Race Report: Oceans 50 Relay

I was lucky enough to be able to get away to Florida last weekend with a bunch of my running friends (Team MLC, represent!) to run a relay race. It was really good to be in a pretty place with a fun team activity and good people. I left town last Thursday, arriving in Jacksonville at 10 pm, just in time to be picked up by local heroes Lyda and Bob who took me to Lyda’s beach house where we promptly went to our respective beds. We’s old.

The next morning was for beach walking, my favorite part of which is watching the funny birds who run around in the surf.

Photo of sand and the ocean and a little bird walking there.

I relate to these little birds because they look like they kinda wanna wade, but then the water gets too close and they run away, but then they want to get close to the water, but NOT REALLY! I do all that too.

I spent a lot of that first beach walk wondering if I should collect some shells for my kids because last time we were down there, Heather collected shells for her kids and I didn’t and I told my kids about that and Quinn OBJECTED strenuously that he had no shells but collecting shells involves a lot of bending over and looking at things and I wasn’t sure I was ready for that kind of commitment when instead I could just not mention shells to Quinn and all would be well, but I ended up deciding to collect shells and I then I totally enjoyed it and went home with a gallon-sized Ziploc full of them.

Team MLC members Marc and Heather arrived at the beach house just before lunch, which was great, and then we came back to the beach and collected more shells. Heather and Lyda walked in the water and got all wet.

Photo of the beach. Heather and Lyda are in shorts wading in the water.

My view from where I plunked myself on the beach, making an effort to touch as little sand as possible.

I sat on the beach in the sun looking like I was dressed for an entirely different season than my friends in my jeans, but it was warm and nice and decidedly un-wet.

Photo of a sandy beach. You can see part of my leg in the photo and I am pointing to a spot on the sand about six inches away from my leg.

The water mostly stayed far away from me, but one wave came up to the point where I am pointing in this photo. Nature almost touched me.

After that beach walk/sit, our final team member, Marisa, arrived and we drove off to the hotel where we would be spending the night prior to our race, which was about an hour away from Jacksonville in a place called Flagler County.

The race is the Oceans 50 Relay and I would highly recommend you run it. We had a six-person team and the race is made up of 12 legs, so each of us ran two. The whole thing took us eight and a half hours and no one had to sleep in the van or worry too much about stocking supplies for the race. The race was super well organized with really friendly volunteers and easy logistics. Plus! This race was set up so all but two of the exchanges had real, actual bathrooms with running water. Ten out of ten, highly recommended.

Team start times began at 5am and ran as late as 8 am, but because we’re us, our start time was at five (five. a. m.) but we were supposed to report to the start line an hour before start time so we could get our safety briefing (four. a.m.) which meant I needed to set my alarm for 3 am (and 3:15 am, then with the snooze, 3:24 am). (three. twenty. four. a. m.) Needless to say, I was in bed and asleep by 8:15.

I need to take a moment to mention that all day long I’d been finding little notes in my luggage. Alex, who has never done anything like it before, wrote me a series of encouraging little notes and put them in my shoes and in with my running clothes. I found my favorite one right before I went to bed for the night. He based it off of our team t-shirt, which I’d designed. See if you can guess which one Alex drew and which one I did:

Two photos: (1) A notecard on which is drawn a weird oblong with arms, legs, and a face. It says "Go Team MLC!!" with an arrow pointing to the oblong above words that say "Really bad banana!!" with the exclamations making a smiley face. (2) a green shirt with a super cute yellow banana on it surrounded by various wild animals and writing that says, "Team MLC will run through anything for a banana."

I’ll give you a hint: The banana I drew looks like a banana.

Somehow our entire team assembled in the hotel lobby at 3:45 as instructed and we blearily made our way to the start line where we learned such important safety details as “follow the route signs facing you, not the ones facing away from you” and “if it is pitch black, wear your head lamp and reflective vest.”

Marc totally failed the safety briefing by the way. The guy explained how the exchange number was the same as the number of the leg preceding it and then immediately asked, “What exchange comes at the end of leg two?” and Marc yelled really loudly, “THREE!” Fortunately, we were not immediately disqualified.

Lyda was our starting runner, so we lit her up like a Christmas tree and situated her at the start line.

Photo of Lyda wearing a safety vest and a lot of lights, looking up at a banner that says START, only she's looking at the back of it.

“Wait. T-R-A-T-S?”

Then we waited around tapping our feet impatiently waiting for it to be 5 am.

Photo of four people standing in the dark.

Patient. And in remarkably good spirits for 4:57 a.m. (Heather, Bob, Marisa, Marc)

Soon enough it was 5:00 and Lyda set off with the rest of the starters. There were 5 or 6 other teams that started at the same time that we did, but by the time we started leg 2, she was ahead of all but two of them.

We got a little lost looking for exchange #1, but we eventually found it before Lyda arrived and saw that leg two led off down an unlit trail that was Pitch. Fucking. Black. There could have been anything down there. It was intense. Fortunately that leg belonged to Marisa, who took off with a bounce in her step and, hopefully, a knowledge of basic self-defense maneuvers to protect herself from people and gators.

Leg three was Marc’s and was what everyone referred to as “The Swamp Leg.” While the rest of the race was on roads and paths and was more or less flat, this leg was on a trail with hills and roots and rocks and, according to the race packet, maybe even a boar. The race organizers time runners on this leg and give a special prize to the person who runs it fastest because it is so challenging. And! If your start time is 5 am, you get to run it IN THE DARK.

Photo of me standing by a sign that says, "Graham Swamp Conservation Area East Trailhead" The sun is rising behind me.

Heather took this photo of me while Marc was running the swamp leg. I assume it was even darker in, you know, the swamp.

I was runner four, so when Marc suddenly popped out of the swamp (in first place now!), I grabbed the baton and took off. I could tell there was a runner behind me, but I was determined to stay in front of him for as long as I could.

Team MLC is scrappy and we have some speedy runners on our team, but we tend to get passed by other teams who catch up to us and surge ahead. I am often the one who is passed. I wanted to keep this guy behind me for as long as possible on my four-mile leg.

I could feel him getting closer as I passed one mile. I decided to try to stay in front until I got to two miles. Eventually I realized that he had fallen back and I was secure in my first place spot. I kept my speed up though and came into my exchange almost four minutes faster than I had estimated.

Photo of me running.

Me being speedy.

I passed the baton to Heather, who took off only to be called back by the volunteer at the exchange who said she was going the wrong way. She knew she was going the right way, but got rattled enough that she came back. Fortunately another team who had run the race before was waiting for their runner and told her to keep going her original way. They were our angels.

Our van sped off to meet her at the end of her leg where two things amused me to no end.

Marisa in a coat, long pants, hat, and gloves.

(1) Marisa, who lives in MONTANA, freezing in Florida.

A rock. There are posts on either side of it and there is a hole in the middle through which a chain anchors it to the ground.

(2) This rock that was chained to the ground. First I tried to figure out WHY it was chained to the ground then I tried to pick it up and steal it. I failed in both endeavors.

Bob took up the baton at the rock and headed back the way Heather had come and we rode off to meet him. It turns out that the exchange that Heather had left from gets used as the start of two different legs, so that is why the volunteer got mixed up. Fortunately we had it all figured out by now so by the time Bob gave Lyda the baton and a kiss to start her on leg 7 of the race, we were all set.

I have to say, while I really enjoyed this race, the race guide had led me to believe that we were going to see all kinds of fun animals, like alligators and maybe peacocks and even otters, on the course. I saw one dead, smashed armadillo.

It was disappointing.

But not too disappointing, because Team MLC was on fire, continuing our streak of being awesome. Marisa took the baton from Lyda for the next leg, which included a really tall bridge in what was starting to become the hot sun. She persevered though, cruising into the next exchange to hand off to Marc.

I was running the next leg, a six and a quarter long route that had one turn and a reeeeeaaaaaally long stretch along a straight road. I was expecting Marc to come down the same long straightaway that I was going to head out on, so I was surprised when he burst out of a side trail, sending me down my road before I even knew what was happening.

I ran 0.8 miles, took a left turn and started down my long road at which point I was passed by some teenager from a team that was apparently made up of high school running champions. She giggled as she passed me and quickly left me in the dust. We never saw them again.

My exchange was on the sidewalk of the road I was running down and it came into view, like, FOREVER before I got there. I felt like I was running toward it for a million years without it getting closer. I stayed pretty close to my estimated time for this leg at 11:30 min/mi, which I still consider a pretty good pace for me.

I passed off to Heather, who set off on perhaps the hottest and least shady leg of the race. The real bummer though was when she took her one right turn and was confronted with another really tall bridge to run over. That must have been demoralizing to run up to. And over.

Once she arrived at her exchange, Bob was our only runner left. Happily it was really hot by this time and he was wearing a black shirt. Good planning, Bob. He headed off for his leg, which included running back up the bridge and down a set of stairs. We meandered off to the finish line which was at Flagler Beach.

Photo of a beach with a pier. There is a roof on which is painted "Flagler Beach"

I can’t even imagine living in a place where going to the beach in November is a possibility.

Well, actually, the finish line was on a sidewalk across the street, but that wasn’t as pretty.

A sidewalk with finish line flags.

See?

Before too long we saw Bob cruising down the sidewalk and we all fell in line behind him to cross the finish line together. We ended up coming in 32nd of 45 teams (not bad for us!), but we were the second team to cross the finish line (GREAT for us!).

Photo of all six of us wearing our banana t-shirts and medals and smiling.

Team MLC is the greatest. Each of us super rocked the Oceans 50.

The race organizers had food and beer (and real actual bathrooms—Best. Race. Ever.) for us at a restaurant at the finish line. We ate and then drove back to the beach house where we took turns in the single shower with the tiny hot water heater. Turns out we are just as good at showering quickly as we are at running, because everyone got hot water. Yay, us! We really are a team. :)

We left earlyish the next morning to fly back home, making this a whirlwind trip. It was really good for my soul though to be out in the fresh air doing something I love with people I love. I am really glad we were able to do it. Thanks, Captain Heather, for doing such an incredible job organizing us. Thanks, Bob and Lyda, for hosting us. And thanks, Marisa and Marc, for just being generally awesome.

Photo of sunrise over the ocean, grass, and some palm trees.

Thanks, Florida.

The Three Mudketeers

I have a group of friends that I run races with. You might be familiar with them from my Facebook race selfies. Four years ago I could never have imagined that I’d have running buddies. That’s a whole post of its own. I love them.

Between all of us, we get a lot of emails advertising races in the area. We send them around to each other to see if we want to participate in them together. Usually we are able to come to some sort of agreement about how fun a race is going to be and how we should run it together.

I recently sent one out that advertised the Frederick Mud Dog Run. No one bit.

But then I was all, “Aw, obstacle course races are so fun!” and “They’re not hard!” and “I’ve done them by myself but never with anyone and I think it would be really fun to do one with someone,” and by then everyone just felt sorry for me so my friend Lyda signed up.

Then her husband Bob signed up without understanding much about the race past the fact that it was a 5K.

No one else was kind/dumb enough to join us.

Race day was a couple of weekends ago and we all showed up at the start line scrubbed, fresh, and ready to go.

Photo of me, Bob, and Lyda before the race.

We would not be so clean again for quite some time.

Lyda and Bob had, by this point, spent a fair amount of time circling and fretting, both literally and figuratively. To be honest, I wasn’t completely sure that they were still going to be my friends after the first mud puddle.

Incidentally, the first mud puddle is where Lyda learned to keep her mouth closed when you jump into muddy water. That’s a tough lesson to learn.

While she was learning that, I was learning how hard it is to climb up a slippery, muddy slope, even if someone is giving you a hand as long as your foot keeps getting stuck in the mud bog you are standing in.

We had a really fun time, mud, blood, and all. We climbed walls, forded streams, walked across seesaws, and ran between every single one of those obstacles and more. We were awesome. I laughed a lot, even when Bob teased me about all the mud and smeared some on my shoulder. I got back at him by smearing mud on his face. Unfortunately for very many reasons, my finger ended up in Bob’s mouth, which shut him up pretty effectively. (Sorry, Bob.)

Two photos: one of Bob covered in mud climbing out of a bog. One of Lyda sitting on a mud bank grimacing.

See? See how much fun they had? Don’t they look happy?

I kid them of course. They rock. They defeated each and every obstacle with vigor and good cheer. My guess that it would be fun to do an obstacle race with other people? I was right. These two are cheerful and tough—two things I also consider myself to be. We were a good team.

We were a good team even when we came across the bog filled with deep mud that we CRAWLED across. It is maybe the worst thing I’ve ever done. It wasn’t even soft mud either. Under eight or so inches of mud there was no shortage of sharp branches that left little cuts up and down my right shin.

I was really happy when I got to the other side.

Photo of me with arms raised at the end of a field of mud. My arms are muddy past my elbows and my body is muddy past my waist.

At least none of us lost our shoes in there.

It wasn’t all mud though. Roy Rogers restaurant was a sponsor of the race, so they created an obstacle where they mixed BARBECUE SAUCE with the mud.

Barbecue sauce. Imagine that for a moment.

Photo of me and Lyda army crawling under a net. There is a Roy Rogers banner above us.

Look how cute we are even covered in mud and BBQ.

We finished happy, victorious, and with all our glasses and hats intact.

Two photos: One a close up selfie of the three of us covered in mud; the second is a full body shot of the three of us covered in mud.

At this point, I refrained from pressuring my friends into signing up for the zombie version of this race that takes place in October. That will come later.

We dropped some stuff in the car and headed back to the finish line for two very important things: our free beer and a hose—a hose with a very long line. We opted to get our beer first.

Photo of Bob and Lyda sitting at a picnic table laughing and drinking beer.

I love this photo. I love my friends.

Standing in line waiting for the hose was way more fun once we were a little tipsy and I was able to function again because I’d used the beer to clean off my fingertips because if there is one thing I can’t handle, it is dry dirt on my fingertips. You’d think I wouldn’t do these kinds of races with that sort of sensory issue. To that I say I am a bundle of delightful and infuriating contradictions.

There were a lot of people in line for the one operating hose. We patiently stood there until it was finally our turn. Chivalry isn’t dead and/or I was whiniest and Bob used the hose to clean me off first. Then Bob hosed off his wife.

Photo of Bob leaning down and aiming the hose at Lyda.

It must be awesome to have a friend like me around to immortalize moments like this when you’re hosing down your wife’s butt.

Then, just as Bob was ready to hose himself off, the water pressure dropped and there was no more water and so Bob had to drive home covered in mud. No good deed goes unpunished.

It was right around this time that I started feeling even worse about putting mud inside Bob’s mouth.

I had such a good time with my friends—and I am happy to say that they are still my friends, even after I quite literally dragged them through the mud.

Photo of muddy me giving a double thumbs up.

 

Race Report: Pittsburgh Half Marathon

Alternatively titled: Weekend Report: Pittsburgh and My Friends Are Awesome

I’m not going to keep you in suspense.

Photo of me after the race standing in front of a "2016 Finisher" backdrop holding my medal and wrapped in a space blanket.

I finished the Pittsburgh Half Marathon!

Thanks for waiting so patiently for me to write my race report, seeing as how the race was May 1. I hope you waited appropriately.

My friend and I clearly waiting in front of a sign that says, "Please do not wait in this area."

My friend Bec and I are brazen scofflaws.

I arrived on Friday afternoon for the Sunday race and checked into the tiniest, cutest little hotel room in Pittsburgh. I mean, first I walked in little circles in front of a confused check-in clerk because I’d patted my jacket pocket for my wallet, panicked when I didn’t find it, come to the conclusion that it was still in the car, started off to retrieve it, then found it in my pocket—the very pocket I’d originally patted.

Things turned around though when I got to said adorable room. I took a selfie and then texted Alex to tell him I was never coming home. I was on the 12th floor and had the best view from the hotel. All my friends were on the 11th floor and had views of roofs and walls and other hotel rooms.

Selfie of me in front of my window overlooking a park in Pittsburgh.

Let’s just get this out of the way right now. There are going to be SO MANY photos of me in this post. I am sorry.

My friends Lyda, Bob, and Heather were also running the half marathon and Heather brought her whole family, which was fun. Plus! My friend Bec and her kids were in town, which was totally delightful because even though neither of us lives in Pittsburgh, we got to hang out in Pittsburgh.

Friday night I went out to dinner with Lyda and Bob and we shared this amazing poutine tots dish that changed my entire world view about tater tots.

Photo of my beer next to a plate of tater tots, cheese, BBQ meat and some other delicious stuff.

Hey, look! I’m not in this photo!

Maybe the best thing about going out of town and having your very own hotel room is that after dinner you get to go to your room (alone) and lie in your bed (alone) and surf the internet (alone) and maybe watch some Hulu (alone) and then eventually fall asleep (alone).

But as day follows night and naps follow parenting, people follow solitude. Saturday morning I met up with my running people and we walked several blocks to find a packed bagel restaurant with a line out the door and stood there for 30 minutes to order bagels even though there was another location of that very same bagel restaurant literally in our hotel lobby. I did get to hang out with my friends though and the restaurant refilled my soda for free, so it really worked out fine.

After breakfast, I got to hang out with my buddy Bec and her kids. Because I was running a half marathon the next day, we decided to wander aimlessly all over Pittsburgh on foot. We visited all of the major sites, like the ticket booth for the incline and the little dinosaur ride in the weird empty mall and also that intersection where I made that fucking amazing u-turn the last time she and I were in Pittsburgh together.

Photo of a sign that reads "PAT employees permit parking only," but because of the window it looks like it says "FAT employees"

No one was parked in this spot outside the incline ticket booth (even though I think that first letter is supposed to be a “P” for “Pittsburgh”).

Photo of me in a yellow dinosaur kid ride.

Bec took this photo on a prior trip to Pittsburgh. The dinosaur has since been moved, but we were able to find it nonetheless. Our detective skills are fucking impressive.

Photo of me pointing at an intersection.

The scene of my u-turn triumph.

Yeah, for real, those are the things we went to see. We are not exciting people. I suppose that is what happens when two people not from Pittsburgh try to go sightseeing in Pittsburgh. We also went to a CVS pharmacy and told the store clerk that Bec had come all the way from Australia to go to the CVS. I’m starting to think it might actually be true.

From there, I rejoined my runner friends and related hangers on and we headed over to the runners expo to pick up our bibs and swag.

Photo of Bob, me, Lyda, and Heather posing in front of a pretend bridge labelled "Pittsburgh Marathon."

See us? See how ready to run we are?

The expo was like a more frustrating Easter egg hunt where there is only one egg and it is in the form of a headband that doesn’t cost thirty dollars and doesn’t have a joke about running for beer on it. (Hint: It will be at the last booth you visit.) Also, I made everyone go to t-shirt pickup first when we were required to go to bib pickup before we could get our shirts and they were on total opposite sides of the giant expo. That was me, paying it forward, making my friends walk a lot the day before a half marathon as well.

We also took in the view of Pittsburgh, which is way prettier than a city with “pit” in the name should be.

Photo of the river in Pittsburgh and a yellow bridge.

I don’t know if we ran over this particular bridge, but I do know that the half marathon sent us over a bunch of them. At one point, I didn’t even know which side of the damn water I was on.

After all of that, I went back to the hotel and took a nap. Because I needed to regain my strength before I headed back out to eat more food with my running people.

Now, I could tell you all about the delicious spaghetti I ate at dinner or how looooooong it took the valet to let me trade my car for that little piece of paper they give you, but I think instead I will tell you about the balloons.

Because we had two delightful young women with us, the roaming balloon animal artist (let’s just gloss over the fact that this restaurant apparently has a balloon animal artist for dinner service) approached our table. One of Heather’s daughters asked for a rabbit and the other one asked for (wait for it…) a snake.

But, and this is the important part, someone asked him to make me a mouse. Because these people know me. Sadly, one of the other balloon animals was a natural predator.

Photo of a small balloon animal mouse being vaguely threatened by a fancy balloon animal snake.

If I’d made a balloon animal snake, it would have been a straight balloon with dots Sharpied on the end for eyes. It probably wouldn’t have had eyebrows.

I saved him though.

Then I went back to my hotel room (alone) and slept some more. It was lovely.

In fact, Saturday was such a nice day that I almost forgot I had to run 13.1 miles the next day.

I was up early on Sunday morning so I could choke down my pre-race food, which includes chicken salad that I’d brought along from home. If you’re ever looking for something unappetizing, stare down chicken salad at 5:45 in the morning. But that is my pre-run food and it works for me and I wasn’t about to change it up before a half marathon. So choke it down I did.

It was supposed to rain, but at least it was warm, so it could have been worse. We walked toward the start line where Heather peeled off for her faster people starting corral and I headed to the back corral, which was NOT close to the start line.

Photo of the back of Bob and Lyda's heads. The start line is waaaay off in the distance.

There are Bob and Lyda in the foreground and there is the yellow start line arch waaaaaaaay off in the distance. We’d already come a fair distance from Corral D by that point.

It started to rain right before the race started, but it didn’t rain long and the air remained the perfect temperature. Honestly, we couldn’t have asked for better weather. What I could have asked for is a third porta potty break before I started running, because I spent the first EIGHT MILES thinking about how I wanted to pee but I didn’t want to stand in line.

I finally stopped after about 8 miles and waited in line for nearly ten minutes. It KILLED me. Up to that point, I had been making really good time. Frankly, I am still pissed that I stopped when I did and for that long. Practically instantly after I had gotten back on course, I started seeing rows of unoccupied porta potties with no lines.

Seriously. Still mad.

I gotta tell you though, training properly for a race is the shizz. I felt so good running that damn race. I really enjoyed it.

Photo of me smiling mid-stride.

Also notice my headband on my wrist. Thank God I purchased it at the expo.

I can understand how people get addicted to half marathons. Although, to be fair, I did take a substantial break while I waited for that porta potty, so I’m sure that didn’t hurt my stamina.

The Pittsburgh Half Marathon course is largely flat, which is awesome, but there is a hill at mile 11.5. I had been thinking about that hill for MONTHS while I was training. I purposely ran up and down a gajillion hills on training runs so that I’d be prepared for this one hill. In my mind, I was all, “This hill is hard, but it’s nothing like what that hill will be like at mile 11.5 in Pittsburgh.”

I may have overprepared.

I was aware of the hill, but I ran up that motherfucker—past, I might add, a LOT of people walking up it. (I also walked past the bystanders offering cups of beer to runners because, really? They wanted me to barf right there?) Now, when I say, “I ran,” what I mean is, “I ran reeeeeaaaalllllly slowly,” but I ran. Yay, me.

Then there was a downhill stretch to the finish line, which was killer, especially when I saw Heather’s family cheering from the sideline and I was able to run over and give them high fives. (Except I missed your hand, A, and I apologize for my terrible aim.) There is no better motivator than seeing someone you know on the course cheering just for you. Thank you, Team P! It was the perfect way to end the race.

The crowd support in Pittsburgh was really wonderful throughout the race. I don’t think there was anywhere that didn’t really have people cheering. And the support stations were fantastic, well spaced, and stocked with really cool people.

But. There was something that happened right around mile nine that eclipsed all of that. Remember Bec? She had told me she was going to come down and cheer me on and I knew she was going to be right around mile nine, which is one of the hardest miles because (a) you’ve run nine miles but (b) you still have to run a long way. I started scanning the crowds for her because I didn’t want to miss her if she’d come all the way out of her hotel just for a 30-second moment with me.

Dudes. I couldn’t have missed her.

And you have no idea. Just no fucking idea.

Photo of two people in full-body chipmunk costumes. They are each holding a sign. One says, "ROYGB!" and the other says, "FULL FORCE STIMEY!"

There are so many inside jokes in this photo that I couldn’t even begin to explain them to you.

That is Bec and her friend Dawn, who I don’t know, but who was delightful enough to answer yes when Bec asked her if she wanted to dress up as a chipmunk for the race and cheer on someone she’d never met.

When I saw them, I think I jumped three feet in the air, started screaming, and then ran directly toward them. I don’t think I tripped anyone but I don’t know for sure because I kind of blacked out from wonder for a second. After that, I had to give them hugs, even Dawn, who introduced herself as I wrapped my smelly, smelly, sweaty body around hers. Sorry about that, new friend.

I still can’t believe I didn’t have the presence of mind to take a photo with them. I so wish I had one. If anyone is planning to go support a friend at a race, you might as well give up now because it’s already been done and done better. I smiled about them and their ninja chipmunk outfits all the way to that hill at mile 11.5. Thank you so much, Bec and Dawn. I hope you had as much fun out there as I did when I saw you. You rock.

I think that is about it. My official finish time was 2:45:07, which still makes me so mad. (Stupid bathroom line.) I think if I hadn’t stopped, it would have been about 2:37:00 or so, which is by no means light speed, but makes me happy. According to my Garmin, my moving time was 2:35:28, which is an 11:40 min/mile pace. Fuck you, bladder. And lesson learned.

Said lesson: Even if you just peed six minutes ago, if you start to wonder just before you cross the start line if you should go again, YOU SHOULD. Okay, no more excuses, no more bitching. I ran a half marathon in 2:45:07 only walking through water stops and I am damn proud of myself.

Photo of me with my medal.

This is so not the most flattering photo of me, but it captures my happy just after the finish line and I love it.

Now, after finishing a half marathon, you don’t get to immediately sit down. You have to walk through a long finisher’s chute where you are handed things like bananas and water and a space blanket. I shuffled through there feeling pretty good and headed over to the spot where I knew my friends Bob and Lyda were meeting up.

Me wrapped in a space blanket

I was always skeptical that space blankets really helped keep people warm. I kinda thought it was a big hoax perpetuated by the space blanket industry and runners who were afraid to speak out against them. Turns out, they really do make a difference. I’m a fan.

Shortly after I took this photo, all the micro injuries and soreness that I hadn’t felt yet started to kick in. I located my friends and then we hobbled back toward our hotel.

I was staying through Monday morning, but Heather and her family and Lyda and Bob were leaving after the race, so we had a post-race shower fest in my room and said our goodbyes. My friends departed to slowly cramp up in their cars, while I stretched out on my bed for a nap. I definitely made the right decision.

I had made this decision so I could see Bec and her family again, which was also the right decision.

I left the next morning to drive home by myself, taking with me happy memories, a sore knee, a heart big with love for my friends, and encouraging signs that now live in my office to remind me of my friends and my achievements. All I left behind in Pittsburgh was a tip for the maid and a small balloon mouse.

A Taste of Spring

The great thing about running a race in Florida in March is that you get to go to Florida in March and it will be warm and happy and also the only time ever that you will be grateful that it is humid.

Seriously, it was awesome.

I was with my friend Heather (of Disney fame) and my friend Lyda (of my trip to run a race in Florida fame) and we stayed at Lyda’s family’s house on the beach.

Photo of me with a big smile on my face. I am standing in front of the ocean.

It was TERRIBLE.

I kid. It was wonderful. And there were many exciting things about this particular beach.

Like this jellyfish… (and all the other dead jellyfish strewn all over the beach)

Photo of a jelly fish on the sand.

I touched it. Then I felt sad that it was dead.

And these shells…

Photo of a big pile of shells on the beach.

I didn’t collect any because I didn’t think my kids would want any and when I got home, Quinn was all, “Where are my shells?”

And this crab guy…

Closeup of the beach with some shells and a small brown crab.

He was an anomaly though. I only saw the one.

These adorable birds…

Some birds on the beach. There are sandpipers in there and maybe some other birds.

I think some of them are sandpipers, but I don’t remember if the sandpipers are the big ones or the little ones.

And pelicans!

A pelican flying through the sky.

I know this is a terrible photo and this pelican isn’t actually ON the beach, but IT IS A PELICAN AND PELICANS ARE COOL.

This stick family…

Picture of sand with five stick figures (my family) drawn in it.

It took me WAY longer than it probably should have to draw these stick figures.

Sand…

Selfie of me on the beach with a very grumpy look on my face.

I find sand to be very upsetting.

These goofballs…

Photo of my friends Heather and Lyda.

Hi friends!

All of that great beach stuff happened on Friday. Then on Saturday we had to run nine miles, like saps.

Photo of four women runners.

This is before the race. Please to notice our friend Holly who didn’t stay with us, but did run with us.

After the race, we ate everything that we could find in Jacksonville. And I made my friends pose with every weird animal sculpture we encountered.

Two photos. One of Heather posing with a brightly painted jaguar sculpture; the other of Lyda sitting on a brightly painted sea turtle.

My friends are good sports.

Sunday was Sightseeing Day, also known as Lyda Faces Her Fears Day. Seriously. We did everything that Lyda found frightening on Sunday.

We started by doing an elevated obstacle/zip line course over an alligator park. Also, it turns out that elevated obstacle courses are vaguely terrifying.

Photo of Lyda and Heather standing on a platform in a tree. I am walking up a series of "stairs" leading to the platform. The stairs are dangling from cables.

Can you see the terror in my posture? I can. Can you see how relaxed my asshole friends are on their stable platform? I can.

That said, courage is not about not being afraid, but keeping on even when you’re scared. ‘Round about halfway through the course I got my shit together and transitioned from terror to fun.

You know what is NOT terrifying though? Ziplines.

Photo of me mid-air on a zipline. I am making a happy face at a camera.

Holy hell that was fun.

After we finished the “45 minutes to an hour long” obstacle course that took us a good hour and a half to get through, we headed off to tour the alligator farm.

Photo of Heather and Lyda watching alligators in water from a wooden boardwalk.

For the record, Lyda isn’t afraid of alligators.

Photo of Heather crouched down with her head inside the open mouth of a fake alligator.

Neither is Heather.

No, the alligator is not real.

The alligators were cool, but I really enjoyed the hayseed tortoise they had there.

Photo of a giant tortoise with a piece of hay sticking out of his mouth.

It is *great* to be inside my head. I find myself to be extremely amusing.

There is a lighthouse near the alligator park and on our way out, Lyda was all, “Ha, ha, I assume you don’t want to climb the lighthouse,” and Heather and I immediately replied, “Yes. Yes, we do,” which was unfortunate, because Lyda doesn’t care for stairs you can see through.

Photo of me making a face as I lean out over a spiral 15-story staircase made of black metal stairs, each step of which is made of metal with round holes cut in them so you can see through them.

Fifteen floors, friends.

The lighthouse was one of my favorite parts of the trip. I like lighthouses. I think they’re neat.

Photo of a convex mirror. In it you can see a lighthouse reflected with me, Lyda, and Heather standing in front of it.

I bought a little wind chime model of this lighthouse. It makes me happy. I also bought some fudge in the gift shop. I don’t know why they had fudge, but who am I to question their logic?

Selfie from the top of the lighthouse.

This is me at the top of the lighthouse.

When I got to the top of the lighthouse, I found some tourists talking to a staff member about the efficacy of said lighthouse as a safe place during the zombie apocalypse. I’d found my people. Even if they thought zombies couldn’t climb stairs. (They obviously can. They’re just not very good at it.)

We left for the airport on Monday at the crack of damn dawn, but it was even kind of worth it because we walked out of the beach house to this amazing scene:

Photo of a hammock suspended between palm trees in a pool of light. The photo is otherwise dark except for a crescent moon in the sky and reflected on the ocean.

Note: the reality of this photo was about 800 times prettier than this picture.

Photo of an airplane wing in front of a sunrise.

Then on the plane, I annoyed the hell out of my window seatmate (Heather) by elbowing in front of her to take 17 photos of the sunrise.

That is our trip to Florida. We arrived back in Maryland to what suddenly felt like extremely cold and grim weather. I gotta say, I see the appeal of living in a tropical place. Spring is a-coming to Maryland finally, but it was really nice to get a little preview.

Thanks for putting us up, Lyda, and for suggesting the race. Thanks for putting up with me, Heather. You guys rock. I had a blast.

A Word About the Albatross

I have an old college chum that I love dearly. For reasons that will become clear later, I will refer to her as The Albatross. The Albatross is a Badass. Please take note of the capital “B” on that word.

Photo of a large white bird swimming in water.

This is an actual albatross, not my friend The Albatross.

The Albatross is hardcore. At some point she discovered cycling and she fell in love with it, going on cycling adventure after cycling adventure, as well as any number of non-cycling escapades. My favorite is the solo cycling trip she took from coast to coast of Australia.

Yeah. Badass.

Her badassery is not the only fabulous thing about her. She is an all-around really cool person too, but that’s not what this is about.

I had the good fortune of getting to crew for The Albatross more than once for what used to be called the Furnace Creek 508 (and now seems to be called just the 508). That race was a 508-mile bike race through Death Valley. Apparently the course has changed a little since the era my friend raced it, but it continues to run 508 miles through the desert each year.

The 508 is where The Albatross became The Albatross. See, the 508 doesn’t assign numbers to racers, but instead gives them animal totems. I think my friend got the best one.

The Albatross killed her previous races, regardless of result, especially considering how punk rock her approach to them was—and trust me, it was. She also put up with preeettty unknowledgeable and haphazard crews with very little complaint. That is where the hardcore part comes in.

The reason I bring all of this up now is because The Albatross is flying again. She’s racing the 508 this weekend, presumably with a crew who knows something about bike racing and bike repair. I don’t know if she’ll see this before she races, but I hope she knows how many happy, fast, flying thoughts I am sending her way.

Friend, you are amazing. Go get that 508. Fly, Albatross. I love you.

UPDATED: She did it!!!!!!!!!!!!! She crossed the finish line in 41 hours and 48 minutes. That is a hell of a lot of bike riding. You rock so hard, friend!!!

Literally Every 5th Grader

I don’t know exactly when the bulletin board went up, but it was probably in January or February. I didn’t have a chance to go in to Jack’s school very often, so I wasn’t aware of it at all until a friend of mine—the mom of one of Jack’s classmates—posted about it on Facebook in March.

See, this was a bulletin board about the “Superstars” of Jack’s school—the class of 2014.

Photo of a bulletin board covered in yellow paper with a border of paper flowers. Letters spelling out "Our Superstars" and "Class of 2014" are stapled to the board along with photos of the school's fifth graders. I've blurred out the photos for privacy reasons.

I took this photo last Friday, months after it was originally put up.

Jack is part of the class of 2014, so I imagine he was excited to be called a superstar. Except…well, except for the fact that this bulletin board—which was posted within 30 feet of his classroom, insuring that he saw it every single day—included photos of all the fifth graders except for the three fifth graders in Jack’s Asperger’s classroom.

Evidently if you are in an autism classroom, you aren’t a superstar at Sligo Creek Elementary School.

My friend, who is the hero of this story, wrote on Facebook about how she saw this bulletin board often, as she visited the class regularly.

“Each visit is the same: I approach the poster with a mixture of dread and anger at what I know I will see, yet again. And then I turn around, go to the office, and politely inform the secretary that the poster that my daughter and her classmates walk past every day *still* does not include them, and maybe this whole thing started out as just an oversight but it’s been weeks now and could someone *please* add our children’s pictures to the poster so they don’t have to be reminded every single day, as they walk to their special education classroom, that their school’s administration has overlooked them and their achievements?”

She did this for weeks. She would see that the poster didn’t include our kids and she would tell the secretary and she would be ignored. When she finally told the secretary that she was going to fix the poster herself by adding a photo of our kids, she was told that she couldn’t do that because it would be defacing school property.

As you might imagine, that didn’t go over well with my friend. She made it clear in no uncertain terms that if the kids from the autism program weren’t added to the poster by the administration, she would do it herself, and if someone had a problem with that, well, that problem would become public fast.

It was early March when my friend’s daughter reported that the principal had come to the classroom to take photos of the three fifth grade students in Jack’s class.

Except…

Except again.

The photos still didn’t go up. It was mid-March when those three fifth grade students attended a birthday party together. My friend put our kids together and took a photo. On March 18th [date corrected from earlier version], she took that photo and four thumbtacks to the school and she DEFACED THAT BULLETIN BOARD.

Photo of Jack and his two 5th-grade classmatess. I've put bright colored circles over their faces, with smiley faces drawn on them because they're not my kids and I don't want to post their photos here.

Their real faces are even cuter.

*standing ovation*

This was nine weeks after she first mentioned this to the secretary. NINE WEEKS.

At some point the school went ahead and posted individual photos of each of the three fifth graders in the autism classroom, but it wasn’t done until my friend had spoken up multiple times over the course of weeks and then posted her own photo.

Photo of Jack stapled to the yellow bulletin board next to a white paper star.

I think this photo adds a lot to the superstar collage.

As far as I know, my friend and her daughter haven’t gotten an apology from the principal. I know that Jack and I sure haven’t.

I really like Jack’s program. He has done really well there. He has gone from being miserable about school and himself to being happy and full of self esteem. He has a safe place to be when school gets too overwhelming, but he spends much of his day in inclusion classes. His teachers are wonderful. His paras have been good to him. His IEP team is delightful. The other kids in his class are phenomenal. I’m very happy that he is in this program. He is very happy that he is in this program.

But damn.

I wish that my school district was able to serve my kid in his home school in an inclusion classroom. But they couldn’t. They couldn’t or wouldn’t give him the support he needed, so we found another option, one that seemed to work. The thing is, segregation of students has limitations. Even though my kid has been well served in his program, he is obviously seen as less than in the eyes of the administration. These kids do not seem to be the principal’s priority.

If you read here, I’m sure you know why it matters that all kids are included in all parts of school life. It seems so obvious to me, yet it is clearly not obvious to the people who kept moving “post photos from the Asperger’s class” to the bottom of their to-do list.

Every child has an intrinsic worth. Every child has a right to belong. Every child has a right to be treated with respect. Every child has a right to be included, not just by peers and teachers, but by the people who lead the school and set the tone for everyone in the building.

I was furious when I heard about this bulletin board from my friend. I am still furious as I write this. It breaks my heart that people who work with students with disabilities day in and day out still forget that they matter and that they have thoughts and feelings and desires and complex inner lives.

If you doubt that, check out this essay that Jack brought home last week about 5th grade photo day. The 5th grade all wore their special “class of 2014” shirts on the same day and sat for a photo of the whole grade. Jack remembered all by himself what day he was to wear the shirt and excitedly sat for the photo.

Photo of a small section of Jack's essay titled "2014 School Picture." The full text is below.

Jack wrote about the day. Full text is below.

“2014 School Picture: On June 3rd, I was so excited for the 5th grade picture. I couldn’t wait for it. All the 5th grade, LITERALLY ALL OF THEM, were in the picture. It was so awesome, I could not wait for it. I was in the 3rd row closest to the camera, very close to the flash, so it could get a good angle of me. I couldn’t be forgotten in Sligo Creek Elementary pictures with me in one, especially this one and the graduating class of 2014. [Classmate one] and [classmate two] were close to me, and they were good friends. Lots of people I knew were there, some were close to me and some weren’t. Everyone else seemed to be prepared, as I was thoroughly prepared. That was the best day of my life!”

Read that and tell me that it doesn’t matter if Jack’s photo wasn’t on the superstar board. Read that and tell me that putting my kid’s photo up was “defacing” the bulletin board. Read that and tell me that the principal was doing her best by my kid and those in his class. Read that and tell me that Jack doesn’t understand inclusion.

“I couldn’t be forgotten.”

“All the 5th grade, LITERALLY ALL OF THEM, were in the picture.”

“That was the best day of my life!”

In terms of injustice toward disabled people, this is probably not that big a deal. But to my kid and to the kids in his class, it is a huge deal. Remember that. Even the little things matter.

How Does This Keep Happening To Me?

OH MY GOD, YOU GUYS, THIS WOULD ONLY HAPPEN TO ME.

Please to see the Facebook status I posted yesterday:

Screenshot of a Facebook status. It reads, "HOLEEEE SHIT, YOU GUYS. So. We're giving our pool to our friends because our new backyard isn't fully fenced. BECAUSE IT'S ME, the box of pool parts we took to their house didn't just contain pool parts, but also FOUR BABY FUCKING RODENTS. To do: 1. Send Alex to return babies to our shed in hopes their mom finds them again. (They'll convey with the house!) 2. Check my car for said mother rodent in case she made the ride over here with us. 3. Get to knitting tiny hats." Below the words is a photo of two tiny baby rodents in a cardboard box, surrounded by chewed up paper and assorted pool parts.Yeah. So that happened.

I was so happy to be able to give our pool to our friends so that someone else can get joy out of it and also because hopefully they’ll invite my kids over to swim. So yesterday afternoon I dragged the pool and all of its many parts and supplies out of my backyard shed, stuffed it in my car, and trundled it over to my friends’ house, where Alex and I helped them set it up.

At some point it became clear that mice or rats or, you know, a fucking woodchuck had been living in one of the boxes because it had very efficiently turned one of the pool manuals into a little nest of shredded paper. That’s cool though, because animals live in the outside and it’s not like we found a live opossum in there sitting next to the pool filter. I assumed the rodents had moved on.

We set up the pool and I was fishing through the box to pull out the things my friends would need when I heard squeaking. “Ha,” I thought to myself, “that sounds like baby gerbils. I wonder… No, I’m sure it’s just crickets or something.”

Then I looked closer and I may or may not have cursed loudly and creatively in front of my friends’ kids.

I don’t even know what kind of rodent they are. I just know that we found four of them and transferred them to a box in an effort to return them to their mother. Because although I’m not a huge fan of wild rodents in and near my home, it seemed really mean to starve little blind babies to death. We figured that if we took them back to the shed that maybe their mom would be able to find them again. It was their best chance.

I know. I am a big fucking bleeding heart. I am well aware.

Then, because I do things like this to him all the time, I made Alex deliver the rodents to our house.

Photo of Alex walking away from the camera holding a cardboard box full of baby rodents. He looks highly annoyed.

He was totally delighted to get this assignment.

He returned a little while later with a six-pack of beer and news that he had made a cardboard bed and roof for the little guys under the shed.

Meanwhile, I was checking my car for rodents, just in case the mom had been in the box when I put it in the back seat only to abandon ship before I delivered it to my friends.

In my mind, all I can see is me driving along, singing along to some bad pop song or listening to some earnest NPR story about porches, only to look in my rearview mirror to find Rat Mom standing on the headrest directly behind my right ear. At that point my imagination pictures me screaming and veering off the road into a concrete wall.

While all this was going on, my friends continued to cook dinner for my family instead of kicking us out into the street and hurling pool salt at us.

They’re good people.

So that is the story of the day I gave my pool and a litter of wild rat babies to some close friends. As someone commented on that above Facebook status, you should remember to not take hand-me-downs from Stimeyland.

Epilogue: This evening, after torrential rain, Alex went back to check on the babies and to rebuild their little house. He was distressed because they looked as if they had been tossed around by the weather. He was able to find three of them and reports that they were still alive. I’m hopeful that this means their mom is nearby. The fact that Alex went by to check on the little guys says a lot about him. He tries to make us all think he’s disgruntled, but he has his very own bleeding heart.