The People’s Marathon

Holy Guacamole, I’ve been neglecting our little blog! Fear not: The Nicoli have had plenty of adventures – I hope to post about the big ones and be caught up before the end of the year.

Marathon training is a pain in the neck. And legs. And calendar. It’s expensive. I’m a complainer. I promised Big D after last year’s race that I would not go the distance again.

And then: I watched this year’s Boston Marathon. I cried like a baby when Meb won, walked from the TV to my computer to join Team Fisher House, and laced up my shoes…

I trained the same as usual: inconsistently. And thanks to encouragement from a friend, I set a lofty fundraising goal: $2,620 – one hundred dollars per mile. No pressure!

My year in a nutshell:
– Procrastinate
– Run
– Sweat
– Hydrate
– Beg friends for fundraising donations
– Rinse and repeat.

Time sped by when it came to fundraising efforts and draaaaaaaged when it came to awaiting race day.

October eventually arrived, and during the team dinner the evening before the race, I got an e-mail notification that I reached my fundraising goal! Chances are if you’re taking the time to read this, you are one of my many supporters – so, once again: THANK YOU!

I stuck to my usual race routine, like laying out my outfit and writing the names of my donors on my pace chart.
all ready for tomorrow

#Teamfisherhouse #runwiththemarines
The early morning view from Charity Village was beautiful.

I had some problems on the course: though well-rested and properly hydrated, I had a headache. I washed a giant Motrin down with too much water and the sloshing made me sick in the stomach, so ate something, which made me more thirsty…you can see where this is going. I started walking at mile 18. My legs were wobbly, I felt weak overall, and just when I was doubting myself: the best cheering squad ever gave me a snack, the gulp of Diet Coke I was craving, and our pal Jym set out to run miles 19 to 23 with me, even though he was hurting since he conquered a Tough Mudder himself just the day before. Good grief, I really owe him!!

Cutest cheering squad!

Jym joined me for a few miles
Pretty sure I’m explaining that I just want to finish, and there’s no need to run – walking is just fine.

thanks, Jym!
My hands were so swollen – check out those sausage fingers!

at mile 23
I was able to run a bit here and there. (Folks in a FaceBook training group I belong to used that Thumbs Up you can see on my back to identify each other. Those “friends” were a such a source of encouragement and help to me throughout the year, even though we’d never met.)

#Teamfisherhouse #runwiththemarines I *think* I can...

And after 26 miles, just .2 remained: up hill. That distance and the incline doesn’t seem like much if you’re just out for a stroll, but man, oh man… Thankfully, Team Fisher House has coaches on the course and one (that I do not know) was helping me along when Team Coach Stacy spotted me and took over. She’s fantastic, tireless, and was so calm as she ran and talked me through it. I was out of juice and air – I can still hear her saying, “Breathe. just breathe. you’ve got it…” My lungs were heaving. I was ecstatic. And crying.

I thought of all of the people – some are friends of friends that I don’t personally know! – who donated to my fundraising efforts. I thought of the military families that would benefit from the Team – we raised more than $500,000! I thought of my sweet husband who put up with so much throughout the year (what’s new!?) and of my friends who drove for hours so they could crisscross the city a bunch of times to cheer me on. I am one lucky gal.

And: I was proud. I didn’t participate in sports when I was a kid. I’m not particularly athletic, I’m really uncoordinated, and I didn’t train properly (which isn’t anything new.) Yet somehow, I made it to the finish line, through the chute, and to a Marine, who hung a medal around my neck and saluted me.

2014 MCM 2014 MCM

Best Support Crew EVER
I couldn’t have done it without them!

not too shabby
Pretty consistent, considering.

It took a few days until I was really ready to celebrate, and we had a little retirement party:
retirement party

I’ll keep running (I’ve already registered for another half.) But no more marathons for me. I will be back at the Marine Corps Marathon in 2015: as a volunteer.

More photos from MCM2014 are over on Flickr.

Semper Fi!

Pheidippides died at the end…

…but I managed to run my third marathon!

I was inspired by the events at the Boston Marathon earlier this year and running the Marine Corps Marathon was my way of saying, “We won’t be afraid on the streets of our own cities, you jerks!” (though I called them a much more colorful name…)

DailyMile says I ran 182 training miles – a lot more than while preparing for two previous marathons, but not even remotely close to what is recommended. Life (and laziness) got in my way. Knee pain at the end of the training season made me wonder if I’d be able to complete the whole distance.

But, thanks to my very generous family and friends, I raised more than $1,700 for Team Fisher House. I couldn’t let everyone down – there was no backing out!

The expo was fun:
Miles & me at the Expo

Carey and Isabelle joined me for the team dinner on race day eve:
Me, Carey & Isabelle

Isabelle left a fantastic note for me in my hotel room:
Found this fantastic note in my hotel room this morning. Thanks, Isabelle! I'm going to look at it when I need extra pep in my @marinecorpsmarathon step!

And if you know me at all, you’ll know that hearing U2’s Breathe while the sun rose over the District got me in the right headspace on the big day:
They're playing U2. I'm sure it's just for me!

30,000 people set out on the course:
MCM Start Line

Family and friends leapfrogged all over the city to meet me at miles 16 and 19. I missed them at 23 because I was ahead of schedule (sorry, guys!)
Big D & me

and Jym ran with me from miles 19 to 23.5 (THANKS, JYM!)
me & Jym

I started doing mental math at mile 23 and realized that not only was I ahead of the sweaty schedule I had in my pocket, but I would set a Personal Record. I had to walk the last mile and a half or so. And since the Marines are a cruel bunch, the final .2 miles are uphill. But the team coach was there to work her motivational magic (THANKS, STACY!) and before I knew it…

taking the hill

26 down, .2 to go

My friend Jenny was kind enough to volunteer with the team and then stick around for an extra hour to see me finish:
finishing!

My success was an occasion momentous enough that Big D had a genuine smile (forget you’re seeing this photo – it’s Christmas Card material!)
Big D & me at the finish

But what’s much better than finishing a marathon is having friends like these:
at the Finish
Jenny, Jym, Carey, James, Isabelle, Big D, me, Tricia, and Lee. 

Thanks again to everyone –  your generosity supported an amazing organization, and you motivated me. When I turned my phone on at the end of the day, my mailbox was bursting with your sweet messages and reading them that night made me cry.  Just saying thank you doesn’t seem like enough.

my splits I may or may not be wearing my @marinecorpsmarathon medal with my pajamas right now...

but it’s brightening up?

I spent hours searching, searching, searching for something that I know exists online – I just can’t find it.

What I was hoping to link to in this post are the Tweets in which my now good friend Lauren and I met each other – its a fun story. Sadly, Twitter only archives a user’s most recent 3,800 tweets. And I guess I’ve delighted the interwebs with more than 4,100 thoughts (which is just crazy.)

Here’s the backstory: Lauren and I were both early Twitter users back when she moved to Jacksonville to start a job with the PGA Tour and I was hard at work with the Corps of Engineers there. We followed each other online for a few months and thanks to simultaneous tweets, when I realized we were both at the same concert I sent her a message describing myself and suggested we walk to the middle of the arena so we could finally meet in person. We did, and the rest is history. Searching for those tweets led down an internet rabbit hole – I looked at a ton of old photos and realized we spent time together three times the week we met. We are quite different people (I am a million years older than her) but we clicked.

I was so psyched in early 2010 when I got this message from her:
Check out the email I got from THE Ryder Cup…I repeat, THE Ryder Cup! Whooo! Then guess who’s fiancé absolutely doesn’t want to go to Wales for the honeymoon?? Crap! But then he said “You should still go. It’s a once in a lifetime chance.” But who do I know that is in the proximity of Wales who would be able to join me for a few days frolicking around Celtic Manor to cheer on the Americans?? (hint hint hint!!)

So, mere days after she got married, she kissed her sweet husband good-bye, jetted over the pond, and together, we flew to London.

Lauren on the Tower Bridge

London Calling?

And then we took the train to Wales where we had a few days of golfing adventure that I’ll never forget.

Celtic Manor Twenty Ten Course

Lauren & me in the tented village

Tiger Woods

go Team USA!

Ian Poulter
Ian Poulter signed my badge earlier that day!

me on the Twenty Ten Course 18th fairway
It was windy! We had to move fast before they closed this path for play, thus the crazy hair.

just after the pairings were announced

moonlighting as a camera crew
A random camera guy had us pose for this. Fun!

Photography was only permitted during the practice rounds, so we did not have our cameras or phones with us for official play. And oh, what pictures they would have been! Because after just two hours of golf? There was a seven hour, fifteen minute rain delay.

We waited out the rain delay beer tent. For more than SEVEN hours.

The Daily Telegraph said this:
Conditions in the Usk Valley on Friday were quite splendid for ducks, but brought the soggiest of frustration for all those trying to negotiate the mud without webbed feet. As horns sounded to suspend play at 9.42am, the official advice was for poor punters to find shelter in the bars and brasseries of the sprawling tented village. Few hospitality areas, though, can cope with 40,000 bedraggled souls at one sitting.  It was estimated by Celtic Manor that 20,000 portions of fish and chips, plus 132,000 pints of beer, would be sold in the three days of play but almost as many of these  have disappeared in just one morning.

And my journal entry about the day says this:
Friday at the Ryder Cup – Rain. Golf. Rain. Mud. Rain. Beer. Beer. Beer. Rain. Mud. Beer. Beer. Beer. Golf.

Technically, we didn’t see much golf. But what an adventure we had… And at least we got to see the final (delayed) round on television when we were each back at our homes – me in Germany and Lauren in the States.

me & Lauren early Thursday morning

More photos from our adventures in London and Wales are on Flickr.

Fore!

Citius, Altius, Fortius

The London 2012 Olympic Ticket application process was long, confusing and included tedious tasks like changing our Visa Card information to our German addresses.  Jen and I submitted separate applications on April 13, 2011 hoping for seats at the Opening Ceremony along with Swimming, Tennis and Football events totaling £2,042 (about $4,000!) Requesting those tickets meant committing to paying for them, should we win the lotteries. I was fairly certain we wouldn’t be quite that lucky but was prepared to say, “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity!” if we were. We kept a close eye on our Visa statements and when in June 2011 we were both charged less than $300 we correctly deduced we were both allotted four seats for football. I was secretly a bit disappointed but mostly thrilled that we’d be making the trip and seeing at least one event.

We booked our flights and hotel accommodations in February. When the Football Draws were announced in May we learned we’d see Uruguay vs. Senegal and Great Britian vs. the UAE. This was great news since Jen and I became big Uruguay fans during the 2010 World Cup (see also: Diego Forlán – we’re Team Headband!) and we were thrilled we’d be seeing the home team, Great Britian, too. Sadly, Diego and David Beckham were deemed too old/slow/whatever and weren’t selected to play on their teams.

was SO excited to finally get these in the mail

After almost 16 months of planning and anticipation I can honestly say our time in London last weekend far exceeded my expectations!

As usual, Big D is away (this time in the States for training and a few days vacation with his family) so Tricia was my partner in crime and Gary was a saint to travel with three excited, wacky girls.

We made our way from Frankfurt to London on Thursday and were surprised at the speed and organization of the immigration process at Heathrow. We were through passport control, had our luggage, were greeted by a brass band and were in a black cab headed to the hotel less than 90 minutes after we landed. We were also surprised to discover our hotel was hosting the Badminton World Federation officials.

Tricia and I shared a room that had a fantastic view of Wembley:

View from our hotel room

We headed to Trafalgar Square to find some lunch and while we were there, Gary read something on his iPhone that tipped us off – Prince William & Kate and Prince Harry would be receiving the Olympic Torch at Buckingham Palace later that afternoon! We finished our fish & chips and Pimms and headed over to the torch route, walking past the Horse Guard Parade, 10 Downing Street, Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey and other famous sights on the way.

The two hour wait gave us time to wander around the fountain snapping photos, to make friends with fellow tourists and to buy Union Jack flags.

peeking through Buckingham fence

Jen, Gary, me & Tricia

The Olympians that stood with the royals blocked our view for almost the whole (very fast) event but we got a few good glimpses.

best photo of William I was able to snap Kate and Harry

Though we were in town less than five hours and had three full days still to come, we already declared our trip a success! A walk across the bridge, by the Eye and along the river to dinner at a Greek restaurant (not easy to find a place to dine during such a busy time) rounded out the night.

Friday morning found us up and out the door early, heading to the Olympic Park to get a lay of the land and see what we could find. Even though we basically spent a decent part of the day at a mall, palpable excitement abounded. We shopped, shopped, shopped, tried to peek into the park, and had lunch at a fun Brazilian steakhouse that felt more like a party than a restaurant. The British ladies at the table next to us chatted about their Opening Ceremony tickets. The Australian guys at the table behind us (affiliated with their swimming team) gave us tastes of their appetizers. Everyone was jovial!

We tried our best with a sign at the park, on the tube, and while walking, walking, walking many miles through the city:

trying...

We made our way back to Hyde Park that evening and attended the BT London Live Opening Ceremony Celebration featuring one band from each of the British Isles: Paolo Nutini from Scotland, Duran Duran from England, Stereophonics from Wales and Snow Patrol from Northern Ireland. What a party! The Red Arrows flew overhead and giant TV screens showed the first hour or so of the ceremony – the crowd went crazy during the James Bond / Queen Elizabeth grand entrance, we mumbled along to what what we know as My Country ’tis of Thee singing the only line we know, “God Save the Queen!”  and Snow Patrol finished just in time for us to watch the athletes light the flame.

Red Arrows flyover

Hyde Park Opening Ceremony Celebration

Duran Duran

Getting home through the crowd and after a few large beers was challenging (have I mentioned that Gary is a saint?) We were exhausted, yet it was so difficult to turn my brain off even though it was 3am!

Saturday had us up early and on our way back to the park, determined to get tickets to anything so we could experience it all… Armed with giant Starbucks coffees, adrenaline, and a new sign (“We want tickets to ANYTHING in the park”) we weren’t optimistic (others had signs) but waited just 10 or 15 minutes when a lovely Canadian gentlemen approached us and offered us swimming tickets for the following morning!

Jen: How much?
Canadian: £270.
Jen: Each? (starts counting money)
Canadian: Uh, no for all four.
Jen and me: (jumping up and down and acting crazy)

To say we were thrilled is a ridiculous understatement. At the end of our trip, when Tricia asked what my favorite part of our whole adventure was, I called it a tie between that moment, walking into the park, and actually attending the event. But that moment has an edge.

Saturday afternoon was relaxed and fun. Our ticket buying woes were over, we did some sightseeing, and we even sold our extra football tickets to some Americans we met at lunch.

with Mandeville near Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

We were up early yet again Sunday and took our now familiar route to Olympic Park, but this time, we got to go in!

Good morning from Olympic Park!

The Orbit

We saw Lochte set a World Record in his 200 meter freestyle heat.
(here he is in lane 5):

Lochte in lane 5

Grevers leading in Lane 5

After a rainy walk to the (closed on weekends) Today Show set and a final glimpse of the stadium, it was time for lunch and to make our way across town. (I wish we knew the milage we walked and rode – I’m sure its more impressive than I can even guess.)

Today Show Olympic Park set

Olympic Stadium

And after finding the right entrance and becoming accustomed to FIFA stadium rules (no drinks at your seats!) we were ready for some football.

UAE vs GB

Uruguay vs. Senegal

We finished our adventure in style, and lingered in the stadium to soak it all in.

finishing up in style

Wembley Stadium

Goodnight, Wembley

Wembley crowd departing

After waiting out the crowd, we had a final Pimms at (of all places) TGI Fridays, where we met friendly locals who were Civil Engineers involved in Olympic Park construction.

A few final thoughts:

– Thanks to our Badminton friends at the hotel, we worked the word Shuttlecock into conversation each day and giggled like little kids.

– I can not express enough how happy and friendly the crowds were! If only everyday encounters were always like that – smiling, asking where everyone is from, making light conversation, and offering to snap photos of each other.

– I hope the Rio 2016 Olympic Committee is watching! London could NOT have been more prepared. EVERYTHING throughout the city was clean and had a fresh coat of paint. The walking routes were organized and officials kept massive crowds moving together (left stairs up, right stars down, etc.) There were Olympic signs, employees and volunteers every few feet. Some were directing the crowds with giant foam fingers, all were cheerful, helpful, and friendly. Though we spoke the language (and what a treat that was for a few days!) things occasionally got confusing and there was ALWAYS someone to help. Really, London couldn’t have done it any better.

I was so sad to leave, but more than anything I was so very, very thankful for what was such a fantastic experience. Tons of  London 2012 photos are on my Flickr page.

Best weekend ever?

We’ve had a fantastic 4th of July weekend each year we’ve been here, but the first in 2010 is impossible to top.

Thursday, July 1st

Jen & Gary and I saw Green Day in Mainz, where we ran into a bunch of people from the unit. The show was fun, and the trip home was memorable as it was a total cluster. Eventually, we got on a bus that took us to the train station. And then we were stopped by officials for being on a First Class train but played the ‘dumb American’ card and received a warning rather than a fine.

Green Day

1st MI rocks to Green Day

on the bus ride home

Saturday, July 3

Thanks to the constant deployment schedule it’s a rare occurrence to have all of our dudes in town at the same time. Seven of our core 8 people were here to enjoy a cruise on the River Rhein for Rhein in Flammen – illuminated ships sail the river in a convoy, passengers see firework displays at castles along the river.

We may or may not have been reprimanded for trying to sit on the bow of our cruise ship (okay, we were.) And Jen may or may not have mistaken a big scoop of butter for what she thought was yogurt (okay, she did.) Need I mention we had quite a bit of wine on the cruise? Ahem…

Virginia Straße gals and Germany kids
The World Cup was underway – these kids were handing out advertisements for public viewings.

Rhein A'Flame

blurry, but you get the idea

Sunday, July 4

Big D and I made our way to Trier to tour the city and see the Porta Nigra, which the Romans built in 180 A.D.  I was surprised we were able to walk through it – I thought we’d just look at it from outside.

Porta Nigra

Porta Nigra

smooch

From Trier, we drove to the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial. We blended in with a guided tour to hear tons of fascinating information, and our timing was great: The group rushed out to get to their next stop, leaving us alone in the cemetery for Taps and Retreat. We spoke with the Superintendent quite a while on our way out – we’ll never forget it.

Here’s Big D at GEN Paton’s grave:
Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial

Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial

Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial

We spent that night in Luxembourg City, which has an interesting mix of ancient and modern architecture.
Luxembourg City

Monday, July 5

If you haven’t seen Band of Brothers…. well, you must.  Touring the Bastogne Historical Center in Belgium was on our bucket list and if time permits, we’ll go back again.

Bastogne Historical Center

Bastogne Historical Center

After a morning full of U.S. and WWII history, we were off to meet up with Jen & Gary for Stage Two of the 97th Tour de France. We were trying to make our way to the town of Spa for the finish line, but traffic and road closures instead had us in the town of Wanne. Little more than a crossroads, we could not have ended up in a better spot if we tried. The locals were super friendly! Nobody spoke English, but we somehow became part of their little town’s big party, enjoying lots of beer and barbecue at a tent set up in the yard of their tiny museum.

Seniors & Nicoli

We didn’t let the rapidly changing weather dampen our sprits.
new umbrella purchase

Having never experienced the TdF, it was all new and exciting. Each sponsor drives through and tosses promotional items to the crowd. We left with all kinds of new hats, keychains and baubles.

Big D rocking his Skoda cap
So after a long day of waiting, the peleton flew by us (we did not know a huge crash occurred on the course before the riders arrived at our location) and the whole thing was over in less than about 20 seconds. That’s Tour leader Fabian Cancellara wearing the Yellow Jersey just to the left of the sign below.
Untitled

le Tour de France 2010 Stage 2

Later we made our way to Spa for drinks and shopping and then on to Vielsalm for a wonderful steak dinner during which we decided we had so much fun that we should do it all again tomorrow…

Tuesday, July 6

The day had a rough start: I got stuck in a minuscule elevator, a hotel employee yelled at me in Flemish, we thought we were skipping out on our hotel bill since we don’t have an EC card, and we lost our GPS (Note: our Amex, which we used to guarantee our reservation, was finally charged about three months later. Fshew! We’re still welcome in Belgium!) Finally, we arrived in Wanze and the start line village.

Nicoli and Seniors at the Stage 3 start area

Riders at the Stage 3 start line

And we even (briefly) saw Lance Armstrong:
Lance Armstrong

Thankfully, a stop for sandwiches revealed that I had tucked the GPS inside a ziplock surrounded by napkins(!?) and we made it home in time to watch the completion of the stage on television. Just like that, it was all over…

Six days, three countries, a concert, a boat cruise, two stages of le Tour de France, and so much more. When considering everything we’ve done in Europe, Big D says that afternoon in the tiny, rainy town of Wanne waiting for the race to pass us by is his favorite adventure.

Life is good – and it can’t always be planned. Hang on and enjoy the ride!

Tons of photos from this adventure are on Flickr.