Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Skillet Cookies

The only way to run a marathon is to do so with four friends. Not in a training group so you can encourage one another through the arduous miles. Literally. Like splitting up the race into five pieces.

Jon and I recently ran in the St. Jude Memphis Marathon Relay, the first time this particular event was held. Due to our involvement in a weekly running group, we heard that a relay was to be added to the wildly popular full marathon, half-marathon, and 5K distances. I instantly wanted in. Jon and I had tried unsuccessfully to sign up for the half-marathon for the past two years, as the race filled up before we could register (mere days prior in 2011). The relay seemed like the perfect alternative to run in a race whose starting line is a short walk from our apartment. Plus, it seemed like a heck of a lot more fun than running 26.2 or even 13.1 miles.

Since 2012 was the inaugural relay, it took a bit longer for logistics to be worked out for the race, delaying the registration period. But we were ready. (It didn't hurt that one of the teammates we recruited works for St. Jude on the fundraising side and had insider information about when sign-ups would officially begin.) We were able to convince some friends to run with us, and once they were on board, the most important decision became our team name.

Due to our mutual love of a dessert served at a near-by restaurant, we decided to call ourselves the Skillet Cookies (the skillet cookie is exactly what it sounds like: a chocolate chip cookie baked in a cast iron skillet topped with vanilla ice cream). Since we signed up in the summer for a race run at the beginning of December, once this crucial decision was made, our preparations relaxed a bit until the fall.

It just so happened that our St. Jude fundraiser teammate also knows the owner of the skillet cookie establishment and was able to convince the owner to sponsor our team. Thus, we had shirts made with our nicknames, as well as the name of the restaurant, of course, on the back. Oh, and a picture of a skillet and some cookies.

But choosing those nicknames was not as easy as determining a team name. After some intense e-mailing, each member of our team--including our "team mom"/#1 cheerleader--was christened with a new name. You can't pick our your own nickname, you know. Most nicknames ended up being portmanteaus (two or more blended words) related to our own names, personal interests, college affiliations, favorite foods, ethnicities, etc.

Owleyesonu, Recovering Eataholic, Kornhustler, Hoppsenjoggin, and Flantastic (not pictured: Naganseemi--no pun intended)

As we neared race day, the flurry of e-mails picked up once again as we established our relay order. Rather than split the 26.2 mile distance evenly amongst five runners, the race director divided the legs into different distances. In order, the distances were as follows: 5K (3.1 miles), 10K (6.2 miles), 6K (3.8 miles), and two halves of a half-marathon (6.55 miles a piece).

I was chosen to lead off with the 5K distance due to my present "condition." This was fine by me as I didn't want the pregnant lady slowing the team down either. Jon ran the 4th leg for a 6.55 mile distance. Even though my pace has slowed a bit lately, I still felt confident in my ability to run 3.1 miles without a lot of additional training, although Jon definitely tried to push himself a bit harder in the weeks leading up to race day.

On the morning of the race, we gathered with our team prior to going to our respective relay exchange areas. The weather was warm and the mood was light. We hung out and chatted for a bit until it was time for me to head to the starting line. In a race the size of St. Jude, start times are staggered based on each individual's pace. Race experience has taught me that runners are an optimistic bunch, so it's always a good idea to begin with a group that is a bit faster than you expect to run. I chose the approrpriate group, as my overall pace was spot-on with the specified time, although if I were to start the relay again, I would choose a faster group since I didn't actually start the race until about ten minutes after the elite runners took off.

Prior to the race, the consensus attitude on our team was that we were all just running for fun. However, when I was in the crush of other runners at the starting line, my competitiveness kicked in. It was definitely "go time." Everyone else on our team echoed a similar sentiment once we reunited. And it paid off.

I was lucky enough to have the "fun" part of the course, mostly taking me through downtown and throngs of cheering fans. I was feeling good; it was nice to push myself (within reason, of course) again. I did feel kind of like a jerk, however, when I neared the end of my 3.1 mile distance because I had the luxury of stopping. Most of the people around me had 10-23.1 more miles to go and probably resented the runner who was trying desperately to pass them. I didn't feel too guilty, though, and definitely ran the final stretch with my elbows out.

I passed our belt and team number (the marathon relay equivalent of a baton) to Runner #2 who went on to run her 6.2 miles in an excellent time. In fact, everyone on our team ran really well. Thanks to technology, we were able to keep up with our team's progress via the Internet. After I finished my portion of the race, I had a lot of waiting to do. I hung out with the various members of our team who had either finished or were yet to run and got to cheer along with our "team mom" (the wife of Runner #3).

The four of us who were finished were able to cheer on our anchor--a last-minute substitute--as he crossed the finish line. We were bummed that our original anchor wasn't able to run with us; he "deployed" to New Jersey for Hurricane Sandy. However, his replacement did a fine job, and we are so grateful for his willingness to run with us. In fact, his effort (along with everyone else's, of course) earned us a 3rd place finish! Not too shabby for a group of people fond of cookie desserts who were just running for fun.

Marathon relays: the only way to conquer 26.2 miles.

We're Having a Baby!

This post is admittedly a bit anti-climactic considering how the few people who read this blog have known for a while that Jon and I are expecting. That being said, however, now that we have reached the halfway point (it's all downhill from here, right?), it's time for some reflection.

In no particular order...Things I Have Learned From Being Pregnant (So Far):

1. Much to my disappointment, not drinking and not feeling like eating big meals did not equate into any sort of initial weight loss. A permanent feeling of bloat took care of that pipe dream. I am, however, liking what is happening to my body. As a natural "spoon" shape, I have always had somewhat of a pregnant physique. Now, it's to be celebrated. That being said, I feel weird sharing our weekly "baby bump" photos (in fact, Jon has pretty much banned that term), so if you want to know how things are progressing, you'll just have to come visit...or wait for us to visit you.

2. This baby has a sense of irony already. We live in the #2 BBQ city in the country (following Kansas City, of course), and barbecue is one of the few foods I can't stomach. My eating habits have changed, and I feel like a person who just had gastric by-pass surgery. I'm hungry more often, but my stomach can't seem to hold as much, meaning I feel full much faster. Also, I am not craving foods that I expected to, like guacamole and Mexican food in general, although I did eat Fruit Roll-ups for the first time in about 15 years. However, I've never wanted to eat sushi more than I do right now. Or a turkey sandwich. Or stinky cheese. Or a hot dog...

3. It was fun to keep the pregnancy a secret for a while, yet coming up with (what we think are creative) ways to share the news has been enjoyable as well. The two most popular questions are "Do you know/are you going to find out the gender?" (no--we love surprises and can't think of a better one) and "Have you thought of any names?" (no--but something short to go with our ridiculously long last name). We do, however, have a name for Baby in utero, thanks to my grandpa: Luigi. Where he came up with that, I have no idea, as it's a far cry from his usual suggestion of Smedley Hoover.

4. A former night owl, I have now officially become a morning person, much to my chagrin. I have a lot more energy to accomplish things in the morning, often waking up before the alarm, while I'm pretty much useless in the evenings.

5. Creepy, alien-baby sonogram pictures carry much more meaning when they are of your child...although s/he still looks like a prehistoric bird.

6. Maternity pants are extremely comfortable. I may never go back to regular pants again. Nonetheless, many of my shirts and dresses will most likely work throughout my pregnancy, which is a bit revealing about my sense of fashion. And all of the padded bras I had to buy for dance costumes are coming in handy since they're really the only ones that fit now.

7. Not drinking has not been as difficult as I thought it might be, although having a husband who brews his own beer is a bit tempting. Watered-down Sprite is a poor--albeit acceptable--substitute at Happy Hour.

8. It is possible to run a half-marathon when 11 weeks pregnant (especially when the race was registered and paid for months in advance), although said pregnancy is an excellent excuse reason to skip speed training. I'm going to keep jogging as long as I can, although it's hard not to be competitive at our running group. I have to keep telling myself that it's okay to go slower than normal.

9. For some reason, I continue to be surprised at how many textbook symptoms I have experienced; it's like going down a checklist. Runny nose? Check. Bleeding gums? Yup. Heartburn? You betcha. I have been very fortunate, however, and really can't complain. I've felt mostly good most of the time. I'm not surprised that I haven't really had any morning sickness, as throwing up has always been a rare occurrence for me...although there have been lots of times that I'd wished I could have just vomited, as the frequent evening nausea seemed just as bad.

10. Even though I'm about to embark on what I imagine to be the most selfless endeavor of my life, I have never felt more selfish. Since I haven't felt any (definitive) movements from Baby, it's still really hard to believe that there is a human being growing inside of me. Right now, I'm mostly focused on how I feel and how I look. I recently read a quote in a pregnancy book that made me feel less guilty about that (just as hearing the heartbeat at my last doctor's appointment made me feel more reassured that indeed there is something going on in there): "I feel like my body is preparing me for motherhood by reminding me what it's like to be a child. I eat every three hours, want things I don't need, cry because I'm tired, and I've become a bit of a narcissist."

So, that's where we're at. I'm excited and nervous and anxious for all of the changes that the next 20 weeks (and beyond) will bring, particularly as this whole baby thing becomes increasingly more real.