can be kind of a tiring, tedious part of the day for the wedding party. But even they seemed to like just relaxing in the sun with a cold beverage or two. 

Shortly after we began the photo session, there was a car fire on Skinker right by our location. A little weird, but it actually added a bit of a smoky, ethereal quality to some of the photos! Never a dull moment in the Lou, that's for sure. 

You know how everyone says to take a few moments during the wedding day to just spend some quiet time with your new spouse? Well, I definitely felt like we had plenty of time for this in Forest Park. It was nice to spend a few moments with John to reflect and enjoy being  newly minted husband and wife. Here are some of my favorite shots from this photo session. 

The ladies! 

The ladies! 

And the gentlemen...trying to hold it together. Fail. 

And the gentlemen...trying to hold it together. Fail. 

Kelly family 

Kelly family 

Mueller family 

Mueller family 

Kelly Kraft Jurotich and The Crimson Petal did a phenomenal job with the flowers! 

Kelly Kraft Jurotich and The Crimson Petal did a phenomenal job with the flowers! 

My handsome groom! 

My handsome groom! 

So many people we love! 

So many people we love! 

Ok, this could go on all day...I seriously need to stop. Done. Our photographers, The Oldanis, are WONDERFUL! Highly recommend! 

Ok, this could go on all day...I seriously need to stop. Done. Our photographers, The Oldanis, are WONDERFUL! Highly recommend! 

THE RECEPTION

People told me the day would go by in a flash, and I believed them, but still, I was shocked when I realized it was time to head to the Zoo for our reception. IT FLEW BY! Duh, I know. But it did! 

I loved the bus ride to the reception. It was short, but we had champagne and my Ipod, and really, what more do you need? 

When we arrived at the Zoo my sisters and I commandeered the lactation room to freshen up. Then John and I went to take pictures with Kali the polar bear that I get to take care of. This was another favorite moment for me. It was a perfect evening, the sun setting, crickets chirping, a crisp, autumn dusk settling around us. We could hear Ingozi the lion roaring in the distance. We found Kali sleeping and completely covered in dirt, but he obliged us for a few photos. 

On our way back to the reception, John had to go to the restroom, so I "joined the party" solo. I remember walking up the ramp to the deck of The Living World and thinking, "Ok, get ready. This is going to be crazy." And it was! As soon as I got up there it was just rapid fire, talking to as many people as possible. I loved it, of course, but wish I'd had MUCH more time with each person. 

When we walked into the reception, we entered down a staircase. I thought this was a great idea before I fell in the park--but in actuality I was just super focused on NOT falling again, so my face basically just looks focused and relieved in all of the pictures. 

Happy to have stayed on my feet...

Happy to have stayed on my feet...

I LOVED how our reception turned out. The Zoo and our florist, Kelly from The Crimson Petal, did an incredible job bringing it all together. We were going for sort of a vintage safari theme, without being too over the top. Here are a few of the details: 

The speeches were one of the best parts of the reception for me. My dad, of course, did a wonderful job, including a classic "Dad Joke" about our friends Annie and James from Australia. And my sisters REALLY outdid themselves by rewriting the song "Sisters" from White Christmas and performing an entire song and dance routine on top of an actual speech! Greg, the best man, was excellent and all in all my face hurt from smiling so much the entire time. 

This picture so perfectly captures our relationship. I'm all like "Yes! Cake! Let's do this!" and John's like "Ok, careful, easy does it..." 

This picture so perfectly captures our relationship. I'm all like "Yes! Cake! Let's do this!" and John's like "Ok, careful, easy does it..." 

This was one of my favorite moments ever. 

This was one of my favorite moments ever. 

For our first dance we chose a Dave Matthews Band song called "Steady As We Go." We had a hard time choosing a song, basically because we loved too many of them. We ended up picking this one because we liked the lyrics, I liked the melody at the end, and John is a huge DMB fan. It's just a beautiful love song, and The Galaxy Band played it perfectly. My dad and I danced to "Born Free" which is the theme song of a movie about a lion named Elsa made in the 1960s. Random, I know. But we had this movie on VHS when I was a kid and it was by far my favorite, and probably played in a role in me becoming a zookeeper. I watched it over and over again. My dad and I thought it would be perfect for a zoo wedding, and sure enough, we got a nice chuckle and round of applause from the crowd when the music began. At least the 50+ club in attendance recognized the significance! John and his mom danced to another classic--Louie Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World." 

"Steady As We Go" 

"Steady As We Go" 

After the first dances, more craziness ensued. John and I tried to talk to as many people as possible, before we finally decided to give up and just meet people out on the dance floor! We danced, we hugged, we ate pizza, and just enjoyed the very reason we wanted to have a big wedding in the first place--having so many of the people we love right there in one room. 

I know a lot of our guests ventured out onto Zoo grounds that evening. There were four weddings happening on the Zoo campus that night, and apparently there were quite a few explorers. C'est la vie. I think they had a good time out there!  

One of the best parts of having our reception at the Zoo was that we had the space until 12:30 am. After the band ended, they let us play my ipod, so we were out on the dance floor until about 12:15, when we had to wrap things up. It was perfect, and so much fun. 

As we were leaving at the end of the night, John and I took a moment and just stood together on the balcony overlooking The Living World and the remnants of our party. "This is our wedding reception," I told him. I couldn't believe it had already come and gone. We lingered for one more moment before heading off to the The Seven Gables Inn for the night. 

 

POST SCRIPT

At the end of the day, our wedding wasn't perfect. We had a few organizational issues and timing issues and, of course, there was the whole falling thing too. But, honestly, I still just really loved it. Afterward, all I could do was thank our parents, families, friends and vendors for giving us these wonderful memories that we'll look back on throughout our marriage. We had perfect weather and everyone was healthy. What more could we ask for? 

At our friends Petey and Tasha's wedding just two weeks before ours, I remember Petey saying in their vows that in reality they'd committed to Tasha long before the ceremony and that the wedding was just reaffirming an already established truth. That's how I felt on our wedding day too. It was certainly a momentous occasion for us, but John and I had committed ourselves to each other years earlier, and nothing about that changed before or after we said "I do." 

Nowadays, we get asked quite often "How's married life?" I'm not really sure what people are looking for when they ask that question, perhaps it's just another form of "How are you?" but if I'm being quit candid (which I usually am, I guess...) I'd say married life is very, very good. I love that John is the first person I see every morning and the last person I see each night. It's not easy--we still don't have regular days off together and we're both running around like a couple of chickens with our heads cut off most of the time--but I love that we're on this journey together as a little family. That's corny, I know, but like a good professor once told me, without a little corn there's never going to be enough heart. 

 

So, there you have it. That's our wedding weekend in a nutshell. Stay tuned, because now that I got this beast out of the way i have lots more blog posts in the pipeline. 

Of course, I want to give a special shout out to the vendors who helped us along the way. Our wedding day roster is below: 

Photographer: Oldani Photography | Videographer: Tower Studios| Florist: The Crimson Petal | Venue and Caterer: The Saint Louis Zoo| Cake Baker: Lubeley's Bakery| Lighting:  | Lighting: The Saint Louis Zoo Band: Galaxy Band| Paper Products : Flan de Vida Design and Illustration | Bride’s Gown: Wedding Creations |  Hair and Makeup: Platinum Hair Salon and Emily Miller |  Bridesmaids’ Dresses: Vow to Be Chic | Menswear: Jos. A. Bank | Ceremony Musicians: Lauren Kistner and David Radley| Watercolor Guest Book Print: Simply Jessica Marie

HIGHLIGHT VIDEO LINK: https://www.dropbox.com/s/5sllc25m5us91q2/John%20%2B%20Carolyn%20-%20Highlights.mov?dl=0

 

a tribute to strong women.

I have been terrible with this blog, I know. I've been busy--getting married, carrying "Boo" through the Halloween season and now finishing my serial story for Missouri Press Association's Newspapers In Education program. I haven't even started on the thank you notes! 

I'll write about the wedding, I'll write about animals, I'll write about weird/funny stuff that happens etc...trust me, I will. 

But today I spent my day taking care of big cats, which involves a lot of small, quiet tasks--picking the yard, sweeping up straw, hosing, scrubbing, raking leaves etc. I worked alone, as usual, and so I had a lot of time to think.

I don't believe I was alone in this sort of contemplation on this particular day, November 9, 2016. Because I was angry. I was sad. And I've never felt that way after an election. I was always the "I'm just glad the arguing/political ads are over, it will be fine either way, even if my candidate doesn't win" type of gal. But not this time. This time I felt real, raw strong emotions tied to the election. I felt so proud as I voted for a woman who I thought would be the first female president of the United States of America. I enjoyed the exuberant energy of my friends on my Facebook feed--wearing white (the color of suffragettes) pasting "I Voted" stickers to Susan B. Anthony's grave, allowing their young daughters to press VOTE on the touch screen so that they could be a part of this historic moment. So, that they could say I was there. 

Today, I feel something like real grief. It's strange. I've never felt that before when it comes to politics--not in this way. A man who has bragged about assaulting women, a man who has (famously) cheated on his three wives, has been elected president of the United States over a woman who has dedicated her entire life's work to politics and the progress of our nation. And it makes me sad. It makes me feel like there is no reason to be happy or hopeful today. It feels like grief. 

On our family vacation when I was younger, we played volleyball every evening. I remember one night, we decided to play the traditional matchup "Boys vs. Girls." The "Girls" were losing pretty badly, when suddenly my Nana decided to start yelling out the names of long gone female ancestors before she served. "Avice!" "Irene!" She yelled. We laughed and all started doing it too. Suddenly, our team got stronger. We won point after point, enthusiastically invoking the spirits of our matriarchal lineage to our cause.  

This memory came back to me as I fought tears against the misogyny of our political system while hosing the big cat holding space this afternoon. Suddenly, I started thinking about all of the strong women that I know. The brave, badass, brilliant, steel nerved ladies who populate my life. 

There's that same Nana, my mother's mother who was a badass lady long before it was cool to be a badass lady. 

My father's mother, who birthed and raised ten children. Enough said. 

My own mother, who is always the first one to respond to any emergency, who can ride fast horses, use power tools and sew a mean needlepoint belt. I am 30 years younger than my mom and (let's be honest) in better shape, but she can kick my sorry ass on the tennis court any day of the week.  

My mother-in-law, a brilliant chemist and the woman who raised four of the best people I know. 

My older sister, who graduated Summa Cum Laude and works as an attorney at a stressful, powerful law firm while keeping up a house that looks like it's maintained by Martha Stewart and raising a bright and bubbly 10-month old daughter. 

My younger sister, who graduated from veterinary school at the age of 25 because she finished college and earned her D.V.M in 7 years. Tomorrow she's going to remove stones from a dog's bladder. She's a surgeon. Once, she stuck her entire arm in a cow's vagina. And she's funny and creative as hell. 

My courageous cousin who has experienced great loss, and moved forward with grace, dignity and the same kind heart she's always shared with others. 

My aunts, who are the heart, soul and center of our family. 

My mama friends, who are making it all work someway, somehow. 

My LGBTQ friends, especially those who are family, or like family, who have to be brave every day. 

My friends who are minorities, who have to be brave every day. 

My Nerinx girls, who know themselves, and know their world. 

My Theta women, who understand that the greatest of these will always be love. 

My teammates from all walks of life. Growing up in the '90s we accepted the "Girl Power" tagline hook, line and sinker and never, ever let anyone tell us that we weren't "real" athletes, even if we didn't get the nicest fields, locker rooms or uniforms. 

My running friends, who have nerves of steel. 

My coworkers who live their careers with such passion. They can shift a lion or teach a child with the same careful consideration and dedication. 

My boss, who manages the near impossible job of keeping 36 animals and 9 keepers content and cared for with professionalism and grace. 

All of the women I know at the Zoo--be they Keepers, Doctors, PhDs, Researchers, Directors, Executives, Curators, Managers, Event Planners, Educators-- they all work tirelessly, in their own ways, toward the conservation of species and our planet. 

My writing group, who are unafraid to share their stories and lift each other up. 

The ladies on my Facebook feed yesterday, who showed up before dawn, in the rain, during lunch hours or with kids in tow to exercise their right to vote. 

It was easy for me to come up with this list. And, oddly enough, it made me feel better, by some small measure. Hillary Clinton said to women everywhere, and especially to the little girls growing up in America today, "never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams."

These women are living this message. There are strong, brave women all around us who will continue to make this world, and this nation a better place. We will not be silenced. We will move forward together. Our time will come. 

But obviously, we have a ways to go and a lot to do. There's only one option. My friend Katie, one of the most badass ladies out there, said it best with her Facebook post this morning: 

 "Let's get to work." 

 

 

 

let the wedding festivities begin!

This is going to be one of those wedding type blog posts. Trust me, it's a thing. 

Yesterday officially marked 100 DAYS until John and I say "I Do" on October 8! It's crazy how fast this engagement is flying by and awesome that the wedding will be here so soon. 

So far wedding planning has been fun! Despite the fact that I've always been a bit of a tomboy at heart, I actually like things like flowers, dresses and cake, so the little details interest me.

The only downside has been the fact that I've sort of put my business to the side for a while. I did plenty of "Dizzy" related events in the Spring, but as the wedding gets closer I'm slowing down. That being said, since I'm quite accustomed to working outside of my 40 hours a week at the Zoo, it's been easy for me to replace my "Author Time" with "Wedding Planning Time" which I think helps with the process. 

Last weekend the wedding events officially kicked off with my Bachelorette Party!

I have always, secretly, wanted to go on a cattle drive a la City Slickers for my bachelorette party. As this is insanely expensive (who knew?) I settled for the next best thing. 

You know in the movie Bridesmaids when Kristen Wigg's character, Annie, is planning the bachelorette party and she suggests going to the family lake house? In the  movie, everyone shoots her down and they attempt to go to Vegas. In my life, no one shot me down and we actually headed to the Lake! (Much more fun than Vegas, and definitely more fun than getting kicked off a plane...). 

 

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My sisters and Matrons of Honor (yeah, they're old) took up the planning from there and did an excellent job. On Friday, I drove down to the Lake house in Ste. Genevieve, MO with three of my best friends, later to be joined by my two sisters and three more friends that afternoon. 

The most exciting thing about the bachelorette weekend for me was that so many of my friends traveled to Missouri for it! I had besties come in from Florida, New York City, Boston, Indiana, Michigan, Colorado and Kansas City! I am so grateful that they could all make it. 

We spent Friday afternoon laying out on the Lake and enjoying some cold beverages from a floating bobber cooler (which my sister, Nancy, had the foresight to gift my dad a few father's days ago...). 

 

Nothing better than being at the lake with friends. 

 

After some good sun time and a little beer buzz, we proceeded up to the porch to eat chips, dips and pizzas. Delish. We had grand plans to maybe make a fire or take a walk or something that night, but we ended up spending the entire evening on the screened in porch talking and playing games! The lights on the porch were not working, so we gathered every candle in the house and lit them on the table, making it feel like we were camping. Kristin and Nancy bought us glass mugs, which we got to decorate. 

 

Piggin' out. 

 

Our makeshift campfire. 

I seriously loved soaking in this time with my sweet, hilarious and crazy friends. When I was a kid my family would go on vacation to a dude ranch in Steelville, Missouri every year. I never understood why the adults spent the entire week sitting on the screened in porch when, in my mind, there were so many other interesting things to do (tether ball! ping pong! looking for crawdads!). It hit me this weekend that now I'm the adult on the porch, and there's seriously nothing I'd rather do! So, it was perfect. 

On Saturday morning we woke up and my sisters, like the two MOH machines that they are, concocted large breakfast casseroles for us, which we enjoyed with mimosas and bloody marys on, where else, but the porch. 

Alex enjoys her bloody mary. Her shirt embodies the #aintnuthinbutmammals theme. 

During breakfast, John's sister, Rachel, arrived, along with two other friends from college. We all got ready to go before our bus came to take us to a few local wineries. 

The bus ride to the wineries was...interesting. Actually, it was like a bus ride from hell. It was about 95 degrees that day and the bus' air conditioning was not functioning. In fact, hot exhaust air seemed to be blowing up from the ground. This, coupled with the fact that the country roads to the wineries were extremely hilly, windy and bumpy and that our driver, Tammy, drove like a crazy bat out of hell, made for a fairly traumatic ride for my friends who were prone to carsickness. We were giving them ice for their necks and salty pretzels, but there was not much we could do but hang on for our dear lives and wait. At one point, we opened the windows, which helped (even though the wind felt like a blow dryer). Let's just say that when we pulled up to our first stop, Cave Rock Winery, there were a lot of sweaty butt marks on bus seats. 

 

We did NOT know what was coming before we boarded that bus! 

 

No matter--after some good ol' fashioned AC and oyster crackers MOST of us were feeling up to a wine tasting. Our wine guide was Marty--an old man whose mono tone and dry sense of humor suited our rowdy crowd perfectly. My friend, Betsy, met us here and as Betsy had driven up from St. Louis in her own vehicle, she quickly became the best friend of the carsick lot. 

Wine sampling with Marty. 

We enjoyed a round of Missouri wine samples and were feeling pretty good before heading down to explore the room where the wine is made, the vineyard and a cave on the property. 

In the cave! 

While we were all enjoying this good fun, my MOHs (who seriously could be hired as professionals in this endeavor) had secured us an air conditioned bus, so by the time we were ready to leave Cave Rock we were all pretty happy. 

Boarding the bus, I realized that my iPod had been left playing, so when we turned the speaker on it belted out "Little Drummer Boy" rather than the mix I'd created for the weekend, making for some fun memories. Bus ride number two was much more fun and we arrived in rowdy form at Weingarten, our next stop. 

Weingarten was beautiful, with tall windows commanding views of the rolling vineyards and an impending summer storm. As we walked into the building, my friend, Jaymi, told me to give her the somewhat inappropriately shaped inflatable I'd been carting around. "Trust me," she said. "You're not going to want to be holding this right now." 

When I walked in I was surprised by a full on Bridal Shower! 

Surprise! It didn't help that I was encouraged to enjoy several more beverages on the bus just before this photo...

I knew there would be some kind of shower element to the weekend, since so many of my bridesmaids live out of town, but I thought it would be more along the lines of opening presents in our bathing suits later at the lake. I certainly wasn't expecting the beautiful shower my sisters and bridesmaids put together, or the fact that many of my friend's moms had made the trip as well! 

The shower was a "Marrython" theme which was so cute! My sisters had created flower vases out of Gatorade bottles (also very eco-conscious...) and a super fun game called "Race to the Altar" which included a funny video interview with John. They decorated the place with some framed photos from our engagement shoot and a "Marrython" book that included photos from each "Mile" of our relationship. Seriously, so cute and clever. 

The "Marrython" themed shower! 

We all enjoyed cheese, wine and too many nice gifts before going outside to take pictures and watch the lightening over the vineyard. It was seriously so perfect, well planned and fun. I was really grateful for everyone who was there. Engagement/Wedding planning really makes a gal feel loved! 

Some of my favorite people! 

Best planners ever. 

After the shower was over, all girls and moms retreated back to the lake house where, once again, my sisters turned into MOH machines and cooked us up a feast of bread, salad and "festively shaped" pasta, if you get my drift. 

I loved getting to visit with everyone and another highlight of the weekend for me was watching friends from all walks of life bond and get to know each other. I was really happy for my friends and aunts to get to meet John's sister, Rachel, and it was fun for me to see two of my most hilarious friends, Katie and Casey, play off of each other. 

We spent the night, once again, hanging on the porch, stuffing ourselves, drinking and laughing by candlelight before we all collapsed exhausted from the day around midnight. It wasn't the wildest bachelorette party there's ever been, I can assure you of that, but for me it was perfect. 

I honestly could not have asked for a better weekend. The generosity of my friends and their moms was just incredible and my sisters are truly amazing. They pulled everything together so perfectly and made for a wonderful time full of memories I'll never forget. 

So, there we have it. T-minus 99 days 'til the wedding and the official celebrations have started! I couldn't be happier. 

Except, maybe, if there had been a cattle drive, of course. 

boston marathon recap

I’m back from Boston and happy to report that I survived another marathon! I limped through my work day on Wednesday and I have a few toenails that are not long for this world, but other than that I made it out in one piece. 

I finished the race in 3:25–a time I am satisfied with. It was not an overall PR for me, but it was a PR for Boston by 22 minutes. Because the last time I ran Boston in 2012 it was a solid 80-something degrees, I felt like I had a skewed perspective of the race course. I thought that it seemed really hard then, but looking back I thought that maybe my memory of the heat made it seem worse than it truly was. Now that I’ve run it in 2016 I can honestly report that, yep, it’s a really hard course. Boston is truly a beast of a race.

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(Finally done! Love my cheering squad.) 

Here’s how it went for me…

I was very lucky to be able to stay with my cousin/BFF and her husband at their apartment in downtown Boston all week. On race day I woke up around 5am and John and I walked from the apartment to the bus pickup in Boston Commons around 6:15. It was a nice, pleasant walk, with the sun just starting to light up the city around us, but when I saw those buses damn I was nervous! Hugging John goodbye, I actually teared up a little because I was scared of what was to come. 

I rode on the bus to Hopkinton with lots of other runners, all of us giddy with nerves despite the early hour. The girl sitting next to me was pretty quiet, so after a while I stopped asking her questions and watched a drama unfold in the seat across from me. A man was at his wits end about having to go to the bathroom. Eventually, he couldn’t take it anymore and he poured his Gatorade into a mug so that he could pee into his Gatorade bottle. Exciting stuff. 

When we arrived in Hopkinton, the Athlete’s Village was hopping. Naturally, I went straight for a Johnny-On-The-Spot line (I wasn’t about to pee into any sort of plastic bottle, no sir…) and that’s when I realized that it really wasn’t cold outside at all. Not a good sign. 

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(Arriving all fresh and shiny in Hopkinton. Ready to go!) 

I found a dry bit of dirt to sit on in the Athlete’s Village, so I just took a seat and watched a parade of absurdly outfitted athletes move by. Because of increased security measures after the 2013 bombing, runners can no longer check their bags in the Village. Therefore, all clothes brought in had to be donated. As a result, runners were clad in all kinds of Goodwill paraphernalia. I saw people wearing flannel pajamas, an awesome, turquoise, silk “Australia” jacket complete with marsupial themed patches, a man in just a speedo and several full length bathrobes. Quite the show. 

After making small talk and standing in bathroom lines for a good two hours, my wave was called to the starting line. There’s truly nothing like the starting line of a marathon. It’s the intersection of dreams about to become reality and imminent pain. I felt both calm and impatient. There was no room here for the screaming nerves I’d felt the night before. It was now or never, so help me, God. 

The first 16 miles or so of The Boston Marathon are generally downhill. How lucky! Most people say, must be an easy course. Ha. Those downhills are actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing (But since I’m a Carnivore Keeper the wolf probably shouldn’t be the bad guy. A poacher dressed as a rhino? Does that work?). They truly take their toll on a runner’s muscles and ligaments, which Boston marathoners pay for in the latter half of the race and the next day. 

Honestly, though, those first miles most closely resemble a cattle drive. There are a lot of runners on the road to Boston (26,000 this year!) and people are packed in quite tightly, forcing you to run a slow and even speed (which is a blessing later in the race). So, for me, those first 4-5 miles flew by in a sunshine-y, cheerful, please don’t let me step on anyone’s heels, blissful pace. There’s a lot of high-fiving little kids during this portion of the race. Spoiler Alert: During hours two and three I did not want to waste the energy it would take to give any high-fives. 

I enjoyed seeing the signs people held up on the sides of the racecourse. Some favorites included: If Trump Can Run, So Can You! and All Toenails Go to Heaven. 

Around miles 7-10 things got rough. You see, it was hot out there. Certainly 70-plus degrees, a nice temp for spectating a marathon, but much too warm for running it. My start time was at 10:25 am, so we were running with the sun straight overhead in the heat of the day (and I have the fried shoulders to prove it!). I started to get very thirsty and that old adage, if you feel thirsty you’re already dehydrated, began to run through my head. I am terrible at drinking water and running at the same time. Usually at the GO! marathon I grab a cup and then speed walk a few steps while I gulp it down. Boston was so crowded though, I felt like if I slowed to drink (at least during this portion) I’d cause a pile-up, so I was only able to choke down a few sips at each station. I could feel my body temperature rising. I remembered how hard it had been in 2012 in the heat and I began to fear the next 16 miles. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it. I thought. I was beginning to “lose my head” a bit, as in become so dehydrated that I was unable to really focus, feeling like my head was floating above me. I ate some jelly beans to try to get my blood sugar up and ended up with this lovely picture…

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(Yep, those are jelly beans stuffed in my cheek. Attractive.)

Just when I was teetering on the edge of marathon despair, we entered the Wellesley area. Here, there was shade and a breeze kicked up. Wellesley is a famous stretch of the race because a large number of the school’s female student body typically line the course and scream at the top of their lungs creating a “tunnel of sound.” The girls request kisses for a variety of reasons i.e. Kiss Me I’m Irish, Kiss Me I’m A Senior, Kiss Me I’m Fun-Sized etc. and the signs work! Several people stopped to give them a kiss. The cooler stretch and the entertainment of the tunnel of sound really helped me here. I was able to get back into my music and get my head back into the race. I got my pace back and my confidence improved. 

There was a man running near me for a while who wrote “Dad” on his bib number. So, for several miles people kept saying “Go Dad!” “You got it Dad!” “Keep it up Dad!” over and over again, which made me laugh. 

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(The Wellesley Tunnel of Sound gave me a bit of a boost.)

Feeling a bit better, I enjoyed the block parties, music and spectacle of the day. The spectators in Boston are simply the best. Everyone is handing out orange slices, ice and cups of water all along the route. Even though the last thing I’d rather do during a marathon is eat a piece of licorice, people were kind enough to offer twizzlers and other candies too (who knows, maybe that’s someone’s thing…). 

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(Feeling good and determined.)

I hit 13.1 at about 1:39 and was feeling pretty happy with that as we raced on, eventually crossing over the highway and climbing a bit of a hill before reaching the really hilly section between miles 17-20. The Newton Hills. This is what makes Boston such a little bitch (as my cousin, Mary, said I repeatedly called it immediately after the race). The course likes to throw you downhill at a much too fast pace for 16 miles, giving your ligaments a solid flogging before throwing three huge hills at you virtually destroying what’s left of your legs and then expects you to run six more miles into town. Real cool. 

I got pretty confused during this portion. I remember reading It’s better to pass people than to get passed on the Newton Hills, so when we ran up the first hill I tried to pass as many people as possible. I definitely did not stop running. However, since the area approaching the three big hills is quite hilly, I wasn’t sure which hill we were on when we ran the first one. “This is Heartbreak Hill, right?” I asked a spectator. (Editor’s Note: Heartbreak Hill is where dreams go to die.) “No, it’s still up ahead?” the guy said, with something like pity in his eyes. Damn. 

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(The worst.)

Suffice it to say, I didn’t stop running on the second and third hill either, but I was going pretty slow. My legs felt like they were turning to cement. There was one girl ahead of me dressed as Wonder Woman who kept patting runners who were walking on the shoulder and telling them “you can do it!” as she went by them. I made sure to pass her. 

By the time I’d made it through the hills I felt pretty much just like I did in 2012. I knew there were only 6 miles left in the race and I wanted to gun it, but I just couldn’t go any faster. Boston did her pretty, little job on my legs and they didn’t really work any more. I remember thinking if only I’d trained more, maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much, or if only I’d had more water to drink early in the race…who knows. All I know is that by the time I reached mile 21 I hurt. 

I did see my family here though, which gave me a bit of a boost. My cousin, Mary, texted some friends who were a mile up the road and told them to cheer for me, so when I reached mile 22 there was a big group jumping up and down and shouting my name. I had no clue who they were but it was really fun and helpful! This section is where the crowds go from consistently packed to madhouse levels–and they stay that way, only increasing in numbers, all the way to Boylston Street. Unfortunately, it was hard for me to enjoy the cheering because at this point I just wanted the race to be done. I was hot, dehydrated and every part of my legs hurt. 

Mile 23 was when I’d say “the wheels fell off.” My pace decreased to about 8:30-8:40 minute miles. I was happy that I stayed under 9:00, but this was still far slower than my goal pace. It’s funny now that I’m on the other side to reminisce about the doomsday prophecies of the marathoner at mile 23. I’d most certainly lost my head at this point and all of my thoughts were colored in a dramatic haze. I won’t make it, I thought. I’m going to have to stop. All of those 6am wake ups on my “Saturday” mornings, all of those rain drenched runs were for nothing, because I’m not going to finish this race or if I do I’m going to have to crawl to the finish line because MY LEGS NO LONGER WORK! 

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(REALLY feeling it at mile 23.) 

At this point sweat was coating my iPod, and since it is a touch screen I wasn’t able to switch the songs. Fortunately, it somehow got stuck on The Killers, All These Things That I’ve Done, on repeat, which worked for me. I realize my iPod is an inanimate object, but sometimes I think it knows just what I need. 

For the last three miles of the race I had to resort to the marathoners stand by trick for survival. I simply told myself Just run one more half mile, get to 23.5, then get to 24, get to 24.5 get to Hereford, get to Boylston…and it worked, I survived each half mile without grace or glory but enough to keep moving forward toward the finish. 

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(Seeing the giant Citgo sign during the Boston Marathon is supposed to tell runners “Almost Home!” Unfortunately, it brought little relief to me because it is NOT the finish!)

The Boston Marathon only includes a few turns, and most of them are downtown. Turning right on Hereford brought me little relief. My legs were beyond aching and exhausted. But that left on Boylston, the final stretch, gave me a boost. It’s so amazing and frustrating to know that there is always something left in the tank! ! 

Boylston is a long, wide, open street and the crowds were roaring! I took my headphones off here so I could truly appreciate the spectacle of the race (even through my marathoner’s dehydrated haze) and I opened up my stride for the finish. Never have I ever seen such a beautiful, blue stripe of paint! 

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(Going for it in the final stretch on Boylston!)

Crossing the Finish Line brought happiness, sure, but finish lines are complicated places. Yes, there is relief, and joy at the accomplishment and the culmination of so much hard work and so many miles, but it’s not like it just washes away all of the pain either. It’s a crossroads of sorts. I felt so happy to have finished and to get to stop running, but damn my legs were killing me! Fortunately, runners have their comrades around them, and we were all in the same boat, commiserating in our joy and agony together. 

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(Finish Line! You’ll notice I’m not wearing my headphones in the above picture, but I have them on here…yet I have no recollection of putting them back on at all. Ah, finish lines are hazy places after a hot, long race.)

After crossing the Finish, I filed through a chute with the other runners and was given water, snacks and a heat blanket. Here’s where I have to mention the volunteers. The volunteers at the Boston Marathon are simply incredible. Every one of them, from those handing out numbers at the Expo, to those herding us onto buses so early in the morning, those giving out water and Gatorade along the course or greeting runners at the Finish Line were just exceptionally nice. I probably asked them questions that they’d been asked two million times already that day (I have no idea what that’s like…) yet they always answered me with a smile. Their kindness and the happiness they shared with runners at the Finish was just so appreciated at such an emotional moment. They represent their city well. 

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(Did it!) 

In the days leading up to the race, I checked the weather forecast obsessively, dread steadily growing as I watched the predicted temperature creep up and up. “It’s going to be in the seventies,” I told my family, warily. “That’s fine,” my dad said. “You ran it when the temps were in the eighties last time. No big deal.”

My dad was being nice, but it frustrated me because I knew that he really didn’t understand. Yes, I’d run the Boston Marathon with temperatures in the eighties. But that was four years ago. This was a different race. I’m a different person, and a different runner, than I was in 2012. The thing that my dad didn’t know (because he’s a good, sweet dad who believes his daughters can do anything) is that you really can’t take 26.2 miles for granted. Especially in Boston. You never know if you can finish that many miles. Every race is a new journey where failure is a real risk. 

This year’s Boston was a special one. Not only was it the 120th anniversary, but the city also celebrated 50 years of women running the race. (Note: I did not say legally running the race…). In 1966, when my mother was 11 years old, so, yes, just ONE generation from me, it was thought that women were not physically capable of running 26.2 miles. Ever. That was until Bobbi Gibb snuck onto the road into Boston hiding behind the hood of her sweatshirt and ran those marathon miles in 3:21. 

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(Bobbi Gibb in 1966, finishing Boston wearing a one piece bathing suit and surfer shorts. Thank God we now have companies DEDICATED to women’s running apparel!) 

The next year, in 1967, Kathrine Switzer registered under her initials K.V. Switzer and became the first woman to run the race with an actual race bib and number, resulting in this historic picture below:

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(The man in the suit jacket is race official trying to pull Kathrine Switzer off of the race course.)

Still, women did not “legally” run in the Boston Marathon until 1972–when my own mother was in high school! In 2016 there were 12,168 female runners and the first place finisher, Ethiopian, Atsede Baysa, finished the race in 2:29:19. To put that into perspective, that is running 26.2 miles at a 5:40 minute/mile pace. And fifty years ago it was thought that women could not even finish! 

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(Atsede Baysa claims victory!)

The Boston Marathon really is a beast. There’s always some sort of risk in attempting this distance. But I had the opportunity to run it, along with 12,168 other women, and so I ran, and I finished it the very best that I could. I don’t want to say I feel “lucky” as a woman to be given the opportunity to race. We should have always had the opportunity, even before 1966. I guess I just want to say that I’m glad for the experience, and that I was able to challenge myself, and I hope that at least that final push along Boylston represented my gender well. 

I do, however, feel very lucky to have had the means to be able to go to Boston, and for that I have to thank those that pushed me to qualify in 2015, my cousins, Katie and Mary who welcomed me to the city, John who has always made me a better, faster, smarter runner, my parents for coming to cheer me along and believing in me, my friends and family supporting me from home and Chase Sapphire for their excellent travel point/rewards program. 

We celebrated with lobster and wine the night of the race–sunburnt, tired and happy. And just like that, my brain immediately started covering up the pain of the day with the excitement afterward and I began to set my sights on next year’s Boston Marathon…hopefully this time with John!

All in all the day was a success. The Boston Marathon is both a challenge and a celebration of a city, and an athletic feat that I will happily attempt as long as my feet are able. Because, as the city’s residents proudly proclaim every Patriot’s Day, there are lots of marathons, but there’s only one Boston. 

Here are my stats from the race:

Carolyn E. Mueller
Net Time 3:25:44
Overall 6456/26639
In Gender 1183/12168 (Female)
In Division 950/5948 (F18-39 Age Group)

make it rain.

I ran 15 miles this morning, so that’s a wrap for marathon training 2016! 

The theme song of this year has to be this little diddy, as I think I ran maybe three long runs where I didn’t get dumped on. That’s Spring for you, I guess. 

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(My hair was an impossible rat’s nest after an 18-miler in torrential rain.) 

Overall, it was a good season. Despite the less than stellar weather conditions, I was fairly happy with my long runs and I’ve mostly kept injuries at bay.

The best part about training for a Spring marathon is watching the park come alive. It’s fun to conclude the season with green grass, blossoming trees and  colorful flowers, when it started what feels like ages ago in the dead of winter. 

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(Trying to motivate myself with Jen Sincero’s You Are A Badass on a cold, snowy, long run.) 

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(BUT Forest Park is a beauteous place right now!)

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(A few more scenes from the running path, because this truly has been a lovely Spring.)

To sum up marathon training 2016, I’d like to pay tribute to some of the handy people, places and things that have really helped me along through these last few months.

 Maybe a few of you runners out there might find this little list useful. Without further ado…

The Heroes of Marathon Training 2016:

1. The Forest Park Visitor’s Center

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The Forest Park Visitor’s Center is, oh how do I say this, AWESOME. You might know the place as an excellent wedding reception venue, or perhaps the spot to meet your Segway tour of the Park, but did you know that Mon-Fri it is open 6am-8pm daily and it is there for the use of runners’ and other park goers’ convenience??!?! That’s right, you need a clean, flushable toilet? Visitor’s Center. A drink from a clean, cold water fountain? Visitor’s Center! An air conditioned or heated (depending on the season) place to stretch post run? Visitor’s Center!!! I’ll tell you, on many a chilly, wet, rainy run, this place has beckoned itself before me like a dry, pleasant oasis…with fully functioning bathrooms to boot! 

2. My Garmin Watch


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(This is a huge picture of a watch. Mine looks like this, and it’s about that big too. I’ve heard the kids are getting much cooler and sleeker versions nowadays though…)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I don’t know how anyone trains for a marathon without a Garmin watch. Mine is a gargantuan, green beauty and I’ve had it for NINE YEARS! Seriously! I got it pre-little maps on your phone that show you where you are at all times era. Pre-Smartphone era, really! So, I remember being amazed that it could tell me how many miles I’d run. It also tells me things like, the time, pace, calories burned, sunrise/sunset, average pace, and on and on. And even after almost a decade of use it still functions really well. This year, one of the straps broke, but it turns out you can just order a replacement online for like $12! Good as new and ready for Boston!

3. Fall Out Boy Remixes

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I wouldn’t say I’m a big Fall Out Boy fan or anything, but for some reason these two songs have been my go to this year. I can’t say what it is about them, but I’m not gonna question something that really helps to push me through mile 20…

4. Stretch U

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I stumbled upon this one by way of a lucky Groupon back in January. The Groupon advertised it as a place that would, well, stretch you, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. My biggest trial in marathon training has always been tight IT bands, so I was determined to stay on top of stretching and foam rolling this year so that my knees wouldn’t succumb to the same old pain. Basically, if you go to Stretch U you pay someone to stretch you and roll you out for 30 minutes at $15 a pop. Is it fun? No, I hate stretching. But my IT bands are in better shape now than they’ve ever been at this point in marathon training, so something seems to be working here. I bought an 8 week package and even plan to use some to recover after the race! BONUS: There’s a running store right next door to this place, so I always stock up on gels, beans and Runner’s World after my session.

5. My Old School Headphones 

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(These are the headphones I wear on every run. No, I’m not cool.)

First of all, let me just say I know real runners don’t listen to music or wear headphones when they run, but I’m actually a field hockey player in disguise, that is, I’m not a real runner, so I don’t care. 

My headphones are stupid looking. I know this. They’re big and they hook over my ears with a band that wraps around the back of my neck like dental head gear. But seriously, I love them. I have worn this style of headphones since my first marathon in 2010. When that first pair deteriorated 5 years later, I bought another two pairs on Amazon because I was afraid Sony would stop making them. Why do I love them so much? Because I hate earbuds. They hurt my ears, and after three hours of running they really hurt my ears and the sound quality sucks. I know, I know, you’ll want to tell me Try Yurbuds, or Whosebuds, or Whatthebuds…but I don’t care. They all suck. You get no bass, ya’ll! And one cannot listen to Ruff Ryder’s Anthem without bass!

So, there you have it! A few of my favorite running related things.

Now it’s just time to taper and chug the tart cherry juice. T-minus one week until I leave for Boston! 

I’m excited and ready to run bold! 

Good luck to all the runners in the GO! this weekend! 


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back to the grind.

Well, it’s the end of February so, naturally,  it’s back to the grind. 

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(This is what I imagine my running route looks like?)

That’s right, marathon training is in full swing! Somehow I’ve managed to coerce myself into spending five of the last seven winters clocking miles through a frozen Forest Park. 

John and I are both knee deep in it now, with April marathons hovering on the horizon. 

So, how’s it going so far?

Well, pretty good. The longest run I’ve completed this year was 18 miles, and that was last week. I’m at that point in the training where two or three days after the long run I CANNOT BE SATiSFIED. Seriously, I am always hungry. The challenge is finding healthy snacks to fill up on when obviously chocolate valentine brownies are a much more efficient means of replacing calories. 

What have the highs and lows been of marathon training 2016?

My lowest point was a 12 mile run about a month ago. Mother Nature was being a bit nasty to me that week, but I decided to ignore that fact and try to get my long run in anyway. It was a sunny day in the 40s–not bad for January–so I opted to give it a go. I ran 6 miles and didn’t feel great but thought, eh, I can slog through another lap. About 8 miles in I hit the wall. HARD. My blood sugar dropped enough for the ground to do that tilt-a-whirly thing whenever I started running. So, I walked. However, at this point I was about 3-4 miles from home and I was dressed for running in sunny, 40 degree weather,  not dressed for walking, so I got very cold. By the time I made it back to my apartment I literally wasn’t sure if I could get myself in the door because my hands did not seem capable of turning the key. If you’ve never felt the sensation of your brain being incapable of communicating with your muscles I will tell you it’s lots of fun! (That’s sarcasm there, people). But I survived, even though I spent the rest of that evening in a lot of pain. That was my low.

The high point so far was probably the 18 miler last week. It snowed the night before and my first lap of the park the path had not even been cleared yet! I kept passing the snow plow and by the time I was on my third lap, the asphalt was exposed and I was able to go much faster. There’s something that just feels a little badass about running 18 miles on an icy morning. It got me excited for the race!

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(I’ve been listening to this audio book while running because it’s fun to look down at my iPod and see it say You are a Badass. I’m being 100% serious about that.) 

At this point in my running hobby, a long run is more about mental toughness and pain management than it is about any sort of cardio stamina. When you’re running in a cold park, alone, for hours on end you have a lot of time to think.

Last week, during my laps, I started thinking about how one of my goals for 2016 should be to live in the moment. I see it with my animals every day. When their bellies are full and they have a fluffy bed of straw to lay on, they are happy and content. They’re not living in the past or the future, they’re just enjoying being right where they are. 

I truly struggle with this. I feel like I pass all of my days daydreaming about things I did in the past or things I imagine for the future.

In running I do this as well. When you are on a long run, it’s so hard not to imagine how many miles still lay before you and what those miles are going to feel like. My knee kinda hurts right now, I might think. I wonder how much it’s going to hurt when I get to 13 miles? What about 19? Will I even be able to make it?  I think about the miles I’ve already run as well. I’ve run 7 already, how can I possibly run 10 more?! 

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It’s difficult, but necessary, to stay in that very moment and mile of a long run. I remind myself to focus on how I feel in each individual minute. I keep track of how my body is feeling–sore muscles, aching knees, tight hips, blisters etc., but also the scenery and sensations around me–the birds, the plants, the feel of the wind or sun, my fellow runners and cyclists. 

But it’s not easy. I often find my mind floating to the past or escaping to the future. I read a quote once that said depressed people are stuck in the past and anxious people are stuck in the future. Content people know how to be in the present. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to be one of the content ones! 

Running is such a perfect analogy for life, particularly for living in the moment. So, that is my goal for this marathon season–to practice being content and taking stock of each individual moment rather than agonizing or developing anxiety about the future or past. 

One of my favorite writing books is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. In it, Lamott tells the following story: 

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my  brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird.’

I used to use this philosophy as sort of a joke (even though I was actually totally serious) when I worked in the Children’s Zoo. While we were preparing for the summer show season, we often spent entire afternoons training owls, parrots, hornbills etc. etc…Needless to say, it was a lot and it could be quite stressful at times. 

Any time things felt like they were getting out of hand I’d simply repeat Lamott’s mantra to myself and others. Bird by bird, people, bird by bird. 

In that case, I meant it literally. But, honestly, I try to take this little philosophy to heart in a lot of areas of my life, particularly with marathon training. 

Sometimes, I feel a bit immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. 

When it’s cold, when I’m feeling anxious about the long runs or worrying about IT band pain, I just have to tell myself Mile by mile, buddy. Just take it mile by mile. 

Every season of marathon training truly feels like a journey. I plan to take stock of this one mile by mile and try to enjoy each painful, joyful, insatiable, satisfying moment.

Eight weeks to go!

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(I actually met this guy once on an airport escalator. True story.)