“On this day” should be changed to “More depressing sh*t”

I belong to a few widow(er) facebook groups and it comes up periodically that the “On This Day” feature on facebook is a minefield full of triggers.  The triggers aren’t just reminders of illness and death.  The triggers are also the happy memories because you are reminded of the life that you are missing.

Some days I didn’t talk much throughout my history on facebook.  But some days are chock full of memories.

On this day in 2009, I was attending the Midcoast Maine Young Republican Meeting.

On this day in 2010, I was having a bad day at work and wanted to go home and drink. Considering I was working in the ER, that sounds about right.

On this day in 2011, I was out of work for the weekend and I had a hot date.  Of course someone commented and asked what Bryon was doing that night.

On this day in 2012, I was at a Bruce Springsteen Concert at the Times Union Center with Bryon.  I also was pissed that the Red Sox blew a 9-0 lead and I wanted Terry Francona back.

On this day in 2013, I hated Windows 8. I still do.

On this day in 2014, I was wishing all Boston Marathon Runners Good Luck.

I apparently wasn’t doing anything on this day in 2015.

On this day in 2016, I had my first glimmer of hope.  I remember writing that facebook status and feeling relieved.  We were finally on the road to recovery.  I remember being told that he would probably be in the ICU for another month or so and then he would go to rehab for a couple months.

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But we now know that that road would never lead Bryon to recovery.  It’s like I can feel all the emotions I felt waiting for that road to recovery at the same time; the frustration, the anger, the sadness, the hopefulness, the desperation.  However, it is also mixed with the grief and emptiness I feel every day from Bryon’s death.

Those memories are always going to be there whether they are on Facebook or in my memory.  I can’t un-live it.  I can’t pretend it didn’t happen.  And I don’t want to forget my memories with Bryon.  We had too many good times.  I can only hope that as time passes, I can think about these memories without crying and being overcome with sadness.  I want to be able to look back and smile.

I must move forward and try to fill my future with happier memories with my daughter and my family and friends.

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Rest in Peace Rev. Malcolm Stephens

You are probably wondering “Who is Malcolm Stephens?’’

I was asking myself that very question the other night.

I was looking at my Facebook newsfeed and there was a post from Malcolm Stephens. It was actually written by his wife and it was stating that he had passed away unexpectedly and that the funeral service will be Saturday.  This immediately grabs my attention because widowhood gives you a sick fascination with death.

He was a Facebook friend of mine and yet I had no idea who he was.  The fact that I didn’t know how I knew him didn’t concern me.  I have a lot of Facebook friends I don’t really know.  A lot of people had sent me friend requests when Bryon got sick and I assumed he was a friend of Bryon’s.

I clicked on Rev. Stephen’s facebook profile looking for clues as to how Bryon knew him.  Our mutual friends would reveal how he knew Bryon.  I would learn if they were connected through politics, or college, or law school, or the Masons based on mutual friends.  But Bryon was our only mutual friend.  I could see that Rev. Stephens was the minister of an African Methodist Episcopal church and that he lived in Atlanta, GA.  We are Catholic from New York so I have no idea how their paths crossed.

I message my daughter’s Godmother to tell her about this.  She could not place Rev. Stephens name and she knows a lot of people too.  We both discussed how Bryon knew so many people.  We pondered a few possibilities but we were still stumped.

Now it was starting to bother me.  How did Bryon know Malcolm Stephens?  Did they meet on an on cruise or on an internet cruise forum?  Did they meet on a train?  At a conference?  I looked through Bryon’s Facebook for clues.  Looked at the “see friendship” option and there were only brief but sincere messages of friendship between the two.  I still couldn’t figure it out.

Then I investigate Rev. Stephen’s on my own Facebook.  We had become friends when Bryon got sick.  Turned out he messaged me twice and I never responded to either.  First was in April and in that message he explained to me that he was Bryon’s manager when he worked at Disney.  That explained it.  The second message was in August when Bryon was in NYC.  Rev. Stephens told me that his sister who lived in NYC would like to stop in and pray with him.  And for whatever reason, I never responded.  I know I was overwhelmed, but was I that overwhelmed?

I cried.  I cried for his wife, his family and his community.  This man was clearly a caring man and he had touched many lives.

I cried because I started thinking about how this past spring he was worried about his friend and all he really had was my facebook status updates.  I was too overwhelmed to answer texts and facebook messages.  Among our close friends, they had created their own hierarchy of information.  His best friend would communicate with his college friends, another friend communicated with his political contacts.  But unfortunately I did not delegate anyone to be a contact for people Bryon knew that did not fit into one of this many groups.

I cried because I thought about all the lives that Bryon had touched.  So many that even I, his other half and best friend did not know to what extent that Bryon’s touched people.

I cried because I thought that even if they hadn’t seen each other in ten years, they probably had already met up, two old friends in Heaven.

I am beginning to think that Bryon touched so many lives that there was no way that the average person could process all his friendships.  Whenever I take those psychology tests online, my results are either introvert or ambivert (which means I fall exactly in the middle of the introvert-extrovert scale).  I like the company of others but it does wear me out.  If I seem like I am outgoing, it is because I worked hard to develop those social skills.  Being outgoing doesn’t come naturally to me.  Bryon, as we know, was an extreme extrovert and I still am amazed at how many friends he had. I have no idea how he managed to keep all these friendships alive because he spent so much time with my daughter and me and he was always focused on us.  I never felt cheated or like I was second place.  He also got a full nights sleep every night.  I truly have no idea how he did it.  It was like he had a superpower.

Rest in Peace, Rev Malcolm Stephens.  I am sorry I didn’t know you but if you were friend of Bryon’s, you must have been a good person.

Honesty

I have tried to be honest about my grief through this whole process.  I usually do that in the form of blog posts such as this one.  I find that writing about my feelings helps me process them and I make my feelings public because it might help others. While it might only take you five minutes to read this blog post, it will take me hours to write this.  Sometimes those hours are spread over days.  I keep a written journal of sorts that I write down my thoughts and ideas that come to me as they are happening in their rawest forms and usually I review these journals when I write a blog post.  Sometimes my thoughts go straight on my google doc and I spent hours elaborating and organizing these thoughts.  I usually write about something that has bothering that particular week and I usually feel somewhat peaceful about that particular issue after I hit the publish button.  

There are times that a feeling comes on so strong and I can’t keep it in.  Like my blog posts, I need to get these issues out.  So sometimes it comes out in a post on social media.  Usually when I post on social media about something, I am upset and can’t wait to go through the process of writing a blog post.  When I post something in this state, I am venting.  I am not looking for sympathy nor am I looking for advice.  If I am looking for advice, I would be asking a specific question.  Usually when I post an emotional social media status, I don’t have anything left to debate or defend my position.

Usually the social media posts that spark the biggest reactions are those about religion.  There are some widows and widowers that never lose their faith in God and that is great.  I am happy for them.  I began my grief journey feeling that way.  I was actually fairly at peace when Bryon died but as time passed and I was left to deal with the grief, I was not comforted by God.  I have recently begun reading A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis and Lewis speaks about feeling like God has slammed the door in his face.  That is how I feel and I own it and I am honest about it.  While I don’t take my loss of faith lightly and resent it when people imply that I have.  I actually was very distressed about it in the beginning.  Aside from a few rebellious teenage years, I have tried to have a close relationship with God.  Being a good Catholic girl was a huge part of my identity and I was distressed that I was losing my identity on top of losing my husband.

I know that the comments about God being good and God allegedly loving me are well intentioned, it is actually like salt is being rubbed in my wound.  I have also come to the conclusion that a lot of these well intentioned people truly don’t understand what I have lost and what kind of pain I feel every single day.  And that is a good thing because I would never wish this type of pain on anyone.

Being told that I need to realize that life isn’t easy comes across as disingenuous to me and it demonstrates to me that my point is being missed.   I lost my best friend and the love of my life after less than four years of marriage.  Can people who have not had that loss truly tell me that they know how I feel?  Bryon was robbed of  the life he was supposed to live, the career he was working on, the places he wanted to go to, and the years he was supposed to spend with me and my daughter.  I was cheated out of my Happily Ever After and my daughter was cheated out of knowing her father and all her years with him.  I am tired of being told that the God that stole my daughters father from her is “loving”.  She’s 2!  What could a 2-year-old do to deserve that?

Sometimes I wonder if they need to reassure me of God’s alleged love not because I need to be reminded but that they need to reassure themselves.  I also wonder of people’s motives when they are trying to convince me about God’s alleged love.  Are bonus points given out for saving the widow?  I don’t need another church or another religion.  I am Catholic and will always be Catholic to some level.  I don’t need a new parish.  I will forever be grateful for the parish priest at my church.  He was there for Bryon, my family and me even when God was not.

I know this post might offend some people but I have spent too much time over the past 8 months worrying that I was offending people and this has caused stress.  Before Bryon got sick and passed away, I had the energy to deal with someone if they said anything rude or critical or insincere and by “deal”, I mean fume about rude, critical and insincere comments.  I also held back a lot of my true feelings.  But I don’t have the energy to fume.  If you cause that kind of reaction from me, I am going to take a step back.  I am going to take my space.  Because I just don’t have the energy to deal with anything negative.

There are a lot of assumptions and expectations about who I am based on who I was.  I touched upon that here.  But I am done being defined by others expectations of who they think I am.  I have spent my whole life worried about what people thought of me and not wanting to offend other people.  I can’t do it anymore.  I can’t hold back who I am, take care of my daughter, work 40 hours a week and grieve all at the same time.  I have to put my daughter and myself first.

I know that this post may upset people but I need to take care of my daughter and myself.  And those who are my true friends will understand and love me wherever my journey of self growth takes me.   Maybe I will find my faith in God renewed.  Maybe I will become a Buddhist.  Those who love me will understand that I am smart and I am strong and I am don’t need to be told what to believe.  I spent 38 years letting others have too much of a say in my life.  I need to figure things out myself and I need to be honest to my myself.  And I need to figure it out in my time.  I am processing my grief and soul searching and I am confident that over time, I will figure out what path I need to take.  The path that is best for me and the path that will lead my daughter into being who she is supposed to be.  And a part of me is actually a excited about the process.  I apologize that my self growth might make you uncomfortable but I will not apologize for doing what is best for me.

The Easter that should have been

We spent last Easter together in the ICU.  You were not able to communicate but I sat with you.  Our daughter spent the day with my parents.  Your best friend and his wife came.  They brought me a plate of food.

This year I have to go to the cemetery to see you.

Easter should have been different.  You should have been here.

You should have been with us on Thursday during our daughter’s Easter egg hunt party at school.  Since your best friends son attends the same school, you should have been there cracking jokes with your best friend.

You probably would have tried to get her to see the Easter bunny but let me tell you, her fear is real.

You should have been here Friday night when we dyed eggs with our friend and her son.  You should have been the one wincing when our daughter dropped a cup of green dye on the dining room floor.

You should have been at the Easter egg hunt yesterday at your best friends house.

You should have been there to see our daughter play with her Easter basket this morning.  Don’t worry, your princess got a basket fit for a princess.

If you were here, we would have gone to church where we would have done all that rejoicing and being glad.  Our daughter probably would have worn a proper Easter dress instead of her Elsa dress with rain boots.  This year Elsa and I opted out.

If you were here, you would have cooked dinner.  You didn’t care for ham so it would have been some version of beef.  We would have used our wedding china.  This year I made ham and used the everyday dishes because I couldn’t bear to look at our wedding china and think about all the holiday meals we would not be having together.

If you were here, you would have eaten peeps and I would have told you that they were disgusting.

But you are not here and if I want to see you, I need to go to the cemetery.  Easter went on without you but your absence was replaced with pain.  A pain as large as your personality.  Since you went into the hospital on Easter weekend, I get to be reminded of that weekend on the date and on the holiday.  But all I know is that going forward, I get to think about what should have been.

Brunette Catholic, blonde Buddhist or somewhere in between?

I always thought I had a strong sense of who I was.  And I never questioned my own authenticity.  Yes, on the outside I am from a small Maine town but many people don’t realize that I spent the first 14 years of my life in the Boston area.  I spent a semester abroad in England when I was 21.  Besides Boston, I have spent time in London, Paris, Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., Miami, Houston, New Orleans, Vegas and many other cities.  I am fairly educated and worldly.  I just try not to be pretentious about it.

I have always been a rule follower whether it was my Catholic religion or sitting in school.  I was not a kid who got in (much) trouble.  I did get caught daydreaming a lot but there was a whole world outside whatever window I was looking out of.  I can’t say I never broke the rules in high school but I pretty much did as I was told.  I did not drink in high school or go to gravel pit parties.  I rarely stayed out past curfew (though my parents were pretty lenient as long as I called) though sometimes I stayed the night at my best friends house because she did not have a curfew. This created a kind of late night loophole that I would take advantage of. (Sorry Mom and Dad!)

I stretched my wings a little bit when I was in college.  A few weeks into my freshman year I decided to get an eyebrow ring.  It was 1997 and it was before they became popular.  It actually looked good on me though I don’t think any picture exists.  I didn’t think it through because I was heading home the following week and figured I would just take it out when I was around my parents.  My parents never saw it (though my brother saw it and he kept threatening to tell them).  I realized that I was never going to have the guts to wear it in front of my parents and I couldn’t handle the pressure of living a double life so the eyebrow ring didn’t last.

And of course, there was the road trip my friends and I took to St. Stephen, New Brunswick just so we could go to the bars when we were 19.  I remember walking along the Saint Croix River, pointing to the Maine side and laughing because we “couldn’t drink over there but we can drink over here.”  I always think of that trip every time I hear “One Week” by the Barenaked Ladies.  I wasn’t a saint but I kept myself out of trouble.

I was a very hyper and annoying kid and somewhere along the way, I figured that I had to bottle up my true self to fit in with people.  I would just sit quietly because I didn’t want to become hyper and weird and annoying.  I chose to only open up to a few.  I liked to participate in structured activities so I only had to discuss the topics on hand.

After college, I started dating the guy who would later become my ex-boyfriend.  I think of him as kind of an anti-Bryon because he was the exact opposite of Bryon.  One could argue that Bryon was the over correction of this guy. I could probably write a whole post on him and what I learned from that relationship.   In very general terms Bryon was a Catholic, Republican, manly-man who loved sports while the anti-Bryon was a Protestant, Democrat, non-manly man who preferred science fiction to sports.  Another big difference was that Bryon actually liked me while the anti-Bryon did not.  I think I was someone who paid for dates for two and a half years.  He never embraced me for who I was and I spent two and a half years trying to be the woman he wanted.

After I broke up with the anti-Bryon, I got absorbed into the world of politics and most notably, the Young Republicans.  I embraced the lifestyle of Republican politics and I wore suits, heels, pearls and the Sarah Palin hairstyle.  I loved politics because it was like I was an actress playing a role.  I didn’t have to worry that I was shy and awkward.  Politics gave me a way to relate to people.  It was also during my time in politics that I learned conversation skills and poise.

Politics led me to the best years of my life.  My years with Bryon.  The years where I became a wife and mother.  And like everything else, being a wife and mother provided me with a role that I was more than happy to assume.  Bryon did love me for me but relationships are always filled with give and take.  Bryon had the successful career and I pretty much was content to live in his shadow.  It might have caused some contention between us at times but I don’t regret it. Especially since he apparently wasn’t meant to be here as long as the rest of us.

I have heard that during widowhood, you begin to question everything you once believed.  I thought I had myself and the world all figured out.  While I learned that I am much, much stronger than I ever gave myself credit for, I also learned just how much Bryon overcompensated for my weaknesses.  I don’t have him to cover for me anymore. I have learned that I can count on my family and I have also learned which of my friends are actually my family.  I have learned who I can’t count on (some were surprising) and which friends really weren’t friends. I learned that you can’t put all your faith into the healthcare system and that the healthcare system can fail you.  And I learned that God  doesn’t care if you did your best to be a good Catholic girl for over 30 years.

All those years of trying to fit into roles and groups has left me with a repressed free spirit.  I have always had a free spirit that gets antsy and wants to see the world.  It used to drive Bryon nuts when I wanted to day trip to anywhere, as long as it was out of Albany. He usually indulged me. I also have a creative side.  I am still in the process of trying to let those parts of me out.  I have been running.  I have been travelling.  I have been cooking new recipes and putting together furniture from IKEA.  I have been reading about Buddhism to try to stay Zen.  I have been in the process of changing over to natural cleaning and beauty products.  I plan to have a garden this summer and learn how to can vegetables.  I tried to dye my hair blonde but that didn’t work.  And don’t be fooled if you ever see all the books on my nightstand.  You might see titles that consist of history, religion, politics, business, memoirs, parenting and grief/self help but the last two books I read consisted of one by the Long Island Medium and the other was Jodie Sweetin’s memoir.  Candace Cameron Bure’s memoir isn’t proving to be nearly as exciting as Jodie Sweetin’s memoir.

I realize that I was just afraid.  I have been afraid of success and I have been afraid of failure.   I have been afraid to let people see the real me.  I had a clearly defined past and I have been afraid to stray from the expectation of who I am supposed to be.   I have been afraid that if I tried something different or learned about something different that it might change how I think.  And if I continue to be afraid, I will never fully live and I must fully live to be an example for my daughter.  So my daughter can grow into the woman she is supposed to be.

Tears in Heaven, ice cream, and Sleepless in Seattle

A few weeks ago I went to brunch with a few friends.  The food was delicious and we had a great time.  There was lots of laughter and stories and a few mimosas. Both of them were talking about their dating adventures (or misadventures) which I enjoyed hearing about them.  

But on the ride home I became really sad.  I had one grandmother who lived to be 90 and my other grandmother is 95.  I genetically have the potential to be stuck on this planet for another 60ish years and that is a long time to be alone.  But I got sad thinking that someday I might have to date again.  I started crying and the tears kept coming.  I did not ask for this.  I was happily married.  I don’t want to be alone for 60 more years but I also don’t want to date.  Why does life have to be so cruel?  Why did my happily ever after have to get ripped away from me when so many other people get to be happy?  Why does everyone else get to be happy and not me?

So I get home.  I post a sad status on my Facebook because I feel the need to vent and  some brave people comment and try to make me feel better and while I appreciate their intent, it never makes me feel better. Maybe I just need to stop sharing my feelings on Facebook.   I blast my sad songs list on Spotify (doesn’t everyone have one of those?) and eat some ice cream.  I blast Tears in Heaven and listen to it on repeat.  Then I do what I do when I am feeling incredibly sad.  I put on Sleepless in Seattle which lives on my DVR because I needed to hear Tom Hanks say  “Move on. Fine. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll just grow a new heart…I know. But it just doesn’t happen twice.”  Tears in Heaven, ice cream and Sleepless in Seattle, are like, my trifecta of grief.

One of my best friends must have seen that status because she messages me asking if I am okay.  She is one of the few friends that I don’t feel like I have to answer with “I’m okay.  Everything is okay.”  I told her I was sad and I was listening to sad songs and eating ice cream.  I did not tell her I was watching Sleepless in Seattle because I was nervous that she would have gotten into her car, drive over and delete Sleepless in Seattle off of my DVR and I can’t live without that coping mechanism.

Things have changed in the past month or two.  I am starting to come out of the widow fog but the grief certainly has not subsided.  I am still incredibly sad.  I am still trying to make sense of Bryon’s death.  Some days I begin to think that I am used to Bryon being gone while other days I still sit in shock and disbelief that he is actually gone.

When Bryon first died, I tried to come up with a timeline for grief.  I have always been a goal oriented person so it made sense that I would set goals for the grief process.  But it hasn’t worked that way.  The months have just been bouncing by and I have been unable to attain any of these goals.  I am still wearing my rings. A lot of our bills are still in Bryon’s name, his stuff is still taking up space in our house and I still haven’t shut off his phone.  My friend asked me if the fact that we talk about Bryon so much is holding me back and I said no because most of my thoughts are still consumed by him and his death.  I am afraid to stop talking about him because then he really will die.  Yes he is physically dead but his story remind me that he actually did live and I am not ready to let go of that yet.

Have I been moving forward?  I don’t think so.  I think I have been surviving and keeping myself busy by traveling and doing activities with my daughter but I don’t really think I am moving forward.  I am distracting myself.  I am waiting for time and grief to pass before I start living again.  I spend time with my friends and my daughter and I work, usually until the early hours of the morning as I put off bedtime every night because lying in an empty bed is just too painful.  I need to stop searching for happiness because I am just not going to find it.  I am just getting used to being sad and I need to embrace that because that is my life right now.  This is my normal and since I can’t set my own timeline for healing, I need to embrace that I am going to feel sad until the indeterminate time comes when I no longer feel sad.

So for the time being, I will continue to feel sad.  I will continue to cry when I think about what I have lost. I will still continue to distract myself.  I will continue to go on adventures with my daughter. I will still continue to spend time with those I am close to.  I will continue to try to check items off of my widow “to-do” list.  I will continue to try to find myself as an individual.  I will continue to do all of these things until eventually my grief subsides and all of this just becomes part of me and my story.

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Race Recap: Ann Arbor Probility 5k

So this blog is called “Running Forward” and you may have noticed there hasn’t been much running in it.  That’s because I dropped the ball over the winter.  I did some running over the winter but nothing over 6 miles.  Every time I seemed to pick up momentum, I seemed to get this on-again, off-again chest cold. Plus I had gone back to work after Thanksgiving and it was hard learning to juggle work and single motherhood.  I hate making excuses and I am usually very hard on myself but I am trying to cut myself some slack.

I was registered to run a half marathon the weekend I was in Ann Arbor but as the race approached, I knew I was not in any shape to run a half-marathon. At first I thought I could tough it out it. I mean, I ran a half-marathon six weeks after Bryon died.  But I was in the most raw grief at the point.  Then the chest cold was cycling back around again.  My Maine best friend told me that there was no shame in switching to a shorter distance. I have never run a 10k but I decided I wanted to be in better shape to get a base 10k time so I decided I would run the 5k.

My Maine best friend came with me to the race expo.  I went to the Half-Marathon table and explained my dilemma.  I was directed to another table that was labeled “Registrations and Solutions.”  Changing my registration was painless.  The woman that at the table assured me that there were lots of people in my situation with illnesses and injuries.

After I changed my registration, I went to the other side of the room to claim my t-shirt.  For some reason, I wasn’t feeling checking out the tables for swag.  So my Maine best friend and I checked the course map so we could plan the logistics for the next day and then left.

The next morning, I got up around 6:15 am and tried to be quiet as I didn’t want to wake my daughter.  But she woke up.  I told her she could stay at the house with my Chicago best friend or come to the race and my daughter immediately says “RACE!”  So we fed her some breakfast and bundled her up.  I ate half of a plain bagel and drank a little coffee and water.

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The race was set to start at 7:30 am and it started right in front of the University of Michigan Stadium. We decided to walk because my Maine best friend, and her fiance, the Scientist lived close enough that it didn’t make sense to drive.  It was about a 20 minute walk.  All four races had the same start.  There was a lot of excitement but I don’t know what I would feel about it if I were a marathoner.  The start was slow because there was a large bottleneck of runners.  It ended up taking me two minutes to cross the start line.

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I was not mentally prepared to run.  I was not focused, I forgot my inhalor and I forgot my garmin.  I decided that since this was just a 5k that I would just enjoy the run since I was anticipating an awful time.  

The 5k was one lap, 10k was two.  There was a half marathon lap and marathoners did two.  The 5k was not well marked but I managed.  I had forgotten my garmin and had no concept of how fast I was running.  The race was quick.  We ran down the main street and we turned onto the campus.  We ran by the natural history museum where we were the day before.  Before I knew it, I saw the 12 mile and 25 mile markers for the half marathon and marathon so I knew it was the last mile.  I was actually feeling pretty good despite not having my inhaler.

Before I knew it, I was running through the finish chute.  I was convinced my time was going to be awful but the timer said 45:59 so I knew my chip time was going to be faster. I got my medal and snagged a 5k brownie for my daughter.  After the race, I went to a Starbucks for my Venti Iced Americano with cream, sugar and an extra shot and then my Maine best friend, The Scientist, my daughter and I walked back to the house.

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My official time was 43:34.  I was satisfied.  It wasn’t my worst time and it wasn’t my best time.  For being under trained, I was content and even a little excited. I had never run a 5k that was in conjunction with a marathon and a half marathon so that was exciting and I am glad I went through with racing.  It actually started to rain heavily after we got back to the house so in a way, I was relieved I didn’t run.  I don’t mind running in the rain but I wouldn’t have wanted my Maine best friend, the Scientist or my daughter to have to stand around in the rain waiting for me.  All’s well that ends well.

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Overall, I thought this was a great event.  And I will be redeeming myself in 2018.