Reach the Beach: Final Thoughts

So I said that I’d be recapping our tour of the New Balance factory that we took pre-relay, as well as wrapping up my final thoughts regarding Reach the Beach. Well, I’m a woman of my word (ish), so here it is! I know it’s a little late, and RTB fever has probably (blessedly?) passed, but I’m nothing if not thorough… when I want to be. Advanced apologies if you find this thoroughly uninteresting, but I kind of think it’s fascinating and, well, it’s my blog and I can write what I want to. 😉

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C’mon, admit it: you’re as excited about this as I am!

So before we got around to the whole running 200 miles thing, we were able to tour New Balance’s factory in Lawrence, MA. As I’ve mentioned before, New Balance is the only major athletic shoe company that manufactures ANY of their shoes domestically! They have factories in Massachusetts and Maine (probably among others, but I’ve forgotten where else, haha), which means they provide around 2,000 American jobs that would normally be outsources overseas. Pretty cool! It definitely seems to be a point of pride for New Balance that their 990 shoe line (their benchmark shoe, from way back when) is still, to this day, produced in the United States.

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Tina and Sarah

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Elizabeth and Bridget

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We were able to tour the actual manufacturing floor, which I actually found fascinating. It’s also where I got the sa-weet safety glasses (and headset!) that I’m sporting in the first pic above. It’s a huge, huge facility, is CRAZY loud (which is why we had headsets, so we could actually hear our tour guide!), and there are TONS of people working on the floor, each at different stations.

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I remember being distinctly impressed with the sheer number of employees working on the floor. For some reason, in my mind I always imagined that any massed-produced product — athletic shoes included — simply come out of a machine already made. Not so, as it turns out! Every shoe produced in this facility is touched by something like 20+ hands. Pretty neat.

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We were able to see the beginning-to-end creation of the 990 shoe model, from the floppy and flat shoe form, all the way to molded upper (which is then attached to the sole, laced up, and even boxed by hand!)

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After our factory-floor tour, we headed down to the Sports Research Lab, where we were able to see all of the hard work, science, and research that goes into the development and testing of each shoe.

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I barely took any photos while we were down here, but we were able to do things like analyze our gait, see how our weight is distributed on our feet, and check out the varieties of foams that go into the soles of running shoes. Neat stuff, though, admittedly, it wasn’t quite as fascinating to me as it probably was to more of the seasoned runners on the team. You know, the ones who actually care if they’re heel-striking or not, hahaha (confirmation: I heel strike like my life depends on it).

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You can see more of our time inside the factory in the video that is embedded at the end of this post!

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Oh captain, my captain. 😉

Okay. Now. Prepare yourself for like 10 straight paragraphs of text. Here are my final thoughts about the relay, my contribution to it, and all that general wrap-up stuff:

1. I am SO proud of myself.

I know it sounds pompous to say that, but whatever, it’s true. This is an event that I would never have done on my own if Tina hadn’t asked me to be a part of it, and I am so grateful to her, my teammates, the race organizers, and New Balance for making it all happen. I ran 11 miles in total, which is by FAR the furthest distance I have ever (and likely will ever) run. I climbed a freaking mountain! I get to say that I was part of this epic adventure, and that elicits pride for me. PRIDE!

2. I was REALLY unprepared, in more ways than one.

Physically, I prepared myself to run shorter distances, 3 – 4 miles. After all, my legs were all around that distance, and because of the hours of “off time” that we would have in between, I really didn’t consider the fact that I would be running 11 miles in total. I just concentrated on each leg as an individual distance. While mentally, I think that was a good thing because it helped me from becoming overwhelmed and freaking out (er, more than I already did, haha), physically those miles REALLY added up fast. By the end, my legs were sore, my feet were bruised, and it’s kind of a miracle that I was able to run (hobble?) across that finish line at all (and is the reason why I’m waaaaay in the back — unseeable, haha — in all our finish line pictures). I now know that the way to train for something like this is more closely aligned to half-marathon training than training for the individual distances of your legs. Live and learn!

I also thought that because my short distance running pace has improved so much since I first starting running (from 12:30 to around 10:30/10:45), I’d be able to hold my own more in comparison to my super speedy teammates. Well, throw 600 feet of elevation and a rocky mountain trail into that first leg, and it’s a whole different story. I was slow. So, so slow. I think that my average pace for this relay ended up being closer to 13 minutes per mile, which is hard for me to openly admit. I mean, that’s pretty much walking. Luckily, my teammates don’t judge, and in fact, they were wildly supportive of me before, during, and after every single leg. They’re kind of the best.

The last thing that I felt unprepared for was the whole mentality of Reach the Beach. I kind of figured that it’d be like marathons and half-marathons are these days: sure, there are tons of incredibly fast, seasoned, competitive runners, but there are also lots of more casual runners who are there more for the experience and sense of personal accomplishment. I felt that almost all of the runners that comprised the other 165 Reach the Beach teams steadfastly fit into the former category. This was an elite running event, and these teams were FAST. We all said that we were going into it with the intention of having fun and just being able to finish, but with an average pace of 9:30, we still ended up with fewer than 20 vans finishing after us. While that’s not really a big deal to me (says the person who single-handedly shifted the average down the curve, haha), I know it definitely bummed out some of my more competitive teammates.

3. Living in a van? Not so bad!

The things that I was dreading most about this race (other than the, y’know, running part, haha), were having to deal with being crammed in a van for 2 days, and getting no sleep. As it turns out, neither ended up being that bad! Yes, I was thoroughly exhausted (actually, the word “exhausted” doesn’t really even being to cover it) at the end, but basically napping in the middle of the night for 40 minutes with my legs pushed up against the van door wasn’t THAT bad. Adrenaline goes a long way, and once I was up and out of the van, I didn’t really feel the sleepiness again until our van had totally finished. I think having a driver (thanks a million, Nicole!) helped a TON with keeping the additional mental exhaustion at bay, too.

I also expected it to be totally smelly and gross in the van, but was pleasantly surprised! Maybe it’s that we’re not super smelly people (hard to believe, though, after 100 collective miles, haha), but we were all pretty diligent about wiping down, reapplying deodorant, and keeping our stanky running clothes locked away (I put mine in giant 2.5 gallon ziplock bags and it worked wonders!).

4. The million dollar question: Would I do it again?

I had an absolutely amazing time doing this relay. I feel bonded for life with girls that, prior to piling into a van for 31 hours with them, were total strangers to me. I accomplished a physical feat that, if you had asked me to do just one year ago, I would have crumpled to the floor in laughter. I don’t regret being a part of it for one second. All that said though, if I was going to be 100% honest with you all? I’m not really sure. I mean, I’m not saying no, I’m just not really saying that I’m positive I would be up for it again. This is an event for RUNNERS, and while I hope that our blogging about the experience encourages relays like this to go more mainstream — because it really was incredible! — I am not one. A runner, that is.

I reiterate my gratefulness to have gotten the opportunity to participate, and I feel like I was challenged to break through my limitations, which is an awesome feeling. That said, I do think that there are tons of other bloggers out there who might be better suited for an event like this. Who knows though? I’m kind of “off” running right now, but things tend to come full-circle with me (um, my recurring — and current — obsession with My Little Pony much?) and if I get the motivation to want to start conquering long distances again, I might change my tune entirely. For the meantime, I am perfectly content to place my Reach the Beach experience in the “once in a lifetime” folder.

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Credit: Jack at pixelwiremedia.com / rtbrelay.com

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but RTB had a videographer (Jack, from pixelwiremedia) who split his time between our two vans for the ENTIRE race (getting even less sleep than us, if you can imagine!). The first episode (I think there are supposed to be 5 in total! Eep!) of his video recaps is up on Youtube, and it’s kinda awesome (you know, in a totally embarrassing way). Make sure you check it out below (or on Youtube by clicking here).

This episode covers our New Balance factory tour and our pre-race campfire interview. And yes, of course I cried during my interview question. Don’t you know me at all?

Reach the Beach MA: Part 3

Let me paint you a word picture:

It is 6:00 AM. I’ve been up since 7 AM the previous morning and have already run 2.8 miles straight up the side of a mountain, followed by 4.78 miles in the pitch black woods. We are living out of a van. I am operating on less than an hour of sleep, and there is only one leg left between me and having completed my part of a 200-mile relay race. Miraculously, spirits are still high!

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Hi Patricia!

My last leg was 3.36 miles through a really lovely set of neighborhoods. I got to run along bike paths, just like I’m used to at home, and for once it was actually relatively flat the entire way through — finally! The sun was rising and it was nice and cool — I really enjoyed my last leg. Granted, I was totally exhausted and my legs were pretty much giving out on me, but I just kept telling myself that it was just a 5K. There was just one 5K left between me and being done, being finished, getting to go back to my team, rest, and say that I DID it. Of course, it wasn’t really that easy. It’s never “just a 5K” with me, even when I haven’t run 8 miles beforehand, even when I have gotten a legitimate night’s sleep. But I repeated that mantra over and over to myself and it helped propel me forward in spite of a lot of odds. When that stopped working, I start to employ other games to make myself go just a little further.

I would say “Okay, just run to that lamp post,” and then I’d reach the lamp post and tell myself “Okay, now just run to that mailbox.” It was pretty excruciating, but it worked! Somehow, though my foot was throbbing and my legs were heavy and I was going so slowly that I was basically just walking in running form, I managed to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Finally, as I rounded a corner and saw a few volunteers standing around, I knew that I was nearing the finish. The second I saw the tell-tale jackets of my team members standing in the distance, I summoned what little remaining strength I had and funneled it all into my finish. It might not have been my fastest sprint ever, but I did sprint to the end! However the rest of the leg — and race in general — went, at least I know that I finished strong!

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I admit to having shed just a few tears of happiness and astonishment at the finish line (which were captured on tape by our videographer much to my chagrin). I did it! I didn’t die! I got to check off all three legs, and let me tell you: crossing off that final box was an amazing feeling.

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I survived!

Of course, while I may have been finished, every single other one of my teammates still had to do their final legs as well. This meant that there was still quite a while until I’d be physically crossing the finish line. It was easy to stay excited while my vanmates were all running there legs, since we were still offering support to them as they went along.

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That said, after our van was done, it was pretty hard to stick out the following 5 hours with enthusiasm. We all knew we were finished with the running, and the exhaustion set in HARD. We were amped up for our teammates in van 2 still out there doing their thing, but I know that I had more than a few whiny moments where all I could think was “I just want to go hoooome.”

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They did have delicious burrito bowls and beer at the finish line, which helped kill a little bit of time rather pleasantly, hehe, but it really didn’t take long for this to happen:

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I ended up falling asleep in the van for a little bit, walking the beach, and eventually our second van made it to the finish area so that we could all run in with Ashley and finish together.


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I won’t lie, after the previous 31 hours, the very thought of having to run the last 20 feet through the finish line tunnel seemed painful, hahaha. Still, that feeling of being able to run through the end together was priceless!


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This is actually my first real race medal! Most of the other races I’ve done haven’t given out anything at the end, and the Navy Five Miler I did gave out coins instead of actual medals. Just another item in a long list of firsts from the weekend: first relay, first race medal, first time staying awake for that long, first time running more than once in a day, first time running over 10 cumulative miles… the list goes on!

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FINISHER!

What an epic experience. EPIC, I SAY! I am so, so grateful to my fellow teammates, New Balance, and the Reach the Beach organizers, just for allowing me to have the opportunity to even participate in this event. Let’s be honest, there’s no way that I would have ever gotten the guts to do something like this on my own. And now I can say that I’ve done it! Really done it! Hip, hip, huzzah!!

As mentioned, I’m in St. Maarten now, so posting is officially on hiatus until I return. I still have the New Balance Factory tour to cover, as well as all my thoughts about this experience in general. There is so much wrapped up in what happened during the race, what my expectations were, what the reality was, separating the awesomeness from the epicness, and I am still sorting through ALL OF THE FEELINGS that I have about it all. So keep your eyes akimbo for a final wrap-up post when I return (if/when I get the wherewithall to organize them into something legible, haha), especially if you’ve been thinking about signing up for a relay race or anything similar.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue geeking out about the entire weekend… from my beach chaise in St. Maarten. It’s okay to be jealous. 😉

Have an amazing rest of your week!!

Reach the Beach MA: Part 2

Oh hai. So I’m on my way to St. Maarten with the fam right now (a well-earned vacation, I hopes?), but wanted to pick up where I left off with the Reach the Beach Relay recaps! (Here’s Part 1 if you missed it!)

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So, having left off last time just after I finished my first leg of the race (and THE first leg of the race, since I was runner #1!), let me give a quick overview of how this relay worked. There were 12 runners divided up into two vans, as you know. All six of our van’s runners ran, while the other van had downtime. Then, when our 6th runner (Sarah) was done, she handed off the baton to our 7th runner (Tina), who was the first runner of van two. Then we got a few hours of downtime while their van ran, until it was time to trade off and start all over again for leg 2!

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We really could not have been more lucky with the weather from this weekend, honestly. It was SO beautiful out — definitely hot, but breezy and gorgeous. Waiting at all the transition areas was so nice, and I was so grateful that we got to spend so much time outdoors. Unfortunately, I did get a little sunburned (face, chest, shoulders), but I’m just considering that as prep for St. Maarten, haha.

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Bridget and me at a gorgeous lakeside transition area.

During our first long stretch of downtime (starting somwhere between 3 and 4 PM, I think?) we took the opportunity to grab some REAL food (aside from the multitude of snacks that were consumed in the van, haha). Our first attempt at food was a bust — two other RTB teams were already there and the place was too small to accommodate us all! We ended up at the Boynton Restaurant instead, which came highly recommended by one of our local Boston-based team members.

I got spaghetti and meatballs, which came with a little salad too. Sadly, at this point in the race I admit that I was getting pretty sloppy with picture taking. I didn’t bring my laptop to Boston with me, so I couldn’t offload my photos from my DSLR. With only a 4 gig memory card, I needed to be conservative! So sans photographic evidence, let’s fast forward to the second big transition area, where we waited for Van 2’s last runner (Ashley, the crazy sprinting machine who ROCKED all her finishes!) to hand the baton back off to me.

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Van 1, with our epic and amazing driver Nicole (third from left)!

We spent a little bit of time chilling, rehydrating, and changing, but honestly, the time FLEW during our “off” time. Even though logically I knew we had 4+ hours, between dinner, stopping at the grocery store (I have never seen anymore more excited to go to a Wegman’s than Patricia, haha!), driving to the next transition area, and having to gear up for my next leg, I didn’t really feel like I got any time to just “be”. I did, however, make sure to snag the bug spray from Melissa. It didn’t stop the three giant mosquito bites that are decorating my legs right now, but I imagine that things would have been a lot worse if I hadn’t!

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Beginning our second rotation through the running order marked the start of night legs for Van 1. This meant that not only would be running through the pitch black woods, but we had to put on some SWEET looking safety gear to do so as well. We had to have on a reflective safety vest, have a blinking light on the front and back of it, and wear a headlamp (or carry a flashlight).

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New Balance had sent us these awesome running hats a while back that have built-in LEDs in the visor, so that was super helpful. Apparently, the hat alone would have been enough to satisfy the headlamp requirement, although I didn’t know that. Still, I didn’t want to risk being mauled by a bear without seeing it coming first, so I strapped a headlamp on top of it. Elizabeth also got us all these amazing flashing rings to wear. Sexy, I know.

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Ready and waiting at the transition!

My second leg was 4.78 miles through the darkness. A little before 9 PM, Ashley handed off the baton to me and off I went!

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Despite this leg being almost twice as long as my first one, it was infinitely easier on me. It was still fairly hilly, unfortunately, but I found the solitude and quiet of running through the woods soothing. This part was literally PITCH black. There were no streetlights, only one or two houses, and a lot of forest. Even with both my lighted hat AND a headlamp, you could only see maybe 5 – 10 feet in front of you at any given time. It was a little scary, of course, to be out there essentially on your own, but I found it exhilarating. I did look over into the woods at one point and saw a the creepy reflection of a dog’s (at least, I hope it was a dog!) eyes peering out at me. That definitely motivated me to speed up, at least for a little while. Spooky!

I pounded through the first two miles at a steady pace, talking to myself like a crazy person to keep motivated. It worked! After I was about halfway done, I came out onto some main roads which were decidedly less fun to run along. The sides of the road were jacked up and pothole-y, and there were tons of cars. I was actually much more comfortable running on the deserted road with just the occasional car/van driving through, because I knew that they were A) going slowly and B) could really veer around me. On a normal two-way street, the cars were pretty uncomfortably close at some points.

I finally made it to the transition area after almost 5 miles in the dark, ready to hand it off to Jess. My team wasn’t quite expecting me yet (not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing? Haha!) so I got a few moments to catch my breath before the trade off. Leg 2 was done and done! I was 2/3rds of the way there, feeling EXHAUSTED but thrilled!

After all of our van’s second legs were done, it was about 1:45 AM. We drove straight to the next VTA to try and get some shuteye (“try” being the operative word). Even though we had been up for almost 20 hours and already ran two times, I had a really hard time getting any sleep. It was frickin’ freezing and not particularly comfortable. This may shock you to hear, but as it turns out I am a little bit too long to be able to sleep comfortably in a van, hahaha. My feet were crunched right up against the door. Oh, the curse of being 5’9″! I think I managed to eke out a solid 45 minutes of sleep (aaaaahahahahaha) before the anxiety over beginning my third (and final!) leg began.

And with that, I’ll leave you until tomorrow! Make sure you’re checking out the rest of my amazing team’s recaps, too. Each one tells a little bit of a different side of the overall, 31+ hour-long, 200-mile story!

Relay

Wellps, it’s here! As Sean can attest from the tear-stained evidence leftover from my completely hysterical breakdown about it last night, I’m off to the Reach the Beach Relay tomorrow! I fly up to Boston tomorrow morning, and it is going to be a packed weekend, full of more than just the relay race itself. It’s unlikely that I’ll get a ton of blogging in over the next few days. There will, however, be lots of Tweeting and Facebook updating though! We’ll be tagging race-related tweets with #rtbrelay, #newbalance, and/or #offbalance, and we even have a new Team Off Balance Twitter handle: @RTBOffBalance. Wheee, social media storm!

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So a big component of preparing for a 30 hour, 200 mile race is making sure you’re packing well. I want to make sure that I’ve got everything I need without OVER-packing (something that I have a rather strong tendency to do). So I’ve been casually gathering things over the past week to make sure that I’m not forgetting anything. Yesterday I packed up most of the things I’m going to need (though I’m sure there will be a few last minute swaps and additions, for sure!) and gave my duffel bag a trial run.

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Since, as mentioned, our all-blogger team is being generously sponsored by New Balance, packing my fitness clothing isn’t much of a challenge. I’ve had a chance to test out all of the running gear that they sent us, and have my three running outfits all picked out. I have three sports bras, three pairs of socks, and three hair bands too. I’m even bringing the extra items that I won’t be running in — like these infamously short run shorts — because while I may not enjoy the chafing, they are super comfortable just to lounge around in.

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New Balance also sent us an awesome secondary package just a day or so ago with some team-branded clothing! So we have a tank, long sleeve technical tee, and running windbreaker all with Off Balance branding! So exciting, and the tank is not only vented with a sweet logo, but it’s super flattering too. Win-win!

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It was actually much more difficult for me to decide what to pack in terms of non-fitness clothing. Ultimately, I figured that things are going to be pretty casual (with the possibility of going to do something slightly nicer Saturday night if we’re not all dead), so I’m packing a couple of cute tees (including my Team Peeta shirt! RAWR!) and one sundress. I’m planning on wearing my jeans on the plane.

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And yes, that is 7 pairs of underwear you’re seeing folded up in the background there. Underwear is the one thing that I believe can NEVER be over-packed! On the side you might also be able to make out a rolled up plastic-lookin’ thing. That’s three huge Ziplock bags for me to put my race outfits in. All of the relay race packing suggestions I’ve read say to pack your three race outfits in separate plastic bags — that way, it’s easy to pull them out when it’s time to change, and you also have a place to put them back when you’re done! I know it probably seems gross to put sweaty clothes in a plastic bag, but consider that I, the Sweatiest Exerciser Ever, am the first runner. That means that there are like 29.5 hours left in the race that my vanmates would have to put up with my stinky clothes if I didn’t seal ’em off, hahaha. What, TMI?

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I do have just a FEW non-clothing things that I’m packing too. Since I’m flying and don’t want to have to check a bag, I’m trying to keep my extras limited. But I want to contribute to the team/my van, too! So I’m bringing baby wipes (for post-run wipe downs, since there won’t be any showers), a roll of TP (just in case!), the Dreamie travel blanket that Ben gave me for my birthday (if I decide to try to catch even a few minutes of shut-eye in the van, haha), and a jar of Peanut Butter & Co. White Chocolate Wonderful (for eating by the spoonful).

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Of course, I can’t forget the most important thing that I’ll need to be bringing — my sneakers! New Balance also sent me this awesome pair of flip flops in my latest package, which I was counting on relaxing in between running legs. Unfortunately one of the support straps broke! I’m really bummed, because they are SO comfortable (they remind me of Rainbows!), but I guess I’ll have to resort to my UnderArmour flippies instead. Le sigh.

So there you have it! Additional things I’ll be bringing that aren’t shown include my camera (duh!), iPhone (duh!), charger (duh! Are you sending a pattern?), a hand towel (suggested by our New Balance contact to wipe down post-run), PJs for Thursday and Saturday nights so that hotel roomie isn’t subjected to THAT (bahaha!), toiletries (including men’s deodorant – this is no time for my usual Dove Cucumber and Green Tea!), and some very minimal makeup.

Any last minute suggestions for what to bring, what to do, or how to survive? General words of encouragement are also welcome, since I’m still mildly freaking out about the running part of this whole shebang… though, as my loving and rational boyfriend reminded me, I’ll only be spending a fraction of the relay (like, what, 2 hours total?) actually running. But still. Think good thoughts for me! 🙂

Holy Swag, New Balance!

As you are all probably aware, given the number of times I’ve freaked out about it so far, I am running the Reach the Beach Relay in May with a team of pretty awesome bloggers. We have been fortunate enough to be sponsored by New Balance, and while I would have been more than happy just not having to pay a registration fee, they upped the ante. Yesterday I came home to a pretty sweet surprise!

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Well, I guess it wasn’t SO much of a surprise, since I had been hearing the digital shrieks from my teammates who had already received theirs all day, haha.

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I was NOT fully prepared for the epicness that awaited me within the walls of that duffel bag, however. Consider my workout wardrobe effectively doubled (or more!) — I think all my UnderArmour gear is going to start jelly hatin’:

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Holy schlamoly. There is pretty much everything that you would possibly need to train for a relay like this in here!

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The list of swag from my bag is as follows:

  • New Balance 890 sneakers (The soles are really more pink than red, despite how the color turned out in the pic.)
  • PDA Running Gloves
  • Tri-Viz Running Cap (With lights on the front and under the rim!)
  • Prism Run Shorts
  • Fun Run Shorts
  • Fun Run Skirt (My first running skirt! There are shorts built into it.)
  • Prism Capri
  • Impact Capri
  • Tempo Tee
  • Icefill Short Sleeve (Love me some moisture-wicking tees)
  • Tonic Crop Sports Bra
  • NRG Bars
  • GPS Runner (I don’t think that links to the same model we got, but it’s all I could find on the website.)
  • Running Socks
  • I didn’t even know that New Balance made a GPS watch, but I am really excited to try it all out! I’m actually most excited about the running hat. The relay is over the course of 24+ hours, which obviously means that some legs are going to be at night (all the relay recaps I’ve read say that the night legs are the best experience though, so hopefully I get (an easy) one, hehe!). It’ll be so nice having a little headlamp on as we’re running through rural Massachusetts at 3 AM, don’t you think?

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    All of this new jank is DEFINITELY getting me hyped up for the race. It’s even — gasp! — making me want to go run to try it all out! Who’d have ever thunk it? 😉 This is gonna be legendary.

    Do you have a “brand” when it comes to running/workout apparel? My sister works for UA, so all of my stuff has been almost exclusively them up until now (my shoes are Brooks though).

    Edit: I forgot to add that New Balance is offering a discount code for our team to distribute! It’s good for 15% off and free shipping at shopnewbalance.com (valid until March 10th). Code: NBRTB1255CB4T