Recap: NYC Half

NYC, you don’t disappoint. Sure, I’m not the biggest fan of your never-ending traffic bustle and aging subway rides, but all of these contribute to a unique experience every time I enter your borders. This time, I came for the NYC Half Marathon.

Several teammates and I committed to this race months ago, and showed up on race day at varying levels of fitness, each of us in our own way ready to run the route from Brooklyn to Manhattan. For me, I’d been dealing with ongoing piriformis syndrome (scoliosis issues) and a minor case of shin splints. Both injuries hadn’t prevented me from running, but limited me to low-mileage weeks, supplemented with strength work and a little bit of cross-training. This isn’t ideal for half marathon training, so I didn’t have high standards for the race, but I hoped to run well given the fitness I had.

Fast forward to race day, my teammates and I were up around 4:30am, going through our usual motions of food, coffee, and clothing prep. We were out the door in the pitch dark, walk-jogging to the nearby subway station that would take us near the start line. We arrived at the race entry with thousands of other runners, following the long path to bag check, then corrals, then start line. The next 90 minutes we attempted to keep warm (kudos to the space heater that saved my frozen hands), jog, use bathrooms, the drill.

One tip for running large races like this (and when the weather is COLD) is to bring a large trash bag and cut holes for your head and arms to keep warm! Everything we brought to the start line was either donated or thrown out, so this was a nice way for some extra warmth without giving away more clothing. Thanks to my coach for the idea.

Soon it was race time. In hind sight, I should have planned this part better. In fact, one of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t start at the front of the start line. Feeling conservative, I placed myself mid-way back in the first corral, thinking this is where I belonged. Unfortunately, this resulted in me starting a minute late, running a slow/choppy first mile, and never running with people at my own pace, instead passing runners the entire race long. I may have paced better had I placed myself alongside runners at a similar pace goal. Classic me, I underestimated my own ability.

Anyway, the race started and I ran. It took 4 miles to really warm up, but then I finally got into a rhythm. I LOVED the hills. Yep, the NYC course was surprisingly hilly. In fact, I am learning that hills are my strength, as this is where I gained an edge on competition.

The course was also beautiful. I heard many people complain about the level of difficulty – wind and hills – resulting in slow times, but other than that I loved the variability in scenery – bridges and water and Times Square in all its glory, and of course finishing in Central Park.

As it turned out, I ran a completely negative split, gaining momentum as the race went on, and never getting passed by a single runner. My paces varied from 6:20 to 6:00 to 5:40 near the end, with a finish time of 1:21:45. No, this isn’t a fast time compared to my PR, but I ended up being pretty proud considering my obstacles. The Half has always been one of my favorite races and this was a confidence builder for what I can do on minimal training. I also have many lessons learned for how to better prepare in the moments prior to a big race like this. (Other than everything I already mentioned, hand warmers!)

My goal now is to rest and get healthy. I have a recovery plan for my piriformis issues and am hoping I can be diligent and patient to let things heal. I have no races planned until May or June, and am getting ready for a dreamy vacation to Colorado in April. <3

I can’t express how grateful I am for my amazing team, Genesee Valley Harriers (GVH) for continuing to support and send me and my teammates to exciting races like this. GVH supports post-collegiate runners who are balancing multiple life demands, including families and full-time jobs, all while trying to run at an elite level. We’ve made so much progress and I have high hopes for the future! Congrats to all my teammates who ran NYC, and special shout out to our men’s team who won the overall NYC team title. Go GVH!

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My Twisted Back

I get a shiver down my spine just thinking about it. And that’s just it – a wonky curve in my spine that’s been contributing to my ongoing running injuries over the past few years.

Contributing. Not necessarily causing. That’s what most doctors and specialists have told me when I come in complaining about my chronic back pain and hip tightness. I’m talking about scoliosis.

What is scoliosis? A sideways curve in the spine that usually develops in youth. Most people have a small curve, but not everyone can be so lucky to have a sizable curve as me. I knew from a young age that I had a “curve” but was told that it shouldn’t impact me too much. (That was before I became a “serious” runner.) And maybe it’s still not the cause, but I have seen an increase in back, hip and hamstring injuries these past few years. Maybe I am just getting old?

Regardless of cause and effect, I am injury prone these days. Like, 1 healthy season out of 4, injury prone. I try not to make excuses for myself, but its been tough. Anyone else relate?

Before you feel sorry for me, remember that I am a relentlessly positive person – to a fault – so I’ll be alright! Actually, I have found a running rhythm that works (quick summary: less running, more recovery). And I have discovered that I really do enjoy so much more than running.

My other happy places:

  • The Yoga studio | Okay, this is mainly just my yoga mat in my own house – but, I have become a bit of a weird “Yogi” and I don’t care who knows!
  • The Gym | Never thought I’d say this, but I LOVE lifting weights. Don’t worry, I’m still as tiny as I’ve always been, but at least I feel stronger.
  • The Massage studio | Yep, I’m going to soak up all those “necessary” Chiropractic massages like a champ.
  • The Kitchen | *Cough* not really – but I am “trying” to be a better wife by spending occasional time cooking/baking in the kitchen. My hubby’s cooking skills put mine to shame every day of the week.
  • The Outdoors | Other than running, I guess I enjoy hiking, skiing, climbing, and even the occasional fishing or hunting gig with my super-outdoorsman husband.
  • Anywhere but here | In other words, traveling! A dreamy 10-day trip to Colorado has been booked for this year.

In fact, I think that running a little bit less has allowed me to enjoy life a little bit more, and find a balance that works for me and my very-full-time day job. Maybe some day I’ll run 80-mile weeks again, but for now I’m going to go as fast as I can with my 4-5 days a week plan.

Next up on the race plan is the NYC Half Marathon on March 18, which is coming up way too fast! At least 10 teammates and I will toe the line in Brooklyn for the 13.1 mile trek to Manhattan. Bonus is that I get to spend a weekend in NYC with some of my best runner friends. Go GVH!

Here’s a snapshot of the open women representing GVH in NYC.

 

Time for rest

It’s been an exciting year of racing already, as I’ve traveled to two incredible cities in the past three weeks – Washington D.C. for the Cherry Blossom 10-mile, and Boston for the biggest race I’ve ever run in. I am so grateful for these experiences, and so so tired from the aftermath. Yes, I am ready to let my body rest. 

Yesterday, I ran the Boston Marathon. It is an event I had greatly anticipated, planned for, and trained for in the best way I could through a string of lower leg injuries. It was a goal, a dream even, to be at Boston and run. Even despite my rocky training, I felt really good about the race, confident I could get through it. It ended up being so much tougher than I imagined, so much harder to run fast and complete that hilly course on a hot day. Once it was finally over, I walked away (more like hobbled) knowing it was not my best performance, but it definitely was a hard earned finish. 

Many times during the race I wasn’t sure if I would finish. Doubt crept in as early as mile 4 when a heel blister flared up, and I already felt my energy levels dwindling due to the heat. Two months of shin splints is what I thought would get the better of me during the race, but it turned out to be much more about the heat, and the pounding downhills that my body wasn’t prepared for. (Lesson learned: train on downhills!)

Yet I ran on, and slowed my pace early, knowing that it would be my only way to get through it. The energy of the crowd and the encouragement of other runners kept me moving forward, and seeing my family at mile 17 brought a smile to my face. I welcomed the uphills between miles 18 and 22, as they felt so much better than the downhills that took a slow, painful toll on my quads. Surviving to mile 22 was one feat, but those last 4.2 were the hardest. I dug deeper and prayed the whole way to the finish, already crying as I crossed the line. It was an emotionally, mentally, physically hard day and I am so grateful to have gotten through it!

 

My body is beat up and tired, and eager for rest. I may need to take longer than my normal recovery before taking to the roads again, but I know I’ll be back… stronger and hopefully much faster. And if I come back to Boston, I’ll be praying hard for cooler weather!

Thanks to GVH, my awesome team who helped support me to this race, Hammer Nutrition for fueling me every day, and my family and friends for all the love and encouraging words! 

Keep calm and hammer on

We’re just over a month into the new year and a lot of changes are happening!

We recently solidified that we are moving in a few weeks, after two years in our small, downtown apartment. I will miss all the character of this lovely old Victorian place, but there are a few things I will not miss, including our cramped space that we simply have been growing out of, or our steep narrow driveway. (Ask me about how many “accidents” I’ve gotten into in my own driveway. It’s not even funny!) Packing should have already started, but as with everything else, we’re pretty last minute around here.

The hubby started grad school again and is full swing into the semester. My job seems crazier than ever, as I have been taking on some new responsibilities, including being a mentor, which I love. We have a getaway coming up around Valentine’s Day, which I can hardly wait for. <3

Marathon training is in full swing, and I am surviving it so far. I am dealing with a little bit of tendinitis, but am working through it with therapy, and am only a little bit behind on my total mileage and long run volume. My racing plan is simple for the first half of the year: Johnny’s 5-mile in March to kick off the season, Cherry Blossom 10-mile on April 2, and then Boston on April 17. I’m beyond excited to finally run a major marathon, and what better race than Boston!? My husband, parents, family and friends are coming out to support me and I am so grateful for it. Running brings me so much joy, and having my favorite people there for support makes it even sweeter.

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This guy who always sticks by my side <3 Rochester Runner of the Year Banquet

 

I’ve been basking in Hammer products. Seriously, on the daily I am taking Essential Supplements, Enduromega and Tissue Rejuvinator. On workout days I never leave behind Hammer Gel, Fizz and Recoverite. Other days I use HEED and Hammer Protein Bars. I can’t get enough! Even on heavy volume training days, my energy levels are constant and I feel healthy as ever. If you’re a runner, cyclist, swimmer or other endurance athlete, please please give Hammer a try. If you’re not sure which products to start with, just ask me and I’ll help you out. Even better, use my code 212302 (below) for 15% off your purchase.

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My latest batch of Hammer goodies!

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Roses and Thorns

Another year flew by, and we’re almost a week into 2017! With lots of travel and family time over the holidays, I neglected to sit down and write until now. (I count that as mostly a good thing, as rare family time beats my alone time at the computer!) But now it’s time to catch up, to reflect and to face the year ahead.

I try to not linger on the past, but I do think it helps to learn from past actions and improve. Truthfully, in 2016 I faced more thorns than roses, many of which still sting. Yet out of my many failures and losses have come strength and lessons learned.

I had a really tough year of running. It was one of those years I was injured more than I was healthy, and my bad races seemed to far outweigh the good. I did learn a lot of “do not’s” when it comes to training and racing. For instance:

  • Do not run a half marathon during the blizzard of the year (thank you, Syracuse) – this caused a catapult of hamstring, knee, and calf issues for the remaining 8 months of the year.
  • Do not get on an antibiotic right before a big race (especially if you’re allergic to that antibiotic and it causes you to break out in a full body rash…)
  • Do not give yourself only 3 weeks to train for a marathon, and expect to recover with no problems.
  • Do not run in snowy, slippery conditions when you’re already on the verge of injury.
  • Do not neglect good nutrition, ever!

I also did a few things right, as this year wasn’t a complete failure. I am THRILLED that my marathon performance captured a Boston qualifier, which is a big goal for 2017. My husband and parents came out to support me in my first marathon in 4 years, a big step as I had previously shied away from the distance.

I had a blast at USATF Club XC Nationals. Okay, so it did not turn out as planned as I made a game day decision not to race due to severe calf tightness and shin pain. But I had a great time with my team, being reminded of how supportive my coaches and teammates are.

I loved being a captain with GVH. I can’t deny my passion for other runners, and the importance of team dynamic in helping others work toward their goals. Looking forward to continuing this role in 2017!

I was overjoyed when Hammer Nutrition agreed to sponsor me again for the 2017 year! There is no better, sounder, higher quality nutrition company than Hammer, and I cannot wait to continue learning and boasting about all the great benefits. My regret from 2016 is not using their products more. Seriously, I might have avoided all that injury if I kept up with their Essential Supplements regimen all year long!

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Outside of running, I faced a lot of ups and downs as well. We said goodbye to my beloved Grandma in July, after she had battled years and years of cancer. We realized her absence especially during the holidays, where she has been present every year since I was born. We miss her so much! <3

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Both my husband and I faced certain, weird health problems that swallowed up a lot of time, energy and frustration. We’re both so grateful for our health and the absence of long term ailments, but man, we could do without the hiccups too!

We happily welcomed our first, delightful niece into the family, who everyone adores. We celebrated our first anniversary with a dreamy trip to the High Peak Adirondacks, and rounded out our summer and fall with several road trips visiting friends, and relaxing getaways with family. My husband started grad school and had an incredible first semester. Our Christmas vacation was amazing as ever, with extensive time spent with both our families. I’ll never have reason to complain, though you might catch me making small outbursts once in a while. :)

I’m still working on my 2017 ambitions, both running and otherwise. I can’t stop dreaming and striving, and celebrating even the smallest of victories. I hope you’ll do the same as we enter 2017. Thanks for reading and following my journey!

October Update

It’s hard to believe it’s almost NOVEMBER and I still have a fresh memory of ringing in 2016 as a brand new year. How does that happen??

I’ve had so many adventures and cherished moments this fall that I can’t let go by without soaking in one last time.

In mid-September, my husband and I road tripped through Canada to my old stomping grounds in Michigan. We visited my childhood best friend and her husband, plus their brand new darling baby, Charlie. Obviously, we fell in love. We’ve been struck with “aunt and uncle syndrome” where we’re enamored with babies all around, and just as happy to hand them back to their moms and dads at the end of the day. Call us crazy! :) We spent the weekend gallivanting around with baby, braving the grocery store trip, board game run, and even church. We played “quiet quelf” while baby was sleeping, and attempted to synchronize our sleeping schedules for an early wake up call. We had an amazing time and I’m so grateful that these two let us spend a weekend in their world. Mari and Justin, we are so proud of you and you are wonderful parents!

My travel life continued into the next weekend, where I enjoyed a girls weekend away in Montreal. Three friends and I reveled in the Parisian culture, attempted to speak French, and encountered a surprising number of people who actually spoke Spanish. We hopped restaurants and shops, rented bicycles to tour the city, and ran a “fun 5k”. It’s inspiring to travel with such experienced and fluent travelers, I was definitely motivated to sharpen my French-speaking skills and continue to explore new places! A future Europe trip is in the making. :)

After Montreal, life slowed down somewhat as I settled back into home life. I was super stoked for a visit from my two “Rochester roommates” who moved to D.C. earlier this summer. We enjoyed all of our Rochester favorites during their visit, including Grappa, Blu Wolf, Mullers, Amore and others, with great friends who I always miss while gone. Frequent trips are a must!

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This led to a cool October weekend, when a wedding took place between two beautiful people. My husband and I felt so honored to be celebrating Jackie and Christian’s coming together as husband and wife. A gorgeous ceremony and quaint gathering at Restaurant Good Luck made for an absolutely perfect evening. Congratulations, you two! I wish we got a better picture with both of you, but we’ll save that for our next outing.

We have many more exciting, however simple, plans this fall (and gosh, winter) that I can’t wait to share. The more I venture through grown up life, the more I realize it’s about so much more than my (and our) own ambitions. Other people – our family, our friends – are worth all the time in the world, and worth putting first. Thanks for being part of it, and for being why good days keep going by!

Niagara Championships

Fall is racing along and it feels like I’ve been holding my breath for the cold weather to settle in. Mostly I love the change – colorful fall weather and more runs at sunset actually lift my spirits.

I’ve gotten back in the swing of running, though a nagging knee injury has been lingering since I ran a marathon over a month ago. My pattern has been to run 4 or 5 days a week, with frequent rest days, versus running 6 or even 7 days a week during my normal regime. My body has thanked me for it and I’m grateful to be “mostly” healthy and running consistently. I’ve also implemented a lot more strength and flexibility work into my training, which has proven essential for injury remediation!

I ran my first cross country race of the year this past weekend, and while my speed has not come back yet, it went fairly well. It was an important race – our Niagara regional championship, which would determine the level of support our team would receive for the upcoming USATF Club XC National Championships in December. We were up against some tough competition and knew we needed an outstanding performance to take the win.

The race ended up being about as close as it could have been, and though we all ran well, we ended up losing by a few points for the overall race win. However, the winning team pointed out to us that they had a non-USATF member on their team who needed to be taken out for the USATF championship. With this runner removed from the equation, our two teams tied for USATF Niagara, 37 to 37. To break the tie, this went to the 6th and 7th runners on each team, and we took the win! This was probably the tightest margin we’ve ever won by, and we couldn’t be happier.

As I wasn’t at my fittest, this definitely motivated me to continue running and steadily improving, and do whatever I can to stay healthy. We have an incredibly talented, fit and fun team this year, and I can’t wait to see what great results we bring to Tallahassee for Club’s in December. Go GVH!

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Part of our awesome GVH team, after our unexpected win!

Presque Isle

I completed my first marathon in over 4 years in Presque Isle, Erie, PA on September 11. My preparation for the race was mediocre, but my motivation to complete 26.2 and qualify for the bucket-list Boston Marathon was more than enough.

I realized that life never slows down enough for a perfect preparation for a race like the marathon. I hadn’t run that race for 4 years due to the opposite thinking – that my training, focus and preparation needed to be flawless. Rather, I decided to run Erie only weeks in advance (should have been months) but by the time I had made up my mind, it didn’t matter that my longest long run had only been 12 miles. For the next 3 or 4 weeks in lead up, I was able to sneak in a few actual marathon workouts, a 16-mile run and an 18-mile run, just enough to feel like I could get through 26.2.

My “get marathon-fit quick” plan proved a little too good to be true. 10 days before the race, something went wrong. I was running a light 2×15-minute tempo, and felt my hamstring pop a little. I wasn’t in excruciating pain, but I knew something was now misaligned. I spent the next 4 days resting, stretching, and was very unsuccessful at running more than a mile or two. I was pretty discouraged, considering how far I had come and how close I was to that starting line. At the end of a long weekend, I scheduled a visit with my injury specialist, or “healer” as I call him. Practiced in chiropractic and neurology-based therapy, his treatment took an integrated look at my whole body and not just the area of injury. After 2 days of painful massage (“digging”), active release therapy and stability treatment, I was back on my feet with NO pain. (Yes, my specialist is amazing – message me for a referral!) I hardly ran the entire week leading up to the marathon, but on race day I was ready to go.

Even so, I knew I had lost some fitness and needed to run conservatively. My goal was to qualify for Boston, not to break the course record, or my own record for that matter. My starting pace was somewhere between a “jog” and “smiling pace” but I was just happy to be out there. The first 13.1 flew by with almost no nagging pains, including new running friends and lots of conversation. Around mile 13.5 my husband gently “yelled at me” for running too slow. He later told me that I looked far too comfortable to be running a marathon. As my confidence was gaining, I slowly picked up the pace and starting passing runner after runner. I hit a brief rough patch between miles 18-20, and then felt good enough to kick it up a final notch. Getting to the finish line felt just as amazing as I remembered, heavy legs and all. My final time was somewhere around 3:03, slowest I’ve ever run but good enough for Boston.

My husband, parents and I celebrated as if I had run my very best, as my adversity going into the race made the outcome even more sweet. And, I learned a lot about training for a marathon: Kick up my training gradually (not abruptly), make slow increases in mileage, and arrange therapy/massage along the way as precautionary, rather than reactionary. Moreover, I also proved to myself that preparation didn’t need to be perfect, just consistent. Finally, “wanting to run a marathon” is the biggest first step. I am more excited than ever to run the Boston Marathon in April 2017!!

Mountain Getaway

Everybody has a favorite kind of getaway. Mine is the mountains – there is nothing more amazing to me than high peaks, a challenging climb and the view from the top. My husband and I recently escaped to the Adirondack High Peaks of Lake Placid. We spent a few days in the quaint village, embarked on a 5,000 foot climb, enjoyed hundred-mile views of forest, lake and mountains, and relaxed in a charming studio cottage. I know, I know, I should be the poster child for Lake Placid. But that’s not the purpose of this post.

In midst of our getaway, I found myself getting stressed about whether we were “having a good time” as little things were going wrong along the way – we didn’t bring enough water for our 90-degree climb, we didn’t have enough energy for a second climb, my husband took too long of a nap, we didn’t bring enough snacks, etc. All petty, silly things that threatened to take away my pure joy of being in the mountains, and thankfully – it only took me the first half of the trip to snap out of it. We are so ridden with productivity-driven lives, and plan-prepare-execute mantras, that so easily even our own vacations fall short of our expectations.

Instead of embarking on a second, vertical climb, we stayed in our cottage and played board games, watched the Olympics, and drank wine. We reveled in our one feat and pledged to one day hike the highest peak. We enjoyed each other’s company, and lost track of time. This is when I realized why people need vacations. Not just to plan an amazing adventure and ride it out without a hitch, but to escape from all the excessive planning and high expectations. And to relax the heck out of life.

By the time I let go my expectations for the “perfect getaway” and accepted my “perfectly relaxing getaway” I enjoyed myself 10 times more. But then it was time to go home. I guess time really flies when you stop counting every minute, and just enjoy the moments.

Here’s a few of my favorite snap shots from our gorgeous, imperfect getaway!

Early Summer Update

What a flash this summer has been so far. We’re in that stage where we have an event or road trip nearly every weekend this summer, making life both hectic and exhilarating. Here’s an early summer update on the Brenon/Groff family festivities:

Memorial Day weekend, we spent reuniting with college best friends. Two of my old townhouse ‘mates ran the Buffalo marathon, which brought a whole bunch of friends together to cheer them on. Some of us chased them around during the marathon in an effort to provide enough fuel and water, and were happy to see both of them finish well under goal pace. Congrats again, Hannah and Olivia! Afterward, the larger group of us picnicked and lounged around in hammocks, catching up on life in our 20’s and cherishing time together that always falls too short.

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May the 31st, Austin and I celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary. We celebrated by watching our wedding video (I cried the whole time), reading letters we wrote each other, and enjoying a fancy dinner feast (home cooked meals from your husband are the best!) We’re looking forward to our anniversary trip in August to one of my favorite places in the world, Lake Placid. I can’t wait for our adventure in the scenic mountains, on the gorgeous lake and in the quaint village. It’s been an amazing first year of marriage with my hubby and I can’t wait for what adventures are yet to come.

First two weekends in June, I spent as much time as possible with two long-time Rochester roommates and best friends, Dianna and Rebecca, who were getting ready to move to Virginia for new jobs and opportunities. We squeezed in as many Rochester favorites as we could – movie nights, burger outings and beach trips – before saying goodbye as they moved to their new home. Rochester won’t be the same and I miss them already, but we are planning a visit later this summer!

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I also snuck in a few races over those weekends, including the Fast & Furriest 10K and McMullen Mile, finishing 1st and 3rd (as expected, I got my butt kicked in the mile). I’ve raced more this spring and early summer than I usually do, but it’s been a fun and festive way to get in shape! 

McMullen Mile

Over Father’s Day weekend, Austin and I traveled to see a friend get married in rural Millersville PA, where we also spent quality time with his family over a gorgeous summer weekend.

This past weekend (June 25), I ran my first trail race ever – Charlie’s Old Goat Trail Run, a roughly 6ish mile trail race through lumpy fields and winding dirt paths, over creeks and up monstrous hills. I can’t recall a time that my legs screamed so much during a race, but was happy and surprised to place 1st overall. Maybe I have a future in trail racing… painful as it was!

Just after the race, Austin and I packed up and took our brand new car on its first mini road trip – to my Aunt and Uncle’s house in Baldwinsville for a surprise 80th birthday party for my Grandma. Our entire family and close friends hid behind a closed fence with party decor and a feast prepared for my unsuspecting Grandma. She showed up overjoyed, laughing and emotional to the sight of all four of her sons in one place, with their entire families behind them. We barbecued, ate cake, played lawn games, boated and swam throughout the weekend, soaking in every moment with cherished family – some of whom we hadn’t seen in 10 years. Mark and Terry, it was so wonderful to have you and the whole family with us! And Grandma, happy 80 amazing years and many more to come!

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Coming up soon, I’ll be spending the 4th of July weekend with my husband’s family at their cozy, remote cabin in Potter County. Next weekend is the long awaited Boilermaker 15K Road Race in Utica! My fitness hasn’t been quite as good as hoped due to how tired I’ve been, but I am hoping for a solid run against some of the best runners in the world. En route to Utica, my teammate Kat and I will visit my sister and brother-in-law to see the lovely, adoring niece and spend the night with family gracious to host us!

Life hasn’t slowed down, but I am enjoying the journey. In midst of a lot of joy and amazing time with family, we’ve definitely faced some hiccups – including car trouble, health issues and financial setback—reminding us that life isn’t always easy, but it is worth cherishing every good moment. Thank you for sharing in my life and my story, and giving me something to smile about every day. I hope you find joy and simplicity in your every day!