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Marathon Recap

Well it has taken me a while to sit down to write out my thoughts/feelings about Sunday’s race, but that’s partly because it took me a while to process such a huge experience.

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Mom, me and Jay at the finishing area the day before the race

I was so much more relaxed going into this year’s marathon.  Jay was quite busy gearing up at work, but Mom was here making soup and cookies while I painted my nails purple.  It was all pretty chill until Saturday afternoon.  Then reality, excitement and fear started to settle in.

I didn’t sleep a wink Saturday night.  Jay got up at 3am to head into work and then to the start village where he’d be field-producing the pre-race coverage.  My alarm was set for 5am, at which point I got dressed, made my UCAN breakfast to drink later, looked over my checklist to be sure I didn’t forget anything, and kissed my mom goodbye.  I walked out the door to find an adorable poster attached to the “wet floor” sign in our hallway thanks to my wonderful neighbor.  I flagged a cab to Union Square where I met up with the rest of the Alzheimer’s team for a 5:45am team picture and a 6am departure.  Our friend Amy from out of town hitched a ride with the team, so I had someone to distract me on the ride over.  I ate my over-night oats and stared out the window.  Once in Staten Island, we had to go through several security checks.  One officer was concerned about the chia seeds in my water, saying it looked like metal balls floating in a bottle (because that’s what metal balls do… they float… right.)  We were not permitted to bring any opaque bags, which included trash bags to sit on, so I just had to hide mine in my pocket.  Really, the list of items you could or could not bring totally depended on the security guard that stopped you.

Once in, Amy and I walked over to where ABC was producing their coverage.  Amy used to work at the station, so she was just as eager to see the news crew as I was.  We got hugs of encouragement during a commercial break, and then it was back to business.  Amy left to find the blue section of the village, and I stayed by the ABC staging area because it happened to be in the green section of the village (and I was in Green Wave #1).  At one point I felt a jacket plop down on me from above and looked up to see Jay on the other side of the barrier, headset still on, mouthing ‘keep warm!’  It was pretty chilly and windy out there.

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Amy, Kim, Jay and me at the WABC staging area in the start village

Right before my coral opened, I drank my UCAN and changed my shoes/socks, shedding a few layers and returning Jay’s jacket.  He mouthed from the stage, ‘I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!’ and we waved goodbye.  The corrals were lined with porto-potties and I made two stops for good measure.  Then it was time to line up.  It was cold, but time to strip down to the essentials.  I tried to throw my jacket over to the side of the crowd, but elbowed some woman in the head in the process.  I felt reeeeallly bad about that.

And then I heard, “On your marks, get set, go!”

I said, “That’s it??” and then slowly made my way with hundreds of runners to the start mats.  To my knowledge, there was no clock at the start mats–this proved problematic later.  I had no idea how much time had lapsed since the gun-time, so it was hard to gauge my pace.  The green wave runs on the lower level of the Verrazano Bridge, so I had no satellite reception to help me out.  People following me on their computers had a better sense of how I was running than I did.

I knew my first mile would be slow and my second mile would be fast.  I didn’t try to weave through people.  I just went with the flow and surged when I saw an opening.  It was actually less crowded than I imagined.  And despite rumors that runners on the lower level of the bridge get peed on, I did not see (or feel) any evidence to support the claim.

Coming off the bridge I felt the tongue of my left shoe putting pressure on the top of my foot.  I decided to pull over and adjust, thinking it would be better to lose a few seconds than run uncomfortably 24 miles more.

And then I just ran.  The miles went by quickly.  I was comfortable and kept reminding myself not to go out too fast.  My Garmin would say 8:00 or 7:55 pace, and I’d pull back.  I told myself to save it for Central Park.

Brooklyn gets the prize for best cheering.  The crowds were just awesome.  And the fact that I got to see my friends Becca, Bianca and Nick between miles 11 and 12 gave me something to look forward to and then carry with me.  Every few minutes I’d cross another timing mat and think, ‘Alright friends and family, now you know where I am…’ I especially wondered how Jay was feeling about my splits since he gets concerned as a husband but pushes me as a coach.

At one point I crossed Norman Street in Brooklyn–felt like Aimee was smiling down on me running around the streets of her favorite city.

And then it was time for the Queensboro Bridge.  It’s a beast.  I had run over it twice in the past several weeks, so I was mentally prepared.  Right as I reached the bridge a live band was playing “Eye of the Tiger” and that made me laugh as I started to ascend.  The bridges are the quietest part of the marathon–the only stretches where fans aren’t stacked 5 deep.  But then coming back down the Queensboro bridge, you begin to hear the 1st Ave crowds.  As I ran down the exit ramp, not yet seeing the crowds but hearing them cheer, I blurted out “Holy ****!” It’s that kind of moment.  On 1st Ave I knew my legs were starting to get tired, but also I knew I had less than 10 miles to go.  I started counting the streets as we headed north, knowing I’d see some familiar faces at 88th.

Suddenly my dear friend Tanya was running toward me.  I knew she planned to jump in at 88th, but I was still surprised when it happened.  She had a bib, but it’s just so easy to miss people when you are 1 of millions.  We waved to a bunch of teammates and took off.  Tanya told me my last 5k was a few seconds off pace, so we picked it up.  She filled me in on who had won and how some of our elite friends had fared.  And then she basically distracted, encouraged, and pushed me the rest of the race.  We dedicated miles to my family.  We dedicated miles to her family.  We dedicated miles to things I can’t repeat.  We talked about my Grandma Lucy who I was racing in memory of.  We talked about Tanya’s mother who had purple hair (though she thought it was red) like me.  And really when I say “we talked” I mean I listened to Tanya talk.  She ran ahead to get water or Gatorade for me.  She made me do crazy things like striders (to stretch my legs a bit) and butt kicks (to loosen my quads) and high knees (to make me look silly).  People running near us were probably like ‘who is the girl with so much energy?’ But they didn’t have to wonder for long because while others were slowing down, we were speeding up.

And this is where it gets tricky.  We slowed some on the 3/4 mile slight incline (feels less slight after 20 miles) that is 5th Ave.  Tanya helped me push through by giving me landmarks to strive toward.  Then we turned into the Engineers Gate entrance of Central Park and I knew I was almost home-free.  I run in the park several times a week.  I know every curve, straightaway, up and down.  I was in “lets-do-this” mode.  So Tanya started to pick it up.  It hurt.  But I thought, ‘I can do anything for 3 miles–the faster I run the sooner I’m done.’ And we just kept passing people left and right.  She stopped counting at 50.  At one point she said, “There’s a woman up there with wings on her shoes.”  I looked up and said, “That’s Carol–she’s awesome.”  Tanya ran up beside Carol and said, “I’m running with Lauren.  Come finish with us.”  I caught up and said, “Come with us Carol.”  She smiled and said, “Good job Lauren.”  And we went on.  I knew Carol’s goal was 3:30 and lots of people around us were wearing 3:30 pace bibs as well.  I think Tanya and I both thought we had a BQ in the bag at this point.  Her Garmin was reading sub-8 pace (mine was too, though I didn’t look at it until after the race).  I almost said to her, “We’ve got this, we can cruise in now.”  But I kept quiet and kept pushing.  And we kept getting faster.  We exited at 7th Ave to run along 59th and I could see Columbus Circle up ahead.  “You’re so strong, Lauren.  Give it everything you’ve got!” Tanya said.  We hung a right at the circle and re-entered the park for the home stretch.  I saw the sign for 400 meters, then 300, then 200 (where the shortest and hardest incline of the race is located), then 100… then with arms up in the air and a huge smile, I crossed the finish.  My hips were screaming at me, but I felt amazing.

I walked a few steps, remembered to stop my Garmin, and looked at the screen for the first time in 9 miles.  It said 3:35:11.  I turned to Tanya and said, “My watch has been all over the place, but it’s possible I didn’t break 3:35.”  She pulled out her phone to check my finishing time on the NYCM App… sure enough, 3:35:07.  I threw my arm over her shoulder and said, “Honestly, I didn’t have another 7 seconds in me–If that’s my time, I’m totally happy with it.”  And then she pretty much carried me for a mile of walking, which is impressive if you know how petite Tanya is.

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Some non-creepy stranger took this pic of me leaning on Tanya at the finish

We found Jay, beaming with pride, and then my Mom jumping up and down.  I PR’d by over 16 minutes.  It was an amazing race. A-MAZ-ING.  Truly.

Jay, Mom and I swung by the Team Alzheimer’s after-party for an hour or so before I decided I needed to get off my feet and on the couch.  I soaked in the tub and we ordered take-out from Bare Burger.  The further I got from the race, the more obsessed I became with those 7 seconds.

Monday came and I was up early for class.  Mom had to catch her train back to VA and Jay had to head into work.  Before Jay left I said, “If there happen to be any marathons close by in the next few weeks…” He said, “My wheels are already turning.”

That night I went to the Team Alzheimer’s happy hour to celebrate all we had accomplished together–raising over $435,000 is pretty awesome!  I was especially eager to hear about the races for our several first-timers.  You only get one first marathon.

Talking to the team coaches, we all agreed that I ran a great race but probably went out too conservatively and had too much left in the tank at the finish.  One coach suggested I run the Rohoboth Beach marathon in 4 weeks and even offered to pace me since he’s running it (for fun) anyway.  I texted Jay as I left the bar: “DE in 4 weeks.” He responded, “I know.  Tanya and I talked about it.”  And then proceeded to tell me they’d both go and run with me if I wanted to do it.  With two beers and 3 sliders in my belly, I was feeling confident.  Walking home I pretty much decided my body could handle it, I’m healthy, and it’s sure as heck easier to run another in 4 weeks than it is to train countless hours for a race next year.  I told myself I’d wait till my massage the next day to see if Leslie thought my legs were up to the challenge.

But the next day I woke up and felt differently.  Instead of stewing over 7 seconds, I started to relish in the freedom of no training, no plan, and no goals.  I reflected again on how awesome my race was, how hard I pushed and how happy I was with the results.  I thought more about why the 7 seconds were nagging me and realized it had more to do with whether or not I was measuring up to my friends’ expectations and less to do with my own priorities and expectations.  And as soon as I realized that, I realized just how silly the notion was, knowing that 7 seconds wasn’t going to make a lick of difference to my friends, and those measurements were a figment of my imagination.  By the time Leslie told me my legs were in better shape than anyone she’d seen all week, it didn’t even matter.  I’d already made up my mind to stay thrilled with my race and leave the BQ behind.

Here’s what I know: I wanted to run a race that would make Grandma Lucy proud, and I did that.  I noticed things that made me laugh, I thought about things that gave me courage, I sung songs in my head that she would love.  I ran a huge PR, made new friends that are as passionate about ending Alzheimer’s as I am, and raised a lot of money with a lot of help.  I had a freakin’ blast doing it.  Nothing could top Sunday’s race.

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A super happy runner after a super awesome race!

I also know I need to catch up on some reading before exams arrive.  I need to take a break from running so as not to burn out.  I have a big year ahead of me, full of transition and discernment.  And I have some other dreams to chase after.

I said Sunday that not qualifying for Boston meant I could hang up my marathoning shoes.  And that’s very true.  But while I meant “for good” when I said it, I know there’s a good chance I’ll run another some day.  And if I want to run Boston, I’ll do what I’ve always done and run for charity.  Some people need a BQ.  I need a cause.  It’s the cause that makes me lace up my shoes on days I want to sleep in, not the PR.  So who knows… the world isn’t going to run out of causes any time soon, so I won’t likely run out of miles.

Till then, it’s been real.  Thank you Team Alzheimer’s.  Thank you friends and strangers along the course.  Thank you friends, family and strangers who donated to end the disease that stole my Grandma.  Thank you UA coaches and teammates.  Thank you Brian and Glen for your wisdom and perspective.  Thanks SMST Church for the posters that I missed.  Thanks Keegan and Kaylee for the home videos of support.  Thank you Tanya for inspiring and pacing me in the race of a lifetime.  Thanks Mom for coming up, cooking, and keeping me calm the way only a mom can.  And thanks Jay for coaching me through a very difficult semester and loving me through it all–you’re my biggest cheer leader and I can’t wait to be yours again in April (slash every day of our lives).

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Marathon Pre-Cap

The butterflies have officially set in.  This time tomorrow I’m hoping to write a race re-cap, but thought it might be interesting to begin with a pre-cap so I have a benchmark of sorts. 

All week I’ve been comparing this year to last year…

Last year I was nervous about running 26.2 for the first time.  This year I know I can finish.  I feel like I trained harder last year, but that’s because training was so new.  This year I feel like I trained about the same amount, but I know I’m stronger and more comfortable.  Last year I was nursing hamstring tendonitis.  This year my body is healthy.  Last year I was mourning the very recent loss of a dear friend in whose memory I was running, so emotions were high.  This year I’m running in memory of my Grandmother, whose loss I have been grieving for years and years as Alzheimer’s stole her away slowly.  It’s different.  And perhaps most significantly, last year I ended up running a race two weeks later than the one I trained for.  This year I am on schedule and sleeping in my own bed with power, heat, and hot water, and no fear of angry bystanders throwing objects at me on the course. 

My goal is to run 3:34:50.  That would be a BQ for me.  The number sounds doable when I look at all my other races and workouts.  Mentally I know I should be able to do this.  BUT 3:34:50 means running 26.2 miles at 8:12 pace, and that sounds crazy.  I just can’t comprehend maintaining that pace–totally boggles the mind.  So I’ll try to focus on the finish time and not dwell on the pace.  Trust the training, trust my beloved coach (as well as my Team Alzheimer’s and UA coaches–I’ve got a lot of support!), trust the race-day magic.

Tomorrow’s main objective is to have fun and run a race that my Grandmother would be proud of.  I know she’d rather I take in the full NYC Marathon experience than beat myself up over pace, so I promise to honor her in that.  Team Alzheimer’s doesn’t take the idea of a “Run to Remember” lightly, and neither do I. 

Time for bed.  Early start to a long day awaits.  Tucking myself in with lots of prayers and love I am feeling from near and far.

Goodnight, and GodSPEED!

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Lucy’s Marathon

When my alarm went off this morning, I didn’t want to wake up. I thought of several reasons to stay in bed.  But one reason finally compelled me to get out of bed and lace up my shoes–my grandmother.
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My grandma Lucy died the summer before I started seminary, just two months before Jay and I were married.  The quintessential church lady, grandma was a Sunday school teacher, Bible study leader, youth coordinator, president of the United Methodist Women, and was once given a Lay Pastoral Care Award.  So when grandma reminded us repeatedly that she prayed for each one of us by name every night, even after Alzheimer’s started to claim her brain, we believed her.  I remembered this right around mile 4 of my run this morning as the sun finally peaked through a series of sky scrapers in lower Manhattan, spilling light onto my path and my face.  Even after my grandmother’s death, I still feel her prayers.

Just as my grandmother’s prayers continue to touch my life, so does her legacy with Alzheimer’s disease.  When my grandmother was living, she shared with others the implications of her disease.  She participated in the Texas Alzheimer’s Research Consortium at Texas Tech University.  And in her death, she donated her brain to the Brain Bank program for further research. 

Yesterday I registered for the NYC Marathon… again. Last year I trained for the NYC Marathon while raising over $6,000 for the Colon Cancer Coalition in memory of my friend Aimee.  The marathon was cancelled when hurricane Sandy hit, so I ran the Charlotte Thunder Road Marathon in Aimee’s hometown instead.  It was amazing.  The love and support for Aimee and me carried me to the finish line and still brings tears to my eyes.  And yet, I didn’t get to run the marathon I’d trained for.  So when I was given the opportunity again to run the world’s biggest marathon, I knew that a) I would run it, and b) I’d run it for my grandma. 

I’ve teamed up with the Alzheimer’s Association to make this a “Run to Remember.”  My goal is to raise $100 for every mile, $2,620 all together.  You can join me in this cause by donating online or via snail mail, or by sharing this cause with friends and family.  100% of the funds raised will go to the Alzheimer’s Association advancing research, prevention, treatments, education and care. 
And if by chance we break $5,000 again this year, I’ll dye (part of) my hair purple leading up to the race. I know there are a lot of good causes out there, but if by chance you knew and loved my grandmother Lucy, or if you know someone else affected by this crippling disease, or if you just want to see what I look like with purple hair, please join us in this run to remember.  Your support changes lives. 

Join my team and learn more here: http://act.alz.org/goto/lauren-ingnyc

Thanks for your support!  Go team LUCY!

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when you can’t sleep, blog.

I got a call from one of my friends back in Lexington who writes for our local paper.  He was hoping I could answer some questions about the Boston Marathon, but I was in the “quiet car” on Amtrak and had to ignore his call.  I emailed him my account of Jay’s and my experience on Monday–writing about it helped.  So now I’m sharing the same with you, with some added reflections.

Jay finished the marathon 2 hours before the blasts. We had already gone back to our apartment to shower and were heading out the door for lunch when one of Jay’s friends called and said, “What’s going on?! There were two explosions at the finish!” Jay immediately called the station, but nothing had hit the wires yet. He started making his way to the scene to find out what was going on. People were flooding toward the Commons and he just started asking questions. “It sounded like a bomb.” “At first I thought maybe it was a cannon or fireworks.” “Lots of blood.” “People missing limbs.” “I can’t find my family.” etc. One of Jay’s journalist friends in Boston called him and said not to get any closer–and to tell the rest of us all to stay indoors. Jay was able to track down his chief meteorologist who had been cheering at mile 25 for his brother. Lee’s brother finished just before the explosions, and finally they were able to find each other–all safe. Jay ended up doing live hits from his iPhone, which is pretty amazing.

Meanwhile I had gone to an apartment of a friend who I knew was finishing around the time of the blast. She wasn’t back yet, but we got word she was ok. Then I went back to our apartment where family friends of ours were also staying. Our phones weren’t working well, so we were texting friends to make sure they were safe until we accounted for everyone. We texted family to let them know we were ok. Social media helped a lot. One of our friend’s husbands was in class at Harvard Law School, so we were very concerned about the news of explosions at JFK Library (later said not to be explosions). The friends at my apartment went back to their place in Cambridge, but I stayed in the apartment waiting for Jay. We were told to stay off the streets as news reported undetonated bombs had been located. This was later found to be untrue. Eventually I got antsy and decided it was safe for a walk. I walked through Boston Commons–it was quiet and peaceful, but police trucks lined Charles. I saw two women on a park bench still in their running clothes. They were stopped before they could finish the race, and now they couldn’t get into their hotel. A local woman asked if there was anything she could do to help them. I started walking to where Jay was working in South End. Ambulances lined Columbus–just waiting. Police and dogs were everywhere. It was eerie to look down Boylston–empty. I found Jay and we tried to grab a bite to eat, but half the places were closed and the other half were starting to run out of food. It was 9:45pm. Jay’s station had sent a satellite truck up by then, so he stayed to field produce the 11, and got home around 11:45. I don’t know how he ran a 2:37:55 marathon and then worked 9 hours. I think he’s just working off adrenaline right now. He’ll be there field producing for the next day or two, depending on how things unfold. I’m on my way home. It’s hard to leave him behind, but today is less scary–more confusing and sad.

As runners, we’re still in shock. The explosions occurred at the same time the average male marathoner finishes. I don’t know if the bomber knew that, but 4:10 is that average finish time. Running is such a positive sport of camaraderie and support. We cheer each other on–even the competition. Runners often run for a cause–for charity or to overcome an obstacle or to honor a loved one. Now we have one more cause to run for.

This was Jay’s 3rd Boston, 6th marathon. All marathons are special, but Boston certainly has a unique feel to it. Even I have inklings of qualifying someday just to experience the awe and the energy of the event. It’s just so unbelievable. We can’t help but be angry, confused and heartbroken.

Three things keep coming to mind:

1. Jay had to surpass many obstacles just to get to the start line this year.  He’s been battling hamstring tendonitis for 6 weeks, which he felt through the entire race.  He’s been unable to sleep for several weeks.  But I kept saying to him, “Monkey, you’re going to be fine.  There’s no way this race could be worse than last year.”  And really, I didn’t see how anything could be harder than his beast of a run at last year’s Boston Marathon in 90-degree heat.  I didn’t fathom the unfathomable.  I can’t believe I said that.

2. I was cheering on Boylston, not far from the second explosion.  I was there with my friends, including a friend’s young son in a stroller.  I just can’t believe we were standing there next to something so lethal, feeling nothing but celebration and elation.  People keep saying, “I’m so glad Jay is such a fast runner.  It’s so good to see you in one piece.”  I hear what they’re saying and I hear the love in it, but I don’t know how to feel about it.

3. When I saw Jay at mile 26, he looked awful.  He did give me a thumbs up to let me know he saw me (a first at Boston–he usually can’t hear/spot me in the crowd despite my loud self)… but he looked like he always does after 26 miles of speed and endurance–like he’s about to fall apart.  So after I screamed his name and waved my cowbell, I bolted to the bag check where I knew I’d find him.  It’s about a 7 minute run as you snake through crowds and loop around the barricades, and I can always feel my phone vibrating with text messages: “Is he ok? Is he pleased?”  But I ignored the texts until I ran to where I knew he’d be.  I just wanted to know he was ok.  I couldn’t help but feel a bit of panic in that 7-minute run to find my husband.  So I cannot imagine the panic and anguish people were feeling just two hours later, running every which direction, trying to locate loved ones.  The feeling is too big for me to bear.

So that’s our story according to me.  I am sure that Jay will have his own version which he will write eloquently about once he has time to decompress (if his work lets him).  It’s been a very hard 36 hours.  And it’s even harder to put into words. 

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Tips for Turkey

Today’s tours were cut short by lots and lots of rain and thunderstorms. We did make it to Assos where Paul was at least twice, meeting Luke once. Aristotle was also there. And you can see the island of Lesbos across the way, from which we get the word “lesbian”… No really!

We missed Alexandria Troas because of the rain.

We made it to Troy, where I visited the model horse of ancient lore, the museum, and the restrooms. I’ll have a better visit sans rain someday with my someday children after we’ve read the Iliad together. Haha.

Since today’s sites were brief, I thought I’d offer vocab lesson.
hello: merhaba
good morning: günaydin
good night: iyi geceler
good bye: güle güle
thank you: tesekkür (the s sounds like sh)
yes: evet
no: hayir (pronounced hire)

There’s no use in learning “how much?” or “how many?” unless you know all your numbers too.

$1 is about 1.76 Turkish Lira

Tip is generally 10%

If you are a lady in line for the restrooms and don’t mind using a hole in the ground, you can cut in line. Sometimes you have to pay 1TL to use the restroom.

There are cats and dogs everywhere and they are very friendly, well mannered, and well cared for. Those of us with pets back home have been grateful for the love these animals offer us at the sites.

I’ll add to this list later if I think of more tips…

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Silly Romans

Our guide, Gülin, told us that someone once asked on one of her tours, “Why did the Romans build so many ruins?” (Chuckle…)

After five days of visiting ~15 ruins, we find ourselves facetiously asking the same question. But the cool thing about seeing one Hellenistic/Roman/Byzantine site after another is that you really start to picture where the church was born—not just the Christian parts, but the whole of society that early Christians took part in. It’s like going from translating English to Spanish one word at a time, to thinking in Spanish. I can feel my mind starting to “think in” Early Christianity.

In the past two days we have been to:
Pamukkale the “cotton cliffs” of mineral deposits and thermal pools.
Hierapolis 2km of tombs in a necropolis on the hillside… As strange as it sounds, playing around in this graveyard was one of my favorite stops yet!
Sardis the first place to mint coins, biggest synagogue up until the Jews were driven out in 600CE, most grand “YMCA” we’ve seen (and we’ve seen a lot!)
Temple of Artemis not to be confused with the Artemisian temple from Saturday.
Acropolis at Pergamon the most magnificent view of the Turkish countryside from the highest ruins—just amazing. It was especially cool to hear simultaneous calls to prayer from 5-10 minarets in the village below echoing off the mountains.
Asklepion with healing waters and a temple to the God of Health (of course I had a sip…)
The Red Hall a church with Egyptian influence.

And something purely cultural we did today… A visit to a rug making co-op in Bergama. We watched how they make wool yarn, how they make silk threads, how they make various colors of dye, how they weave different types of rugs—it was amazing. I wish my dad could have been there with me. I bought a rug that I think Jay and I will hang on the wall of our next home. What a day.

And now I’m sitting in our hotel along the Aegean Sea, ready for bed.

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Historical imagination & imaginary history

Here are some useful things to keep in mind while visiting ruins anywhere…

There are three approaches to excavating:
1. When you find something, leave it as it is.
2. When you find something, try to reconstruct it using your research and imagination.
3. When you find something, dig it all up to see if there are older or more valuable ruins beneath it.

We have seen evidence of all three approaches in the past few days. In Ephesus we saw some Byzantine ruins, but most of them had been ripped up to get to Roman ruins beneath. My professor who used to work on that site said that she recalls reading the journals in German and seeing the phrase, “then we brought in the bulldozers…” Ugh! So much history gained, but so much lost.

And then there’s the bit about using your imagination. We all do this every time we come to a site with only bits and pieces of buildings. But we can get carried away with our imaginations too. Today we went to a site in Laodicea where archeologists are making what seem to be wild claims. If they are correct, we just saw the earliest church known to humanity. And that would be awesome. I’m glad I saw it. The oldest church we’ve uncovered thus far dates late 400’s, this one claims to be 312. Discoveries like this take time, and the archeologists at Laodicea seem to be in a rush to finish. My hope is that they don’t get sloppy in their rush. In any case, it was especially cool to see a site being actively excavated and to get any idea of the work that goes into it.

Imagination comes into play in our spirituality as well. Yesterday’s trip to the House of the Virgin Mary, for instance—did Mary really spend her final days there? Catholics say yes, Orthodox say no. But whether she did or not, the place is religiously significant and spirit-filled based based on the millions who have made pilgrimages there, prayed there, been changed there.

So come to Turkey with a healthy dose of academic skepticism, but don’t let it close you off to the real wonders that have been and still are.

PS Aphrodesia was an amazing site as well—both because the ruins give you an especially vivid idea of what a typical Roman city looked like, and because the vistas are breathtaking.

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Emphasis on Ephesus

Today was a very full day in Ephesus. But one thing Ephesus was not full of: people. Turns out there are some perks to visiting Turkey in the winter!

We started at the Church of Mary–where it is thought the Third Ecumenical Council in 431 CE took place. The third council is where Bishops agreed on the title Theotokos or “God bearer” for Mary. There happens to be a great baptistry there as well that a few of us took turns getting into.

Next we walked up the “Harbor Road” from the harbor uphill into the town. It’s truly amazing to behold. You can see where stalls and shops would have been and just imagine the hustle and bustle of antiquity. A great theater seating 25,000 sits atop the hill. It may be the largest outdoor theater in the world. The scope is just breathtaking.

Hang a right and you’re on your way to the Roman Library of Celsus, originally constructed in 125 CE. This library would have housed 12,000 scrolls. The architecture is magnificent.

From the library the road goes up another hill, lined once again with shops and such. On the left side of the road is an extremely well preserved latrine. One of the few places our professor said she could be sure Paul visited, ha. Jay asked why such a thing would be preserved, and I can tell you that you’d understand why if you saw it. There must have been 40+ latrines lining the periphery of this single room at one time. Can you imagine all those men pooping together? And that was only the men that could afford it! How strange.

Across the street from the latrines is the entrance to some magnificent ruins of terraced houses. These houses are still being excavated, so they are covered from the elements (shielding us from the rain too!) It is so cool to see a live worksite. One of our professors worked on this very site back in 2009, so she was a wealth of information. I took particular interest in the eating areas since that is what I’m studying while I am here, but I’ll write more on that later when I have pictures handy.

Walking further up the road, we passed a number of bath houses. What is it about the Greco-Romans and their gyms and baths? It’s like a YMCA on every corner!

We saw another smaller theater for official announcements and the victorious goddess of Nike. We saw statues with crosses on the accompanying inscriptions indicating their Christian faith. We saw sheep on the hillsides and caves. It was like a 3-D backdrop to the Bible. So cool.

We stopped for a late lunch of home cooked food–the cook was expecting us. I bought her cookbook it was so good. Lamb meatballs, okra, spinach, chicken, beans, eggplant, stuffed peppers, yogurt, fried cauliflower, more eggplant, and some dessert made out of crushed walnuts and cinnamon. And apple tea.

Next we swung by the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Only one column remains of it now.

And finally we made our way to the House of the Virgin Mary–believed by Roman Catholics and others to be where Mary lived out her final days after John brought her to Ephesus. The Eastern Orthodox do not believe this to be where Mary lived, but people of many faith traditions make pilgrimage there regardless. I can say I was moved. I lit two candles and I bought two blue Mary medallions which I dipped in the Holy spring waters outside the house. (Spoiler alert, Mom… I knew you’d want one!)

A great day that will stick with me forever. Now if I can only get some sleep!

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Turkey: first impressions

After 24 hours of airplanes, airports, and buses, we arrived to Yeni Hitit Hotel in Selçuk Thursday evening. Everything is lovely and cold.

The lovely: Our guide Gülin (pronounced Goo-leen). Our warm Mercedes bus. Our slightly gentrified (I mean that in the best way–think of all the life experiences I can learn from!) group of 33 interesting people. Our two professors from back home. The people here. The food. The countryside. The sunset last night. The naps. The sites.

The cold: Sleeping in socks, pants, long sleeve shirt. Two wool blankets. Heat on full force (but windows and walls as breezy as the seminary). Turning the hair dryer on while using the bathroom. Standing in the cold rain, walking in the cold rain, grateful for respites on the warm bus.

Supper last night consisted of a soup with some kick to it, beets, couscous, yogurt with some dark red paste, broccoli, lettuce & tomato, potatoes, small tasty meatballs, cooked spinach, rice, chicken, and chocolate pudding. Then I asked for the sage tea, which was a simple sprig of sage with some lemon slices and hot water. Beautiful!

Breakfast this morning included homemade goat cheese, yogurt with fig compote, hard and soft boiled eggs, rolls, hot chocolate and tea. There were other items, but that was my selection!

Both breakfast and supper are served buffet style at our hotel.

We loaded up our bus at 8:30am and made our way to Miletus. It is crazy to think that the roads we are driving on used to be covered by the sea. The ruins we saw at Miletus were once on a peninsula surrounded by water. We walked around a Greco-Roman theater (4C BC), read Greek inscriptions, saw Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman structures from a single vantage point. We used our imaginations a lot.

Next we headed to Didyma (or Priene) for a visit and lunch. The ruins of the Temple to Apollos are unique architecturally, but typical in other ways. You could tell that the temple was unfinished (even though it was used) because of certain non-fluted columns, inscriptions in some of the stones indicating which quarry they had been brought from (these would have been smoothed out), and knobs on some of the stones that would have been used to pull them from the quarry. It was not unusual to leave a temple unfinished, as funds would sometimes run out–not unlike today! We did not get any word from the oracle.

We had lunch in a cafe facing the ruins: roasted zucchini squash and tomato, salad, and whole fish. My fish was twice the size of my plate!

I slept on the bus as we made our way back to Ephesus (Selçuk, where we are staying, is right next to Ephesus). We’ll spend more time in Ephesus tomorrow, but today we just stopped by the Basilica of St. Jean (St. John) 4C BC. Legend has it that John, the Beloved disciple, brought the Blessed Virgin to Ephesus after the resurrection of Jesus. John’s remains are believed to be at the basilica–so supposedly I saw those today. Many people have made pilgrimages here for that reason! My favorite part was the baptistry–which I’ll have to sketch out at some point. Father Malloy would have approved.

Tomorrow we are in Ephesus all day. I’m hoping it will be warmer and dryer, but it’s not looking likely.

Other random things of note: solar water heaters on every roof, orange trees, olive trees, wind turbines, paying for restrooms, minarets and calls to prayer, lots of happy dogs and a guy with a trunk-full of sardines.

That’s a wrap for our first day of touring about.

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Marathon Run-down (and up and down and up)

If you want to skip the full race recap, here’s the story: we finished the race (I say “we” because I had a lot of help) in 3:51:50 after raising $6,207 to fight colon cancer in Aimee’s honor.  In other words–WE WON!

And now, for the longer version…

I flew down to Charlotte Thursday night so that I could have Friday to rest up, carb up, and visit friends.  I was especially excited to be staying with my friends Sloan and Jamie and their baby girl Ruthie.  Babies change so fast!  So I spent a lot of time just watching Ruthie play, sleep, eat, and grow.

One day Ruthie will use this picture to argue her way into blue hair, I'm sure.

One day Ruthie will use this picture to argue her way into blue hair.

Friday morning Sloan and I were out the door at 9am, but the expo didn’t open until 10am, so we decided to drive the last 18 miles of the marathon course.  The first thing we noticed was a sign near mile 8 for some girl named “Lauren” to “kick butt.”  I decided to pretend it was for me–even if it wasn’t.

Driving the second half of the course was good because I was only familiar with the first half (which I ran in 2010), but it was a little overwhelming too.  Are we there yet?

Finally, at the expo, we picked up our gear.  Sloan stood in line for the half, I stood in line for the full.  My first full.  Sloan is the girl who got me to sign up for my first 10k after I insisted I could never run 6+ miles, so this was a bit of a role reversal.  I can tell you that Sloan will be running her own full marathon one day, and I hope to be there with her.

It’s no secret that the Thunder Road expo has been going down hill in a town where every race ends up hill.  What used to take up the whole of the convention center now takes up a conference room at a hotel.  It’s sad.  Charlotte has a great running community and beautiful streets to run on, but not much corporate backing or city support.  I bought a shirt that said “flat is for sissies” and we moved on… only to be charged $5 for parking as we left.  Seems the Queen City needs to work on her charm!

I hit up the weekly runners’ lunch at Burger Co. next.  Like I said, Charlotte has a great running community.  And the fact that I can show up at noon on any given Friday and find a table full of runners chowing down is proof of that.  It was good to catch up with some old faces and meet some new ones.

Next I dropped off “Team LAUREN & Aimee” t-shirts with Aimee’s husband John and daughter Katie.  John and Katie flew up to NYC two weeks ago for the marathon-that-wasn’t.  They caught 4 shows in 3 days, so it was a successful weekend despite the lack of marathoning.  It was a special treat to see them twice in 2 weeks.  Back in the day I would see Aimee every day at work, John every week at church, and the girls 1-2 times a week between church and weekly coffee dates.  You could say I miss them a lot.

Back at Sloan’s I finished off a muffin and took a little nap.  We played with Ruthie until it was time for her dinner, followed by bath time–babies love bath time!  Jay called while Ruth was bathing to see if I had eaten properly and to check on how I was feeling.  He said he was meeting up with a teammate at 6:15 the next morning to get his run in before the race start so he could track me online.  We were both pretty upset he couldn’t follow me in person.  Stupid work.

Once Ruthie was down, it was time to feast on fresh spinach pasta from my favorite local pasta spot.  I ate two servings.  Sloan and I decided we’d be safe drinking one glass of red wine.  I’m glad we did because it cut through the nerves and sent me straight to sleep.

I woke up 10 minutes before my 5:45am alarm went off.  I walked downstairs to see Sloan was already making coffee.  We ate some breakfast, took turns going to the bathroom “one more time,” put on our race duds, and hit the road.  Jay called, but was hurried on the phone, “Got to go run!  I’ll be back before you start!”  I turned to Sloan and said, “This is so hard on him.”

Sloan parked 1/2 mile from the start and we jogged over.  We spotted the Westin on the way and decided it would be much warmer to wait in there (not to mention real bathrooms!) until bag check.  Yes–NYRR–even our little marathon down in Charlotte has a bag check.

Then we huddled at the start and I kept seeing people I knew, hugging them, clapping, bouncing, checking to see if my garmin was ready, praying, thinking of Jay, talking to Sloan, finally: BANG.  Or maybe it was a BEEP.  I don’t remember, but we were off.  Sloan had said she wanted to run 9 minute pace, but I thought she could run faster.  I didn’t say so because I didn’t want to pressure her.  I was aiming for 8:47 pace to hit a 3:50 finish.  We knew the first mile was downhill.  We knew we needed to reign it in.  We felt like we were reigning it in.  We ran the first mile in 8:03.  Oops!  The next few miles were also fast: 8:29, 8:20, 8:24–Sloan stayed with me the whole time.  We saw Lori and Ashley at mile 2.  Miss Anne at 3.25, followed by Liza and her family.  At mile 3.5 we turned left onto Providence Road, right in front of Christ Church.  There we saw a crowd of people cheering, some holding posters that my kids at St. Matthew & St. Timothy had made.  I saw John and Katie, waved and “YAYed” at everyone, felt the love, and kept moving.  I heard John yell after me, “Kick butt Lauren!”  I gave a thumbs up.

Feeling pretty chipper at mile 2 with Sloanie!

Feeling pretty chipper at mile 2 with Sloanie!

Climbing the long gradual hill up Providence, we slowed to 8:52.  We saw Paul, Lisa, Emily and Sophie at the top before hanging a right.  We winded through Foxcroft, running 8:35, 8:49, 8:48.  During that stretch we saw Tom  and Anne Carol cheering and we crossed the 10k mat together.  Every time I saw a familiar face or heard my name being yelled out, I would turn, smile and wave.  Unbeknownst to Jay, I had sent out a plea to all our friends in Charlotte to send pictures, videos, and updates to Jay.  I wanted him to be inundated with images and words so that he would feel like he was right there.  When I crossed the 10k mat, I thought of Jay at home, looking at his computer, seeing that first split pop up.  I thought, ‘He’s either going to think I’m going too fast, or he’s going to hope I went out with the 3:45 pace group.’

As we exited Foxcroft, Sloan said she was going to hang back, and for me to go on.  She’d run over half her race under her pace, and I was pretty confident she’d finish faster than she thought–but I gave her a challenging nudge to make sure she didn’t lose steam.  She yelled out after me, “Special treat at mile 18!!”  I figured she was talking about the extra Gu’s she’d have to hand me at that point.  I also knew our friend Emily was going to hop in to keep me company at mile 18.  Next 10 miles were just me.

Or so I thought.  At mile 9 (8:31) I saw Jamie and Ruthie, taking pictures, cheering, eager to see their wife/mom Sloan.  I said, “She’s right behind me, she’s running great!” Next I saw Dexter, Eden, Carolyn, I can’t remember everyone.  Love all those friendly Charlotte faces.  Heading down Queens Road to mile 10 (8:38) I was taking in how beautiful the trees are on that familiar stretch… when I noticed a familiar figure wearing familiar orange shorts and a familiar orange hat, sporting a “Team Lauren & Aimee” shirt.  Jay.  All at once I thought, ‘What the HECK??’ and, ‘Well, of course he’s here.’  The crowds were going wild (at least it sounded that way to me) as Jay jumped into the race with me, matching my strides with a huge grin on his face.  Our friends Farrell, Lori, Ashley, Liza, Skye and others were all jumping up and down. The pictures are priceless (thanks to Lori).

Surprise!  Jay jumps in at mile 10.

Surprise! Jay jumps in at mile 10.

Jay said, “How are you doing?”

“Okay, a little ahead of pace.  How did you get here?”

“Tara is covering.”

And then Jay told me the whole story of how he and Tara were chatting Friday night while he was working.  She essentially said it’s ridiculous that he couldn’t be in Charlotte to cheer me on (Tara is a marathoner as well) and offered to take his Saturday shift.  So at 7pm Friday night, Jay booked a plane ticket for 6:15 the next morning.  It was a welcome surprise to us both–and most of Charlotte, for that matter, as people who had intended to snag pictures to send to Jay were instead yelling out, “Hey Jay!  You made it!!”  When it comes to the running community in Charlotte, I sometimes feel like I married a local celebrity.

My next few miles with Jay slowed to 8:39, 853, 8:53, 8:40.  At the time I figured I gave myself some slack for the climb up Morehead.  But I think I was also pulling back, worried that I would speed up with Jay (as I often do) and regret it later.  Just before the half-marathon mat, the 3:45 pace group came up from behind us.

Jay said, “You’re in front of the 3:45 pace group!”

“I know.”

“Listen–I want you to run with them Lauren.  If you feel like you can, I want you to match their pace…” and then he started listing off familiar names of people in the group.

“I’m going to stick to my own pace, Jay.  If it were mile 18, maybe.  But 13 is too early for me to chase after them and find I’ve got no gas in the tank later.”

“Ok.  That’s totally fine.”

At this point the group was surrounding us and Jay was chatting it up with everyone.  I hung back, which I think slowed my pace a bit that mile too–my deliberateness.  We saw my dad and Annabelle, waved and smiled, and then Jay dropped out at mile 14 so he could watch some friends finish and make it to various points on the course.

Miles 14-18 were on my own.  They were marked by several things.  First, the half-marthoners were no longer running with us, so the crowd thinned out considerably.  Second, I was actually relieved to have some time to myself since I had barely had two moments to think about what we were actually doing–running a race to honor Aimee’s memory and to fight the disease that killed her.  Third, it started getting really windy.  Like blow-you-over-sideways windy.  I thought, oh, this will pass.  But it didn’t.  The wind kept on coming and coming and coming.  At one point, my Get Your Rear In Gear hat blew off.  I turned to grab it, but it blew further away.  I kept on running.  Seconds later a teenage boy ran up beside me, “Is this your hat?”  I was glad to have it back.  I saw Jay with Tyler and Denise at mile 15 (8:36), Lori and Ashley at mile 16 (8:57), met another New York runner at mile 17 (8:43), and was met with loud cheers at mile 18 (8:48) where Sloan, Jamie, Ruthie, Jocelyn, Liza, and I don’t even know who else were cheering.  Sloan gave me the extra Gu’s I needed to finish the course.  This was apparently where she thought Jay would surprise me (hence her clue that I’d be getting a special treat at mile 18), but he had jumped the gun on that!

My friend Emily jumped in with me at this point, and I would have been lost without her.  Emily and I used to run together every Tuesday.  We have shared joys, sorrows, drama and life lessons over the years.  And I don’t mean that in a “she’s one of my closest friends” kind of way.  Emily and I don’t call each other up and share this stuff.  We only share it when running.  Emily is a running buddy–a special class of friends that all runners have.  Running buddies are people you probably wouldn’t know if you didn’t run together.  They are not just a matter of convenience, things are shared on runs that aren’t shared in other spaces.  There’s something to it, and it’s special.  But the low-maintenance nature of a running buddy relationship lends itself to picking up where you left off, even if you left off 3 months ago.  Emily is dating a really special guy now, one who has been in the picture for a while, so I was eager to hear all her updates while barely having the breath to respond as we fought the headwind on the back course.  We clicked off a 9:03, 8:53, but it was at mile 21 when we clicked a 9:24 that I knew I would not break 3:50.  And I was totally ok with it.  I turned to Em and said, “I feel like we’re running 8:30’s, but we’re at almost 9:30!”  She said, “I know.  You’ve got this.”  And I knew I would finish, even though I didn’t feel like I would finish, in part because Emily said so.

And this is where the marathon is a mental exercise.  This is where you have to be tough.  Because you’re not sure how you’re going to make it to the finish, but you know that you must.  I had some “do it for Aimee” moments in my head, but I otherwise found it hard to think about anything other than putting one foot in front of the other.  I handed off my arm warmers to Liza at mile 22 (9:15), Jay joined us on a bike at mile 23 (9:04).  I said, “Monkey, I’m not going to break 3:50.”  “It’s ok, you’re doing great.”  We ran up Hawthorn hill at mile 24 (9:17), which isn’t as bad as it looks.  At this point I was sick of Gu’s and was craving Gatorade instead–something I never drink on long runs.  We saw Lori and Ashley at mile 25 (9:16), “You’re there!  You did it!  You ran a marathon!”  (They were closer to mile 26 than I’m letting on, and they had also seen me at my worst around mile 22).  I smiled, but didn’t have the energy to wave or cheer, despite what we were about to accomplish.

Emily ducked out at mile 26 (8:13… I always speed up at the end) “It’s all you now.”  And I ran uphill to the finish, since every race in Charlotte must end on an incline, hearing my name, hearing so many voices I couldn’t pick them out… I did see Larry and even managed to give Kathy a weak “high five” as I passed.  But all I remember in those last few steps was watching the yellow leaves pass beneath my feet, thinking I just wanted to get to the finish as fast as I could, realizing why Jay never sees me cheering for him near the end of a marathon (total tunnel vision sets in), and at the last second remembering to throw my hands up as I crossed the mat.

TR finish

Finished! 3:51:50 chip time.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to do or how I was going to feel after I finished, but I didn’t even have time to give it a thought.  As soon as I crossed my friend Caitlin was right beside me, “I just walked in through the barricade!  I just let myself in!  You can’t do that in New York!!” I leaned on her whether I needed to or not.  I just leaned, grateful she was right there in my moment of “what now?”

And then we all got together.  Jay, my dad and Annabelle, Sloan, Jamie and Ruthie, Caitlin and Garrett, and countless Charlotte Runners that have made the Queen City our home.  Jay put my pants on my legs the way I do when he finishes a marathon–the tables had turned.  We walked back toward the car half a mile away.  I called my mom as I walked.  Jay and Sloan kept looking back at my slow-going-wobble and laughed.

I have to say, as grand as finishing my first marathon was, I wasn’t overcome with emotion as I thought I would be.  I had visions of collapsing on the ground in tears.  Maybe that would have happened someplace else, but it was impossible in Charlotte.  I had people like Lori, who was always two weeks ahead of me in training for her first marathon, blazing the way, and then right there on the course (all over the course!) on my race day.  People like Farrell, who picked Jay up from the airport at the last moment, and then ran with her two little kids across the street to cheer me on in the last mile (thank goodness a cop was there stopping traffic!)  People of Christ Church, especially John and Katie, who will always have an Aimee-shaped void in their hearts, even as she continues to live through each of us.  People like Sloan, who are the personification of the ever-cheesy Bette Midler song “Wind Beneath My Wings” because she is always there without making any show of it.  And it wasn’t until I was soaking in Epsom salt after the race, a quiet moment to myself, that this wave of gratitude–for our friends in New York and our friends in Charlotte, my family and my coaches, my husband especially, the cloud of witnesses that brought me across the finish–finally washed over me.

We did it.

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