A year of things big and small

One sunny afternoon, on a particularly fantastic run, I began reflecting on everything that changed in 2014; of all the things that amazed me this year. 

Running goals I didn't even know I had were smashed. I surprised myself with a half marathon finish I never expected, I qualified for Boston with a finish time I didn't know I was capable of. Just two months ago I ran 50 miles with a smile on my face and a stronger finish than other races I've run that were a fraction of the distance. 

I'm almost hesitant to say goodbye to this running year, even with the Boston Marathon looming in the near future. Because what happens after that? Everything I ever dreamed I'd do happened in 2014. The next year is an unknown. That leaves me feeling both excited and underwhelmed, in an odd way. I chased a big dream for a long time, so what do I chase now? 

To be determined, I guess. 

Over the summer I said goodbye to a long, long time of living alone, and took a giant leap with Travis. Now we share a home, and it's a great home. Are there times I miss the absolute solitude of living alone, all my things in their places, every mess my own? Absolutely. But, as I told him recently, I can hardly imagine what our relationship was like before we shared a home. Now we also share a lawnmower and a snowblower and groceries and a cat. Shit got real, and I'm proud of us. 

To be clear, Chicken is forever and ever and ever and ever and ever mine. But we all live under the same roof, and he loves her pretty hard, so it's OK for him to stake a claim.

That day, while running, as I thought of all the awesome that rained down this year, I practically cried right there in the middle of my run because that's what I do with all these emotions of mine. They just happen. 

But then I thought of the one scar that completely maimed an otherwise perfect year -- losing my kitty. 

I swear to god, I have not recovered. And, I suppose it's not shocking, but I didn't know I could feel so absolutely deeply for so long. I feel haunted, regularly, by those last few moments in that goddamn little room at the vet clinic.

She bit me, you know. She bit me in a panic just before it all happened. I had to go straight from the vet, still grieving, to urgent care at 8 o'clock on a Monday night, and spend the next seven days on antibiotics to fight off any infection that might take hold in my pinkie, which swelled up like a bitch.

That's what I have to remember about that day.

It all coincided with the move, of course. I went from living alone with my two cats, to a new home, a new life, and one less cat. Ten years of normal wiped away for a new normal. An exciting, but a the same time incredibly tragic, new normal. It was more change than I anticipated, and man, that's been a struggle. 

Add in a dash of winter, a sprinkle of 4 p.m. darkness, a cup of professional unfulfillment, a taste of lost running motivation, and here we are. 

Needless to say, the last couple months have felt like an enormous pile of No Thank You. This isn't new for me. Every year as November hits, I fall into a slump, just with less of the cat factor. This year's been different, though, because I've had to expose it to someone else -- a live-in boyfriend. 

For the majority of my adult life, whenever the winter slump hits, I can hide. Oh, can I hide. On the couch, with my blankets, with my cats, with my solitude, and just ride it out in my own way. No one to answer to, no one to explain to, no one to wonder why I don't want to leave my sweatpants. Ever. Not even a little. Nope, I'm good here, hiding out alone with my television series marathons, thanks. 

So this is new. And it's opened my eyes a little bit. I haven't necessarily liked having to open my eyes, but that's how we grow, right?

I don't even know where I'm going with this other than to hope someone can relate, and together we can feel okay knowing we all feel a little inexplicably miserable sometimes. But that it gets better, and it's okay to lay on the couch and watch six episodes of Sons of Anarchy in a row on a Saturday afternoon.

Wait. That's okay, right?

For me, fortunately, things are beginning to feel brighter. My running mojo is slowly creeping back, for one. It must have been hiding wherever the sun's been hiding for the last six weeks. 

I also had a great job opportunity sneak its way into my attention span (probably between episodes of Sons of Anarchy), and before I knew it, I was offered the job. I stepped way the hell outside of my comfort zone even pursuing the opportunity, and that, alone, did wonders for my outlook. 

So it looks like my year of change will end with one more big one -- the end of my current job, which came to me when I needed it most, and has been my constant for three years. 

But I'm excited that 2015 will start with a new opportunity and a new challenge. I took a chance on myself, and then, hey, look at that. It paid off. It's not often I like to willingly crawl outside of my safe space. In fact, never do I like to do that, let's be real.

So chin up, self. It's a big, bad (and cold and dark) world, and you've just gotta live in it and make it happen. 

Other things of note:

  • I spent the last month 100 percent addicted to the "Serial" podcast, and if anyone wants to road trip to Maryland to visit Adnan in prison and solve a crime, let's go. 
  • Sarah Koenig's voice narrates my inner monologue now, thanks to that addiction.
  • Sons of Anarchy, you guys. Seriously. SERIOUSLY.
  • I've read some great and not-so-great books in the last few weeks, including, but not limited to: Dark Places, Sharp Objects, Looking for Alaska, This is Where I Leave You. 
  • Currently reading: Wild
  • In August I started the 100 Happy Days challenge of taking a photo a day of a happy moment. I loved it so much, I kept it up. Today is day 136.
  • Gave National Novel Writing Month a shot again in November. Made it to about 20,000 words, which is the furthest I've ever gotten. I smell success by about the year 2024.

I'm officially out of bullet points. Cheers to a hell of a year, and even more to a bigger one to come. 

My kitty, my Harley.

As I type this, it's been two months and three days without my kitty. That's compared to the nine years, 11 months and 28 days I had with her. 

"We've got three kittens, you have to take one."

That's phone call I got from my mom on a summer day in 2004 after my parents, somewhat by accident, brought home three kittens from a shelter. As I'm not one to turn down a free kitten, ever in the history of the universe, I brought Harley home to my upper flat in Waukesha on August 1, 2004. 

Boy, was Chicken pissed. So pissed. She'd been my lonely-only kitty for two-and-a-half years by that point, and man, that was okay with her. I kept the new kitten in the bathroom while I was away at work so both cats could safely adjust to the new life, and I'd cry often when I'd realize I upset the balance of the feline universe. 

"I'm sorry, Chicken," I'd say, stroking her soft kitty forehead, while she cowered and growled in my bedroom, aghast at the tiniest, fluffy creature who'd invaded and personally offended her world. "Please love the kitten. It'll be okay."

The aggression and despair lasted about two weeks, until the day Chicken cautiously approached Harley on my bed, sure to eat her. I watched nervously, prepared to intervene when Chicken decided Harley was lunch, not a playmate.

Instead, Chicken gently licked Harley's soft kitty forehead, as if to say, "It's okay, kitten. This can be your safe place, too."

And for nearly ten years, that's what we were -- each other's safe place. My cats became my world. My only constant. Jobs went, apartments went, boyfriends went, friends went. Cats did not go. Harley and Chicken, together, were never best friends, but Harley and Chicken were my best friends. My family. Where there was Krista, there were Krista's cats. They were always there, always mine.

I haven't been dubbed a cat lady for no reason.

Harley was like an additional appendage. I'd say, often, that if she could crawl actually inside my skin, she'd have done it. She wanted my attention at all times, regardless of any other thing happening around us. In my lap, in my face, tucked into my arm, under the blanket, nuzzled into my neck, under my shirt, wherever she could crawl into.

Her personality was so goddamn big. There was so much personality in that one cat who was so small. The mischief in those giant green eyes never wavered. She wanted in your glass of milk, in your bowl of soup, on your laptop, in your purse, on the kitchen table, and back into my lap. Always in my lap.  

I miss that fucking cat in my lap. And in my face. And on my table. And in my glass of milk. And on my laptop. Everywhere. She was everywhere and now she's nowhere and that void is gigantic.

The void is in my home, in my heart, in my clothes, where I'll occasionally find one of her ever-fading hairs. The void is in the stupid water fountain I purchased just for her that still sits, running, in the room where she was, even though Chicken won't touch it with a 10-foot pole. The void is in the crook of my arm when I sleep and in my lap while I eat and in the cat toys that Chicken won't touch, but Harley loved. 

Harley's favorite fuzzy glitter ball now sits next to her picture on a shelf, which is next to the clay impression of her paw print, which is the only physical evidence I have left of her, other than those ever-fading cat hairs on my clothes.

A fuzzy glitter ball, a photo, a paw print, and the most broken of hearts that has a cat-sized hole in the middle of it.

I have a distinct memory from all those years ago, when Chicken was still a clumsy, sassy kitten, of realizing, "Wow, cats live so long! I'm going to have this cat until well into my thirties. THIRTIES! This is going to be the greatest, longest adventure."

Yet here I sit, at 32, understanding that already one of those great, long adventures has come to a close. Ten years wasn't long enough. The very first pets you have on your own, your very own, are everything. You love them, you spoil them, you feed them, you care for them, you let them melt into your heart. But what I didn't prepare for was the moment you realize you loved, spoiled, fed, cared, melted as much as you could, and now you have to say goodbye. 

I didn't talk about Harley's messy health here because I didn't like to accept Harley's messy health. Not my baby kitty, no way. In the end, it was cancer. It was kidneys. It was everything. It was the look in her big green eyes that was no longer mischief. 

In her last months, I was it for her. She got along with no one, nothing. Not Chicken. Not Travis. Not anyone. Just me. She loved me and she trusted me. When she wasn't curled into the closest possible space between us, her fire had gone out just a little. She'd cower. She'd give me the signs that there was hurt inside her. I'd ignore them, of course, because no fucking way. Not Harley. I was all she had, and she was mine, and if all I could give her was my love and my lap, then that's what I'd give her because I loved that cat as if she were a piece of me. 

The moment I realized my love and my lap were no longer the safe place for her was quick. It had to be. I couldn't think about it, I couldn't talk about it. I scooped her up in her favorite snowman blanket and left home for the veterinary clinic. But not before leaning her down close to Chicken's face so my companions could have, at the very least, that moment.

Neither understood, of course. 

"Mom, get that cat out of my face," was the general consensus of Chicken.

But felt the weight of the moment, and I still feel the weight of the moment. I feel the weight of those next few hours, still, so heavily in my chest. I held her, I snuggled her, I cried tears on her soft kitty forehead, I laughed, somehow, with my sister, who was with me every moment of my goodbye, thank whatever god exists. 

The thing about deciding the fate of a pet you've loved for a third of your life and who depends solely on you is that it's impossible. The thing about being in the room when the life leaves their sweet body is that it's impossible. The thing about leaning down, tears all over your face, to kiss that sweet kitty forehead one last time, and to tell her that you're so, so sorry, and that grandma will take such good care of her, is that IT IS IMPOSSIBLE. 

The thing about deciding that fate is that it never leaves you. At least, it hasn't left me yet. Not in two months and three days. I feel guilty. I feel like I let her down. I feel so many things. But mostly I feel like there is a giant hole in the space she used to be.

I should see it as a small blessing that to date, losing my cat is the hardest thing I've had to endure. A cat! God, life's about to get so much harder, I'm sure. But the pain is so palpable. 

When I returned home that night and crumpled to the floor, which is exactly how I notified Travis of the day's proceedings -- with that crumpling, I was sure I'd never recover. That was it. I'd be crumpled on that ugly brown carpeting until the end of time.

Turns out that wasn't true. I cried every single day for a solid two weeks. Every single day. Those tears tapered. I still cry. Now, for example. But less often. When it hits, it hits. It took me two months and three days to have the nerves to write this blog post because I knew I'd cry again, and I'd have feelings, and I'd miss that smooshy, little, green-eyed baby. 

Chicken, well, she doesn't miss her. In fact, Chicken's become a new cat in the last two months and three days. The little asshole (who I love so very dearly). Travis, who's allergic to cats and who never fell under Harley's love spell, well, he's quite okay in a one-cat home. But that doesn't mean he hasn't been wonderful every time I sob every tear imaginable into his t-shirts. He's caught me more than once in a pool of snot, laying on the bed downstairs where I last snuggled with Harley. 

So it's just me at home in my single-cat grief, and that's okay. I mean, my grief is large enough for an entire home. I'VE GOT IT COVERED. 

But Harley, my baby Harlequin Robert Frank Lloyd Wright Brothers Grimm Reaper, my baby. My kitten, my sweet, sweet, snuggly noodle who curled in the crook of my neck, in the crook of my arm, in a ball on my lap, in a ball on my table, in a ball wherever you could fit your small, noodle-y body, I love you. I love you so much, and I am so sorry. So very sorry every day. 

I hope you feel happy, and I hope you feel loved, and I hope you're never scared, and I hope grandma's lap is as warm and comfortable as mine. If I could kiss that soft kitty forehead one more time, I would, and I'd tell you one last time that you're my favorite baby cat. All the time, forever.


Weekend at Grandma's

I'm a very sentimental creature. I have a hard time letting go -- of anything. Literally anything.

I was handed a red carnation by a volunteer at the finish line of Grandma's Marathon, and to keep it fresh for the rest of the weekend, my dad filled an empty Diet Mountain Dew can with some water and used it as a vase. 

I only recently threw out that homemade vase. The race was a month ago.

Memories in a can

Memories in a can

Like I said, sentimental.

Needless to say, I've had a hard time letting go of marathon weekend. Memories are precious to me, always. For the first couple weeks, I'd look at the calendar and think about what I was doing at that exact moment the week (or two or three) prior. 

On our way to Duluth.

Slumber partying with mom and dad in the hotel. 

Ten miles in to the race. 

Celebrating.

It was actually one of the best weekends of my life -- all of it. Every moment. But it wasn't just the race. It was the road trip with my parents; sharing my accomplishment with my two biggest cheerleaders.

Family love

Family love

As with all moments like this, it's an ongoing battle between wanting to hold tightly to all the memories or writing them down, sharing them, and having a place to come to when I want to remember the details. 

So I write my memories in bits and pieces. A blog post here, another there. I have to tell the stories in fragments, or I'll never get all of them out in any coherent way. Plus, I like to drag it out as long as I can because once the memories are written and out of my mind, I've let them go just a little. And then there are no more stories to tell. 

Other than the finish, I've yet to write anything about the race, itself. I'm not one for traditional race reports with mile-by-mile breakdowns because even I'm too bored to write it. I save most of the technical mumbo-jumbo for Dailymile. Instead, I tell the story. And sometimes it takes me a month to get it out. 

The weekend didn't start off on a bad foot, necessarily, but perhaps like a foot wedged into an ill-fitting shoe, and though it does the job, you really just want to take it off. The drive to Duluth was long. I ate Taco John's for lunch in the backseat of the car. Not just Mexican food the day before a marathon, but fast food tacos from a gas station.

Like a(n irresponsible, risk-taking) boss. 

The beautiful day back home turned about 40 degrees cooler and full of fog once we reached Duluth, and we were instantly met with terrible traffic. Nerves were a little rattled, and though dad and I ran (literally) through the race expo to gather my things for the following morning, it'd gotten a lot later in the day than we'd hoped. 

The fog is coming.

The fog is coming.

Enter a 45-minute wait for a table at the restaurant across the street from our hotel, and you'd find me eating a bacon cheeseburger and sweet potato fries for dinner at 8 o'clock the night before my race. Surely it enjoyed the company of my lunchtime tacos. 

The thing is, though, none of this bothered me. Very untrue to form, I was relaxed. I had my parents, I was feeling good. I didn't even have the nerves that tend to paralyze my insides before a big race. I could tell my parents were worried some of the hassles of the day were toying with my pre-race mojo, but the truth is, it was perfect. 

Before bed, I curled up -- phone in hand, naturally -- smiling over kind well-wishes sent from friends. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't also busy Instagramming the shit out of my trip thus far, but that proof is everywhere on the internet already. After a quick bedtime phone call from Travis, I put the day to bed.

Goodnight, moon.

Goodnight, moon.

I slept. I actually slept good. The 5 a.m. alarm didn't even hurt. I was up, smiling, race day pigtails braided under my Badgers running hat. IT WAS GO TIME. Only less capital lettered because it was also 5 a.m., after all, and my parents were still wiping sleep from their eyes.

it-was-go-time. Shhh.

I squeezed both my parents into good luck hugs, knowing the next time I'd see them would either be full of capital letters or branded with disappointment. Mine, not theirs. Equipped with my bottle of water and breakfast bananas, I boarded the shuttle to the start line. 

GO TIME

GO TIME

Grandma's Marathon is known for being laid out on a beautiful course along Lake Superior. The temperature typically perfect, the course flat. 

Excactly one of those things rang true on June 21, 2014. The temperature. Cool. A little chilly, even. The rest? I'd have to argue.

Don't get me wrong, I have no doubt the scenery is gorgeous. I saw the lakefront for myself. Twenty-six miles is a long way to see a lot of beautiful things. Want to know what I saw? Fog. Foggy fog fog. Fog. A little drizzle. Mostly fog. But I couldn't even hate it because I couldn't have imagined a more perfect temperature. My biggest fear -- for months -- was a hot race day. I chose a late June marathon, wasn't it destined to be? 

Not so.

My first big win of the day.

I made a few fast friends at the start line, where I hovered near the 3 hour and 35 minute pace team. The woman was shooting for her own Boston qualifying time. She'd met her race partner at the 2013 Boston Marathon. That Boston Marathon. We chatted about Boston and the difficulty of qualifying by enough time. 

In crept the first wave of nerves. 

But they were so friendly. Everyone was friendly. And excited. There was so much happy energy in that crowd that I don't think the fog and gloom phased a single soul. 

I snapped a quick photo of the 3:35 pace team sign and waited. Those last few minutes before the start of a big race are full of every emotion you can pack into the briefest of moments. I imagined succeeding. I imagined failing. I imagined reuniting with my parents. I imagined Boston. I imagined all the hard work I'd done and realized, "Holy shit, I cannot mess this up because I cannot do it all over again."

One mission: beat that

One mission: beat that

It's always best to start a race by placing all the of the pressure directly on top of yourself. Thankfully, the race started before I had a chance to further sabotage my mind. 

Taking those first steps across the start line was such a relief. It was here. The race was happening. I'd spent so long stressing about this day and the weather and my legs and my ability. Regardless of the outcome, the race was here, and despite the previous day's tacos and bacon cheeseburger, I felt pretty damn good. 

Though all of our surroundings were draped in fog, it still felt beautiful and refreshing to be outside in the damp, cool air. Spectators lined a surprising amount of the course, gathered more heavily through each little town we ran through. I remember one man, who had a little boy parked on his shoulders, waving a Badgers flag. Each time they'd spot me and my Badgers hat, I'd get a little extra cheer. It felt like a little piece of home came out to play. 

My coach, Caleb, gave me two directions: run the first half of the marathon at a mile pace between 8:05 and 8:10. Run the second half of the race at a pace of at least an 8-minute mile. It's called running a negative split race, and that's the way to go, he told me. I pretty much listen to every word that's ever come out of his mouth.

So if there's one thing I've gotten good at over the course of the last year, it's nailing a pace plan. Did I doubt my ability to knock out 8-minute miles for the last 13 miles of the race? Hell yes I did. But was I going to do it anyway? Hell yes I was. Come hell or knee pain. 

Which happened later. The knee pain, not the hell.

But first came the part, just four miles in, where the 3:35 pace group passed me. If there's one way to psych out a person who believed all she had to do was keep the 3:35 pace group behind her, it's to have the pace group pass her just four miles in. 

I could feel myself physically reacting to it, even though I'd been hitting the mark on every mile. My heart rate was jacking up because of the nerves. I started second-guessing my plan. I could feel myself losing focus. The panic started running for me, which I knew would blow the entire race. 

At that point I did what I'm very bad at doing -- I let it go (there's a song about it, look it up) (I'm sorry I just did that to you) (I've never even seen the movie).

I decided to trust Caleb, trust myself, and keep nailing my mile splits. But I'll be damned if that panic didn't keep buzzing in my ear every time I looked up and saw my Boston qualifying time ahead of me with 22 miles left to run. 

But, as will happen when you simply trust your training and ability, I caught back up within a few miles. My miles started ticking off just a bit quicker than my prescribed pace (which I knew to also keep in check), and smooth sailing, I thought, was imminent. Pace felt great, body felt great, my breathing was in order -- it was happening.

Just in time for my left IT band to begin tightening 10 miles in. It threw me for a loop because for the few weeks before the race, it had been my right IT band causing me trouble. So this was new and unwelcome.

So unwelcome.

I spent the next hour stopping every mile to stretch out my left leg. Like clockwork, every time I'd stretch it out, I'd get a good mile in before the tightening began to seize again. And every time I'd stop, the pace group would catch back up. And every time they caught up, I spent the next quarter mile running faster than necessary to get myself back on track.

I knew then I was done.

The stop-stretch-catch up game was working for the time being, but it was tiring me out. Despite the troubles, I was still hitting my pace target (which had bumped up to the faster pace by that point), but I wasn't going to be able to keep it up. The catch up was wearing me out, and the feeling of being "chased" by the pace group was stressing me out. The combination sucked. 

It also pissed me off. 

The rest of me felt so great. HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN NOW? The capital letters returned.

But sometime during the 17th mile, as I was waiting for the inevitable knee tightening, I found myself still waiting. And waiting. And it never came back. 

IT WAS GONE. WHERE DID IT GO? HURRY UP AND MAKE THIS RACE BE OVER BEFORE IT DECIDES TO COME BACK. 

I couldn't believe it, but I wasn't going to try too hard to figure it out because by that point, not only was I being chased -- though not as closely -- by the pace group, but also by the knee pain that was sure to return. 

Screw that.

I kept chugging along, my pace dipping into the 7:50s and 7:40s and 7:30s. But I felt wonderful. At one point, the song "Summer" by Calvin Harris popped up on my iPod, and I grinned my way through happy tears just completely overwhelmed with what was happening.

It occurred to me while high-fiving excited spectators, I realized we'd been running up for a hell of a while. Just the steadiest of inclines. I still to this day don't know if I imagined the whole thing, but I'm convinced miles 16 through 22 or 23 were a constant incline, peaking at (terrible, awful) Lemon Drop Hill. 

You know what? Now that I look at it, it kinda was. It was the kind of incline you barely see, but feel in your legs. Just so very tiring. My legs screamed for any change in elevation. Thankfully we got it on the back side of Lemon Drop Hill, and by that point it was three miles to go.

Three! 

Mom and dad were just three miles away!

I knew then that I'd obviously been nailing my splits, which naturally would mean I'd hit my goal of a 3-hour and 33-minute marathon, but it's the kind of thing you absolutely don't believe until it happens. You can't. Anything could happen in those three miles, and at that point I was convinced anything would happen. 

The final miles weaved through downtown Duluth, on brick roads and through throngs of spectators. It's an actual blur. I was so dead set on getting to that finish line with a Boston qualifying time that I barely registered what was happening. I just kept watching my splits tick by on my Garmin. 

Mile 25 is when I knew. 

As my Garmin ticked off the 25th mile, I (for the first time) looked at my overall time. Three hours and 19 minutes. I was so far ahead of schedule that it nearly knocked me on my ass. I had more than ten minutes to get in the final mile-point-two and be under 3 hours and 30 minutes. 

It didn't occur to me to anticipate that outcome. I was fighting so hard for 3 hours and 33 minutes, I didn't realize it could be better than that. Those 33 minutes were all I wanted. But this was a whole new race. Coming in under 3 hours and 30 minutes would nearly all but solidify my chance of actually getting in to the Boston Marathon as registration opened on a rolling scale to faster qualifiers first.

In the two seconds it took me to realize that, I was on a brand new mission. I had to get to that finish line in the next ten minutes. Somewhere in a faraway corner of my brain, I knew it would happen. I had ten minutes to run just more than a mile, and I'd been ticking off 7-minute and 45-second miles. But again, these are things you can't let yourself believe until it's over.

You can never get too cozy. I could fall and break a leg, you know.

We crossed a timing mat at mile 25, which I knew meant all my friends and family who'd signed up for text alerts would know I was there. I was so excited just thinking about their excitement, it practically fueled me the entire final mile.

There were so many people rooting for me, and it felt like they were right there with me. I thought of Travis, who'd sent me off with "run fast flowers," as he couldn't make the trip to Duluth. His confidence in me never wavered, not once. Even as mine wavered all over the place. "Of course you're going to qualify," he'd tell me with so much ease.

I knew my parents were waiting at the finish, and I could practically see my mom wildly updating Facebook with updates of my progress, which I soon found to be true.

I rounded a corner and spotted a huge ship in the harbor that I knew signaled a very near finish line. I whipped around another corner, and another, and there it was.

FINISH LINE.

I ran that final straightaway with every fiber of my overactive heart, and the story of those final six seconds is another blog post to be read another time.

I finished the race in 3 hours, 29 minutes, and 6 seconds. I finished 11 minutes faster than my fastest marathon, four minutes faster than my goal, and six minutes faster than my Boston Marathon qualifying time.

Paparazzi all up in my face

Paparazzi all up in my face

It was done and I did it.

I relaxed in the grass with my parents for what felt like a wonderful eternity, crying happy tears as I read texts, tweets and Facebook messages. That time in the grass with wickedly sore legs, blistered toes, a bruised toenail, and a melting ice cream sandwich that was handed out at the finish made it all real. All the months of running and worrying and wondering and calculating had culminated into the happiest twenty minutes ever spent sitting in the grass.

The rest of the day was spent celebrating with the kind of joy that comes with having not a single worry in the world, for at least that day. It was like being a kid again, playing in the hotel water park with my parents, pigging out on pizza and chicken wings. Truly celebrating with the two people who watched this entire transformation transpire from the moment I learned I had a talent for running at 12 years old.

They'll be in Boston with me next April, and I already know it'll be full of capital letters.

BOSTON MARATHON.

By then there will be a whole new story to tell.

Prediction

The drive to Duluth is long. Really, really long.

It's particularly long when you're alone in the backseat of a Jeep Wrangler for all five-and-a-half hours, and the ride is bumpy and you can't quite stretch out your legs in a way that resembles comfort. 

Obviously I did as any 32-year-old adult woman would do and staged photos with my best friends. 

Don't ask questions. Just accept me as I am.

My parents and I chatted, we laughed about inane things, we stopped for lunch (where I proceeded to eat Taco John's on the day before a marathon, as is intestinally responsible), I searched the sky for bald eagles (sure, why not?).

It was truly like being a child again. Me in the backseat, mom and dad up front. My sister was missing, but I feel like I held down the fort pretty well.

Twitter kept me entertained for hours. Literally. All of them. 

At some point along the drive (12:58 p.m., according to Twitter), my dad spoke up.

"Three twenty-nine oh-seven," he said from the driver's seat.

Neither my mom nor I heard him, exactly, and asked him to clarify. 

"That's my prediction," he replied. "Three hours, 29 minutes and seven seconds."

Awww, father. That's precious. He was predicting I'd finish the marathon in 3:29:07. I laughed at him and his prediction, admitting that, while it'd be amazing, that's simply crazy talk. Thanks, though! If you can't believe in your own child, what can you believe in, really?

If every single moment of every single step of every single mile went perfectly, I would finish that marathon in three hours and 33 minutes. That's what believed in.

I documented the brief moment of fatherly confidence, and moved on to other matters, such as photographing road signs and Taco John's receipts, while contemplating the powers of glitter nail polish. 

I ran Grandma's Marathon the next morning, as you know, and it was okay. Obviously it ended more than okay, but it started just okay. There were some middle miles that left me uneasy as my knee began acting up, and I considered the very real possibility that this was going to tank quickly. It didn't, I executed my pace plan to a goddamned tee, and finished that marathon. 

Like this:

Afterward, as we were sitting in the grass, my dad perked up just as I began reading tweets. 

"I was one second off," he said, proudly. 

It took me a second, but then it dawned on me as I continued to sift through Twitter messages. 

MY DAD IS A WIZARD.

Six Seconds

It's a pretty safe bet to say I got my emotions from my mom. I feel deeply. Sometimes too deeply. I cry easily. Often too easily. We're so alike in that way, and I don't mind. When I cry in her presence, I guarantee she's crying, too. Maybe that's motherhood, though. Protectiveness. 

I feel emotions in my chest, like a warning sign. There's a sort of constriction that happens. It's quick. It catches in my throat, warms my face and triggers tears. It happens so regularly, I've come to be able to stop it in its tracks. You know, during those moments when crying is otherwise unlikely.

Like, say, you're supposed to be working on a report, but instead you're distracted by a video of an animal rescue story on Buzzfeed. Or a friend posts photos from her beautiful wedding on Facebook when you're looking for client content, and the photo of her wiping tears from her groom's eyes at the altar begins the emotional onslaught. I literally can't even type this without the chest constriction.

But I can stop it. I am an emotional sorceress. 

There are moments, though, when the feelings are so aggressive that the constriction rips from my throat and pours from my face like emotion lava, and it is not pretty, you guys. It's a full-on assault of my person. But when that assault is triggered by happiness, there is no better feeling. Not one.

Unlike my mom, I had seen my dad cry two times. Two times in my whole life. Does that mean he doesn't cry? Probably not. It just means I haven't seen it. Both times were the result of deaths in the family, and I remember them clearly. The moments, not the family deaths. Do you ever really forget those? Of course not. But that's what we, as people, do when loved ones die. We cry. 

I remember thinking that first time, "Holy shit." Just, holy shit. Dads are strong, you know? Dads build swingsets and yell at the Packers on Sundays and replace the batteries in your car when they're kaput and you're a helpless teenager (and/or adult, let's be real). All of a sudden I realized, holy shit, dads cry. 

We already knew moms cried. And we definitely know that I cry. But dads. Woo, boy. They're just like us!

On Saturday I finished Grandma's Marathon in three hours, 29 minutes and six seconds. That's not only a personal best by nearly 11 minutes, it's also four minutes faster than my goal, and, most importantly, a Boston Marathon qualifying time by almost six minutes. Six minutes, when I'd dreamed and hoped for two. 

I ran for three hours and 29 minutes and only saw my parents one time that morning, and it was in those last six seconds.

Coming into the finish, the crowd was overwhelming. Loud. I knew somewhere in my overstimulated mind that a qualifying time was not only about to happen, but that it was about to be so much more than I expected. I also knew my parents were somewhere in that crowd, and I'd be goddamned if I was going to cross that finish line without seeing them. 

By this point, the constriction had started. I mean, sure, I'd just run 26.1 miles, was it possible I was probably actually going into cardiac arrest? I mean, maybe. But I know my body well enough to know it was emotional arrest. It's a thing. Look it up on WebMD. (Just kidding, don't, I'm lying).

I looked left, and there they were. My parents. The most amazing two people who ever graced my earth.

And, wait. Were they wearing matching sweatshirts? (Spoiler alert: they were).

But there they were. My people. My cheerleaders. My support system. My every whole thing. Waving those cowbells like maniacs, shouting, smiling, yelling, knowing. They knew, too, what was about to happen. Just before I crossed the finish line.

In that moment, in those final six seconds, emotion lava erupted from my being. I did it. I was doing it. I was actively finishing this marathon and qualifying for Boston and there was my mom and dad. I cried. I cried and I wasn't even done yet. 

I crossed the finish line, hands in the air, and was still crying. OK so I was sobbing by then, come on. A volunteer came over to ask if I was alright, and I don't blame him. There I was, hands on my knees, crying my eyes out. I wanted him to know I was happy crying, but the ugly cry was so full blast that, truly, it was not discernible. 

All I wanted then -- all I wanted -- was to hug my parents. I searched the crowd, got my medal. Searched the crowd, was handed a red carnation. Searched the crowd.

Spotted.

I started waving frantically. They were running toward the finish corral's fence. It was their turn to run now. I, conversely, hobbled. I'd found them. Mom had her camera ready.

I grabbed her first and sobbed my sweaty sob into her shoulder. She was crying, too, of course, because this is what we do. We cry. The happiest of cries. Dad came next. And I still cried. Hugged and cried. 

I don't even remember what anyone said in that moment, exactly. It was too full of laughing and disbelief and "you did it!" and "I did it!" and hugs and, damn, my legs hurt.

By then I was able to look at their matching sweatshirts. They each bought a Grandma's Marathon sweatshirt before leaving the hotel. And there they stood, my people, so proud, wearing matching Grandma's Marathon sweatshirts. In case you were wondering, or if I hadn't made that clear, my mom and dad are the best, most adorable people that ever parented. 

As I finally untangled myself from hugs and disbelief, I stood back and saw it while wiping emotions from my face. My dad had grabbed a tissue from somewhere (the pocket of his adorable matching sweatshirt, perhaps?). Just then, he reached under his glasses and wiped his eyes. 

And that, internet, is the third time I've ever seen my dad cry. 

There's more to come and more to say (photos! things! waterpark hotel! more feelings!), but this is the best moment in my memory. I'll leave you with this photo, taken later that day, full of so much joy.

You are absolutely goddamn right I bought that same matching sweatshirt.