Product Review: My Week with Hello Fresh

Is one of your New Year’s Resolutions to eat healthier, but the time and energy you’re investing into composing a plan causing you a headache?

I’ve been there!

I have spent hours searching for the perfect recipes and shopping for the right ingredients only to be left feeling like I spent a stressful day at the office. It takes some serious dedication to eat healthy, but is there an easier way to get great recipes and healthy ingredients without investing hours of planning?


Last week, I tried out Hello Fresh, a food delivery service that sends healthy recipes and the pre-measured ingredients right to your door!

 Like many, you may have wondered “Is it worth it?” Well, I was blessed that Hello Fresh let me try a box so I could find out for myself.

First, I was super amped about the apron I received and immediately put it on.

But I was more excited about the meals that were supplied.

I loved how each meal was separated into their very own box. It saved me time from sorting through and finding exactly what I needed for that night’s meal.

They also provided a recipe booklet which broke down the nutritional values, ingredients, and of course, your directions on how to make each meal.

The first one I had was the Winter Risotto. It was calling my name from the moment I set eyes on it.

Although we haven’t been having winter-y weather (70 degrees on Christmas Eve...WTF!!!), I wasn’t going to hold off on this one.

I'm not a huge fan of kale (there was an incident where I ate way too much), but this meal was quite good and the kale flavor didn't show through as much as I imagined it would. I thought the fennel seeds were more overpowering actually. I like the taste of black licorice, which is what this resembled taste-wise, but I think it would have been more pleasing in another meal. Still, I scarfed it down and will definitely keep the recipe. :)

The second dinner was the Pan Seared Chicken and Orecchiette. Although I like being gluten-free, it's not a necessity and I was okay with trying this out.

I was a little confused that the recipe called for broccoli, but I was provided peas instead. No explanation. Luckily, I did have some broccoli that needed to be used so I threw that in with the peas.

**NOTE** I informed Hello Fresh of the ingredient mix up on their Facebook and they responded that they would fix this for me, but because this was a trial, I wasn't going to hold it against them. Besides...IT WAS STILL GOOD!

Although the recipe was measured to serve 2, Peter and I were able to get 2 generous servings each out of it. For Hello Fresh users, this would be a money saver!! It also saves me from having to figure out what to bring for work the next day. Plus, this meal was really good. May have been my favorite out of all the meals.

The final meal was the Turkish Meatballs.

I was excited about this because we don't often eat beef. It's not that I avoid red meat, but we just don't get as much when we do our shopping.

Preparation seemed easier for this one than the others, but the overall time it took to cook was a lot longer than noted. This actually seemed to be a trend with all of the recipes. I found myself picking at the carrots and parsnip while impatiently waiting for the meatballs to cook through.

Like the pan seared chicken, this recipe had an ingredient change. It noted that it included polenta, but I did not receive it. I got cornmeal instead but had no idea if it was like polenta. I never cooked with polenta before. It was nothing google couldn't solve, but it would have been nice to get some kind of note that said "Hey, you're getting this instead."

In the end, it was perfect!

I also got a generous serving and was able to halve it for leftovers. Peter did the same. So again, it was like getting an extra meal and that was just fine by me!!!

So after trying Hello Fresh, here is my "Pros and Cons" list:

  • Convenience 
  • Healthy
  • YUMMY!
  • Exposure to meals/food you may have never tried otherwise
  • Meals provide large helpings
  • Easy to follow recipes with pictures
  • May luck out and get leftovers
  • Boxes for vegetarians
  • Flexible subscription (you can skip weeks you don't want meals)
  • Top notch ingredients

  • Some may think price is an issue
  • No explanation of ingredient changes
  • Time it took was longer than noted (That may be a problem with my cooking abilities though)
  • No gluten-free box option

After my experience, I will definitely be doing Hello Fresh. I decided I would choose one week out of the month for a delivery and skip the rest. It will save me time in grocery shopping and meal planning for at least one busy week out of the month.

If you are interested in exploring Hello Fresh for yourself, they are offering $35 off your first box! That's a steal! Just go to and they will hook you up!

Have you tried Hello Fresh or a similar service? What were your thoughts?

Out of all of these meals, which would you like to try the most?

Grandma Lindsey

DON'T FORGET! I have a contest going on right now! Win a Free Spartan Race Entry by going HERE!!! Tell your friends!

So my body decided that overnight, I would go from 27 years old to 72!!! Somewhere between Saturday and Sunday, I KILLED my back. It was hurting before, but after finding relief from resting, it came back and with a vengeance. I was in excruciating pain and was restricted to a reclining chair for most of the day. My couch and bed were way too cushioned to be comfortable on my back...if that makes sense. But this reclining is da bomb!!!

Obviously, I have bowed out of running and P90X. It's not like I have put in that many workouts since the JFK 50 and I'm really not stressing it. I thought I would be more concerned because I should be training for my next marathon, but I think I can handle a shortened marathon schedule. What I cannot handle is more pain. After dealing with foot and knee issues through ultra training, I am not going to push through back pain for this.

On Monday, conditions didn't improve much, but I still managed to roll (SLOWLY) out of bed and walk old lady style through work. Peter reminded me of the Scrubs episode where Dr. Cox hurt his back and I thought this described me perfectly. It at least brought my spirits up.

I was on some decent pain relievers that made things so much better, but take note that I truly HATE taking pain pills. I will only do so if I am desperate. It is the one thing that is getting me through to my next chiro appointment.

Last night, after being knocked out on pain killers, I woke up this morning to more back pain and with it, a horrible stomach ache.

I was so close to making myself sick over the toilet until my back objected to my coughing. So I suffered. I thought maybe eating breakfast would help, but after two bites of my waffle, I had to lay down. I laid around from about 5:45 until 7, when I decided I would just pull on a pair of pants, remove my make up from the day before and put my hair up. That's the most I was going to move. 

Funny how after all the pain and agony I suffered though in the morning, it subsided once I got to work. I am glad it did though. I hate missing work. Especially for this stuff. I would rather be out of work and doing what I want to do. Not laying around in pain and discomfort.

I'm not entirely sure how long I will be out. I'm thinking I may just end up not running until Christmas, then ease back into things. I am not sweating it. These are all signs I still need to take a break from my extensive training.

Ever been out with a back injury? What helped make it better?

Who's currently taking a break from running!? What keeps you sane? 

GIVEAWAY OVER: Have a Merry Spartan Christmas

Still can't find what you need to get the runner in your life? Why not give a gift that signifies strength, endurance, and getting downright dirty!

Right now, Spartan Race is offering UP TO 35% OFF their merchandise for the holidays.

 Grab a Spartan Stainless Mug that looks like a mini keg!

Or how about a Spartan Ultra Pack, which would not only work for your race, but on other long runs.

Maybe they've never completed a Spartan and that's okay! You can get them Spartan Up! That way they can read up on the races and how to train for them! It would be a perfect goal that anyone can add to their 2016 calendar!

To get UP TO 35% OFF, use promo code GIFTS at checkout and see the savings!

And don't forget to sign up for a race while you're at it! Get 10% your registration by using code SPARTANBLOGGER! All 2016 races are OPEN!

And just when you thought I had no more...I've got something HUGE!

Do you want to make completing a Spartan one of your 2016 goals? Do you want to give one of your friends the gift of a FREE race registration? Here's how you can win a free registration just in time for Christmas!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
This free registration is good for any Spartan Race in the continental US!

You have until 12:00 AM EST on December 24th and the winner will be posted here!!

Good luck and make sure to share this with your friends!

Book Review: Runner's World Meals on the Run

If you love running, you more than likely LOVE food. In fact, if you are like me, you RUN to EAT.

I mean, why else would I train for an ultra marathon? They were serving red velvet cake! I would be crazy to run 50 miles for any other reason! ;-)

Earlier this year, I purchased the Runner's World Cookbook, which was one of the best cookbooks I have ever used. I have made tons of recipes from it! Not only are they perfect for a runner's nutritional needs, but they are delicious!!!

Kale Pesto

A photo posted by Lindsey (Run Freckles Run) (@lindseyszakacs) on

I was recently asked by Runner's World to take a look at their new cookbook Meals on the Run and I didn't hesitate to say yes. After having much success with their last cookbook, I could only imagine the new delicious recipes I could have now!

Can you guess what's even more amazing about this cookbook? The meals can be prepared in 30 minutes or less! This is perfect for me! I mean, don't get me wrong, I LOVE to be in the kitchen.

And not just for cooking...planks are perfect here!
However, when I was contacted to review the recipes, I was super busy with JFK 50 Training. I had little desire to come home and prepare a meal after a 20+ mile long run. So upon seeing that these meals were super easy and quick to make, I was on board!

The first meal I prepared was the Southwestern Black Bean Wrap.

This is one of their breakfast items but I made it for dinner. Peter and I had a challenge to have breakfast for every meal for a week. This was one of the meals.

As I prepared the wrap, I managed to screw up something so easy...

The eggs were not supposed to be cracked into the beans and rice, BUT despite the mishap, I managed to complete the burrito!

Oh and I also screwed up the wrap by overdoing the warming-up of it.

As you can see, it was pretty sturdy. However, that didn't matter in the end. It was just a really yummy edible plate! And the Southwestern Black Bean Plate Wrap was really delicious! The combination of beans, salsa, cheese, and avocado really made for a unique breakfast dish. Though you could easily have it for lunch or dinner (just like I had it)!

So would I make it again? YES!

The next creation was the Spaghetti Carbonara.

Image from Runner's World Meals on the Run
This is one meal I have never made before! But it looked easy enough! And who can say no to a recipe with bacon?

I did have to make a modification to the recipe. It called for whole wheat spaghetti noodles, but because I chose to eat gluten free, I chose the rice noodles I had available.

In the future, I wouldn't chose the same noodles. These noodles were really thin like angel hair. I would definitely go for gluten-free spaghetti noodles or maybe even linguini noodles! Still, I thought it was good, but I feel that the noodles took away from the full potential of the dish. No offense to Runner's World, of course. This was all my fault! But I will try it again in the future!

The third meal I chose was something I have never tried before. I tend to get tired of having the same things over and over, so when I saw the Spicy Chickpea with Spinach recipe, I went for it!

Image from Runner's World Meals on the Run
This was the one meal that I think I got down pat...with exception of not having enough paprika! AHH! Do I ever get anything right?

Once again, I did make one modification to make it gluten-free. I switched the whole wheat breadcrumbs to a gluten free option. I just took out the Magic Bullet and shredded up my Rudi's Gluten-Free Multigrain Bread. TA-DA! Instant breadcrumbs!

Anyway, as I put everything together, my hopes for this meal escalated. I had a feeling that this was going to be magnificent. I even thought it looked better than what was in the picture!

I LOVED this meal and I have every intention on making it again. I liked that it was different from the typical dinners we have and that it is PACKED with protein! Perfect for a recovering runner like myself.

The final meal that I made (so far anyway!) was the Black and White Bean Sausage Soup because as we approach colder temps, warm soups are perfect! I also love that they usually give us plenty of leftovers!

The only thing with this meal was that it took me longer than the promised 30 minutes. That may have been because they called for mirepoix.  I never heard of mirepoix before. It's apparently a combination of chopped carrots, celery, and onion that you can buy. Since I didn't have it, I spent a decent amount of time manually chopping 3 cups of "mirepoix" which put me over the 30 minutes.

After the chopping though, the cooking sped up.

I do have to include that I did not use the same sausage they were recommending. Ours was prepackaged sausage, not fresh from the deli. So there wasn't casing to remove or cooking that needed to be done. Basically, I just had to cut the sausage into little bits and throw into the soup. Next time, I will definitely purchase the right kind. But that did not ruin the recipe by any means.

I LOVED this recipe. I had a hard time deciding whether I liked this more than the Spicy Chickpeas, but it definitely ranked as one of the top recipes attempted so far. I cannot wait to try more!

I think Meals on the Run is the perfect cookbook for those that are concerned with nutrition, are low on time, want to expand their recipe library and expose their taste buds to a delicious dish! It would make a great gift for you or a runner you know this holiday season! I fully recommend it!

Keep your eyes on my instagram to see future recipes I try!

Have you tried any of the recipes from The Runner's World Cookbook or their new book, Meals on the Run? Which ones did you try and love?

What is important to you when it comes to food? Taste? Ingredients? Nutritional value? Simplicity?

New Year's Resolutions...A Month Early

After a week off from all exercise, I resumed this week with some P90X. It may sound a bit aggressive since this is my downtime, but I have a goal. In fact, this has been a lifetime goal that I have yet to achieve. And I thought now, more than ever, would be the perfect time to start achieving that goal. Why wait until the New Year, right?

Anyway, the goal is to get and maintain some abs. I figured that if I can have the mental and physical strength to run 50 miles, then I can do this. The goal is not specific to just getting abs. I want to be toned from head to toe, but I figured once the abs show through, that means I have truly accomplished getting into the shape I wanted to be in.

So, that's where P90X comes in. I am majorly modifying their "Classic" workout schedule. Since I intend on running again after another week off, I will remove a lot of the cardiovascular workouts from the schedule. I mainly want to use this to build up my overall muscle tone and of course, use the ab ripper to get some killer abdominals because I surely do not have them now!

The before...

I also have hopes that this will not only help me achieve the physical appearance that I want, but also mold me into a better, faster, stronger runner. I have never been disappointed in my performances, but I would love to achieve some of the time goals I have always wanted. I would love to have a 1:45 half marathon, a sub 4 hour marathon, and a 22:00 5k. I've been close, but I need an extra push. I can't do that with my past training plans alone.

My exercise isn't the only plan that is being revamped though. My diet needs modified too. It seems that in the last month or two, I have become really sensitive to sugar. If I have too much, my heart starts to race and keeps me up at night. This isn't just restricted to sugary snacks. I have had issues after eating fruit.

As much as I hate to modify what used to be normal to me, I want to feel better and sleep well. So I am replacing sugary foods and trying to eat more veggies in their place. I am not removing sugar completely, however. This has had negative side effects in the binge eating. I just gotta have a lot less. At least until I gain some control over the issues I am having.

So that's what's up in my world lately. I really hope that I can stick to the P90X workouts because right now, just after 2 days, I am sore as hell!!! Just 88 more days left!

Have you ever combined P90X with your running? Did it improve performance?

Have you completed the full 90 days of P90X? Share your results!

Race Recap: The JFK 50 Ultramarathon - Part 3: The Road

Continued from Part 2

Once Peter and I exited the C&O Canal Trail, we were greeted with a steep uphill on Dam #4 Road. I will say that I welcomed the new variety. Although I am one of the few who say that I absolutely love running on the C&O Canal,after 26 miles of flat trail and covering 42 miles total, I needed something different. Even if it was pounding on asphalt in trail shoes.

Once we crested the hill, the reality that I had another 8 miles quickly discouraged me. Sure, I may have been on the last leg of the course, but when you are already hurting, 8 miles seems like 80. We ran in spurts. At times, I would encourage myself to run up to the next telephone pole or for the next 5 road pylons, then walk again. Miles seemed to grow longer even though Peter advised that we were pulling 12 minute/mile paces, but it sure didn’t feel that way. My brain told me that those 12 minutes were hours.

At aid station 44, I stopped to fill up my hand held (Gatorade was becoming a delicacy during these last few miles) and I actually encountered my high school track coach. Though it had been about 13 years since I was on the team, he recognized me and said “You’re a Britner, aren’t you!? Weren’t you the one that didn’t like to run!” He was absolutely right. During track and field, we were to run a half mile for a warm up and I about walked most of it. Now look…I am running 100 times that.

At the mile 46 aid station, I grabbed a handful of chips since I hadn’t taken in any food for the last 5 miles. I thought it would give me a hint of energy, but I was beyond help. Peter was also feeling the burn. He was coming up on mile 20 of his excursion, 2 miles beyond his longest distance. At this point, we both had to encourage each other to push through the pain. So we talked about the pizza we would eat, the Irish Trashcan I would drink, and how much we appreciated each other’s support through this whole thing.

Despite feeling crappy, we continued to encourage other runners as they passed us and as we passed them. We were all in the final stretch together and just minutes away from accomplishing something amazing: Crossing that finish line.

When we hit the final mile and turned onto the final street, I started to get emotional. All that stood between me and the view of the finish line was a hill next to a road called “Britner Ave.” For those that don't get it, Britner is my maiden name.

Peter and I walked the hill, but as soon as we crested the top, I broke into my final run. This was Peter’s queue to veer off the course as he could not cross the finish line with me.

A fire lit within my heart and my legs began to cycle faster. I managed to dig deep within my soul and find the energy I lost after mile 25. This moment was what I had been training for over the past 24 weeks. This moment was the reason that I pushed through weeks of foot and knee pain obtained from training. This moment was proof that I could do anything I put my mind to. This moment…I was unstoppable.

As I closed in on the finish line, I caught sight of my aunt Sharon.

I hadn’t seen her in 10 years or more! I knew that if she was there, my family was nearby watching this. I was elated. There is nothing better than to have your family and support team watching you reach your goals.

Not my finish time since I started at 5 am

Upon crossing the finish line, the energy that pushed me to the finish line dissipated. I immediately felt as though I was sedated and entering a dream. The last 6 months of physically preparing myself for this event had now come to this: Finishing a 50 Mile Ultramarathon. I was overwhelmed with emotion. Not only was my ultimate bucket list item accomplished, but I overcame so many obstacles to get to this point. Many times over the past several months, I contemplated dropping out due to injury and exhaustion. It forced me to reach out to a higher power to get me through the pain and doubt that I felt.

I was given my medal and as I exited the finisher’s area, I caught site of Peter again, followed by my family. I immediately hugged my sister and the tears began to flow.

Though you can’t really hear what I am saying, I know that I said something along the lines of “I am so glad it’s over! It hurt so bad! It was so hard!”

But don’t let my words of pain lead you to believe that this wasn’t a great experience. Sure, there was pain physically, but the strength I discovered in my mind and spirit was powerful. It was a treasure that I could only find by pushing my body well beyond its physical limits. Just because something hurts and it drives you to a point where you want to give up, always look within yourself to find that push to make it through. It’s there. You just have to dig deeper.

I’ve already been asked if I am going to do the JFK 50 Ultra next year. As much as it pains me to say it, I am not. Peter and I will be training for the 2017 Dopey Challenge in Disney (yes, we have already planned for this) and this is a new challenge that I want to partake in. However, I do plan on being a support runner that day because there’s nothing better than to see a familiar face when you are at a low point.

So to wrap it all up, I can honestly say this is the one race I will NEVER forget. I am certain I will be back in the future to relive this day and possibly get the time I originally wanted prior to injury, which was 10:00:00 (my time was 11:34:51). Even if I don't achieve that goal, finishing is still an accomplishment in itself. The power and strength I found from this experience was truly worth the pain and suffering.

Thank you, JFK've made me realize that I am my own super hero!

Race Recap: The JFK 50 Ultramarathon - Part 2: The C&O Canal

Continued from Part 1...

When I arrived on the canal, I After 4 hours going up and down hills and cautiously running over rocks, I was now on the flat trail and it didn't feel right at all. I immediately began my 4 minutes running and 1 minute of walking, but I was quickly feeling exhausted with every mile that passed. Maybe I went faster than I should have on the AT, but it was too late. I was also already committed to finishing. No matter how I felt, I would push through. Besides, I only had a few miles until I would see my friend Chris who volunteered at the mile 19 aid station. I also remembered a Facebook post of the cookies they were offering there. It was definitely motivation to keep going.

As I approached, I immediately noticed Chris, who snapped this photo. 

There is seriously nothing better than seeing your friends on a tough journey. It's even better when they are also runners who have been through hell in training. Chris, for example, just earned a BQ time! That takes dedication! Congratulate him. :)

Anyway, I topped off my Gatorade bottle and located the cookies I was fantasizing about. They were almost too beautiful to eat. Keyword being ALMOST!

Seeing Chris and having this delicious cookie gave me the extra push I needed and with just 11 more miles until I would see my husband, I was ready to go!

Around mile 26, I caught site of another running friend, John. He was not participating in the race, but offering his support to get us through a mile or 2. It made me light up and gave me another wind! I ran with him for about 10-15 minutes and skipped all my walking breaks. It's strange how when you see someone you know gives you an extra tank of energy. 

Once we parted ways, I only had a little bit to go until the next aid station and 3 miles until I would join up with my husband, but as I reached the mile 27 aid station, I spotted my parents, sister, and PETER! My husband ran up to join me and I was shocked. I reminded him that from this point to the end was 23 miles, but Peter basically shrugged it off like it was nothing. What's 3 more measly miles, right?

Within minutes, we spotted my friend Carly. She joined us for a few minutes to see how I was doing. Though I felt as heavy as lead (I had already been running for over 6 hours now), I told her I was well. I was halfway through this journey and in about 10 miles, I would be approaching my favorite place to run: Taylor's Landing. So I needed to remain positive to at least get there. I felt that seeing familiar grounds would give me a boost.

Peter ran in front of me and said he was the carrot that would keep me going. I don't think a carrot was the best metaphor since I was preferring junk food at this point, but I tried my best to keep at his heels. Several times I had to kindly ask him to hold up or slow down. His faster pace didn't bother me as I understood he had a full tank of gas, but it made me realize just how quickly I was coming down to a low point. 

I religiously checked my watch and kept to my intervals, but each time I would walk then start running again, my hips and ankles would scream. I needed pain relievers and soon! I promised myself that I could take them at the mile 34 aid station at Snyder's Landing. There, I took a bathroom break, grabbed a cookie, and also downed those pain killers. I figured that in taking them 16 miles prior to the end, they would help me through the remainder of the race. Unfortunately, the relief didn't come as I had wished. I think my discomfort was beyond anything that my pain killers could relieve.

As we pressed on, my Garmin finally died. It lasted me nearly 9 hours and bonked at mile 37. Thankfully, Peter had his and we were able to keep at the intervals. It also gave me a bit of a break from watching numbers since Peter now had to track it. He would tell me when to go, when to stop, and when to go again. At times I moaned and groaned, but pushed through the pain. I was getting so close.

As we approached mile 38 at Taylor's Landing, all I could think about was red velvet cake. I knew that they served it there and knew I had to down a piece of the infamous JFK 50 dessert. I walked up to the volunteers and said "I hear there's this red velvet cake..." and they knew what was up. 

Look how happy I was! Thanks for the picture, Willow!

The cake was delicious. I don't know how the icing was made, but it was so creamy and cool. Just what I thought I needed. It seemed in that moment, I would be okay. But once it was devoured, I found myself at a low point once again. 

The paaaain!!

I saw my family moments later and immediately began to get upset. I told them how bad I was hurting and how I just wanted this race to be over. My mom and sister both hugged me in comfort, but I was the most uncomfortable person at this point. Even their touch hurt me. My shoulders, arms, chest, hips, and ankles were so sore. Just putting my hand on my hip was next to excruciating. Still, less than 12 miles to go. It couldn't be that bad....right?

As Peter and I continued through our stomping grounds, my spirits picked up just a little. Some of the surrounding homes of people I met on the canal were blasting music and it was a definite pick me up. Even homes up on the cliffs across the Potomac River were celebrating and showing their support by blaring "Boom Boom Pow."

Walking break with Peter just before Dam #4
As much as I love running this area of the canal, I was ready to get off of it. It was a bit of a C&O overdose. So when Dam #4 came into view, I was elated. I could ditch the intervals and just play the last 8 miles of my adventure by ear.

Race Recap: The JFK 50 Ultramarathon - Part 1: The Appalachian Trail

I am not sure how to put this race recap into the right words. I will sure try, but I doubt that it will give it the justice it deserves. I mean, how does one best describe a race they trained 24 weeks for? A training which put my body and mind through an alternate running reality... goes nothing!!!

I woke up at 3 am and was surprisingly calm. I had my clothes already picked out, bag already packed up, electronics charged, and breakfast prepared.

Overnight Apple & Honey Oats

I had little to worry about. All I really had to do was eat my breakfast, put on my clothes and TA-DA! I was ready!

A photo posted by Lindsey Szakacs (@lindseyszakacs) on

Peter and I left for Boonsboro High School and were a few of the first people to arrive. I guess it helps when you are locals!

I spent this time making frequent visits to the bathroom (my bladder goes into overdrive prior to all races) and listen to the pre-race debriefing. It was general overview of rules, guidelines, cutoff times, etc. They also took time to recognize veterans who have run the race multiple times and what their anticipated finish was. This was helpful for newbies who may want someone to pace them.

After the debriefing, the crowd of 5 am starters walked about a half mile to the square of Boonsboro. For those of you not familiar with the JFK 50 Ultramarathon, it has 2 start times: A 5 am and 7 am start. I was a part of the 5 am group. Participants in this group must be race veterans, those who have been in the military, are of certain age, or who contributed at least $500 to charity. I fell into the charity category and took full advantage of this privilege. Partaking in the 5 am start meant that I would not have to worry about cutoff times for my first ultra and that was just fine with me!

Shortly after reaching the starting line, I kissed Peter goodbye and it wasn't long before race officials were counting down to the start. I was in disbelief that this was it. Twenty-four weeks after starting my training, I am standing at the start of my first 50 mile excursion. There was a lot of uncertainty floating around in my head, but I kept reminding myself that there was nothing to it but just to do it. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

When the gun went off and I began to run, my emotions began to swell. I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. I had a 14 hour timeframe to finish this thing and I was already near tears within 30 seconds.

The first street which leads up to the Appalachian Trail (AT) has a few rolling hills. I watched most people actually run these hills, but I held back and stuck with my plan of walking all hills.  I knew that this would help me conserve as much of my energy as possible. Besides, the hill that followed was about a mile hike going straight up. Running it seemed pointless. In fact, those who did attempt to run it didn't get far ahead. Wasted energy, if you ask me!

As I scaled the mountain, my legs could feel the camber in the road. One side of me felt overworked while the other seemed as though it was just along for the ride. Since we were instructed to stay to one side of the road, I had to make it work. It was a bit frustrating as I was only 20 minutes in. Relief came quickly, however, when I saw the sign for the South Mountain Inn. Its parking lot holds an entrance to the AT. I went into trail mode and headed down the gravel path which lead you to complete darkness.

I was equipped with a Petzl headlamp. I paid nearly $70 for this bad boy just for this race. It was going to be really dark on the trail and I wanted something that was going to keep the rocks at my feet in site. I was prepared to walk nearly everything until the sun came up, but because my lamp was incredibly bright, I was able to run like I would have typically. *2 thumbs up for Petzl!*

As I continued, I meet a guy who was running his 10th JFK. He had said that he was running them since he was 17 and has only missed 2. He chose the 5 am start in effort to finish way before his other family members did . They were starting at 7. We only stuck together for about a quarter of a mile before the first aid station at mile 4.

At this point in the course, runners hop off the AT and begin scaling a paved road. This is quite a climb and lasts nearly a mile and a half or more. The hills are very steep and leave you winded very quickly. Before making my ascent, I said to the volunteers, "We're almost at the finish, right?" I think I remember one saying that I was running the wrong race.

As I made my climb, I talked to a few of the participants along the way. I advised that although I hadn't done the actual race before, I knew this was the worst climb of the entire course and if you could get through this, you had nothing more to worry about in the miles ahead (other than exhaustion I was later going to face). I also found that walking up this mountain in the dark was easier than doing it in the day. I could only see the hill I was working on, rather than the hills to come. It helped me remain focused.

When you reach the top, there is a power station, which is basically the landmark that tells you you've made it! Here was yet another aid station. I skipped it as I already had plenty on me. Instead, I took my last moment on asphalt to take off my shoes and dump the debris that had already fallen in before taking on the trail again.

It was definitely slow moving at first since some areas are tight and you have to follow other runners in single file. So if the person in front is walking, you are too. When the trail did widen in areas, that is when you would take your opportunity to pass.

I was very surprised at how I avoided rolling my ankle trail running in the dark. There were days in training where I would roll my ankle every other step, but not today. I felt light on my feet and they were landing in all the right places. I mean, there were some bits that my ankle did take a rough turn, but nothing that debilitated me from keeping good speed.

As the sun began to rise, my fancy schmancy headlamp began to dim on its own (it self adjusts to light!) and I ended up turning it off just after 6:30 am. Another runner and myself admired the beauty of the sunrise and talked about the course. He was from PA in a city about 3 hours away. He said that he had to come down here for training runs more often since it was so beautiful. We met up with another runner later and discovered we were all first-timers to the JFK. They seemed really cool I wish I could have run a little bit more with them, but when we hit mile 10, the Gathland Park aid station, we went our separate ways.

My dad was here waiting for me with one of my bags. At this point, I didn't need anything, I just needed to shed the headlamp. We talked for a minute or 2 and he seemed really impressed that I was nearly 40 minutes ahead of my goal already. We quickly planned to meet up again in Weverton. I had about 6 miles until then, but that would take me about 2 hours at most. I would more than likely need more food and to drop my jacket at that point in the day.

After a short break to quickly use a bathroom (there wouldn't be any until reaching Weverton), send out a group text to the family, and eat half of a Clif protein bar, I was back to it! In my opinion, the second half of the trail is far more technical. There are more uphills and more rocks that sprinkle the area. I did roll my ankle just a few times through this area, but it was nothing that I couldn't continue through. There were also far less runners in this portion, but I did enjoy that only because I felt less rushed. I am not the most skilled trail runner so I didn't want to avoid holding up other runners, especially in the areas which you had to be in a single line.

Speaking of line formation, we were advised during the debriefing that at 8:15 am all 5 am runners needed to stick to the right side of the path to make way for the elite runners. This made me extremely nervous. I stayed to the right when I could, but after 30 minutes, I still did not see the front runner and I was about a half mile away from the switchbacks. WHERE HAD THE TIME GONE!?

At around 8:30 am, I heard the 1st place runner approaching. As he sailed past me on one of the most technical areas of the trail, my jaw dropped. His stride was like 10 feet in length (kidding) and he showed no doubt in each step. And here I was...embarrassingly baby stepping it at a 20 minute pace.

No elites followed for about 15 minutes...that is...until I actually reached the most challenging/dangerous obstacle of the entire course: The Weverton Switchbacks. I literally got down one switchback before I heard "on your left" shouted from behind me. A similar 10 foot stride sailed down the cliffs without fear or doubt. I froze until they safely passed. When I would hear another elite approaching, I would do the same.

At one point, Michael Wardian passed me and I briefly had a fangirl moment. I first learned of Wardian in 2013. He passed me on his second lap of the Freedom's Run as I was still running my first. It was the first time I had ever ran alongside an elite runner. It may have been for 5 seconds, but I was amazed by how his running appeared he was flying. Since then, I have enjoyed spectating or reading up races he has competed in. I went to watch him run the 2013 JFK 50 at mile 38. It was in that moment of watching him that I decided I would one day do the JFK. So running this race was because of him.

Anyway, back to the race!

After making it down the switchbacks and on to stable ground, I found my father at the Weverton aid station. I took off my jacket as the temps were now in the 40s and would rise into the 50s. He helped re-pin my racing bib to my back as I ate the remaining half of my protein bar. I grabbed a new one to replace it. I sent out my mandatory group text of my current progress. As I did, I was able to see some of the replies I had seen from earlier.

It is always motivating when you see your support group cheering you on! was off to the canal for me. I made my way under the 340 bridge as more top runners zoomed past. I was envious because they would be done in a matter of 4-5 more hours after only running for 2. I had already been running 4 hours and had an estimate of 8 hours to go!

But I was off to the easy part....or so I thought.

Part 2: The C&O Canal.
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