Before this month, the last time I had spent any time with the Morea family was April of 2007. They made the drive from Long Island New York to Boston to cheer me on in the Boston Marathon. For the 3rd year I would be running the marathon in honor of their youngest, Jack, who was born with the liver disease biliary atresia. (read all about Jack’s story in this blog post) The night before the race we all went out for hamburgers while the rain came down and the wind howled. A nor’easter was coming and it was going to make for awful race weather. It was so bad they had to leave in the morning before the race. The weather turned out okay and I got to talk to them after the race. I’m sure we promised to ‘get together soon’.
Fast forward to 2014 and the family has moved to Marietta, Georgia. Jack’s mom, Michelle, and I have done a great job of keeping in touch through emails, Christmas cards and Facebook where I have seen all three of her children grow rapidly through the years. For a long time, we said we would plan a visit but with crazy schedules we never pulled the trigger…until finally we did. The Hot Chocolate 5k/15k was coming to Atlanta and Michelle and some friends were signing up so I did too and then booked my flight during a Boston snow storm with dreams of warmer weather down south.
On Saturday morning I made my way through the Atlanta airport until I found Michelle waiting for me with open arms. We had all day Saturday to spend together and catch up while also focusing on the ‘now’ – Michelle was hosting dinner for friends who were running the race on Sunday so we were also getting ready for that. We were so excited to see one another after all of these years but it was if no time had passed all – its funny how that is always the case with the truest of friends.
It was a long day of traveling and a fun night having dinner with Michelle and her friends so I was ready for sleep when the last of the guests said goodnight. We had our alarms set for 5:00 am to meet everyone and head into Atlanta for the race. Close to 20,000 runners were expected and it would be a busy scene at Turner Field where the race began.
Those dreams I had about a warmer run in Atlanta were crushed when the temperature was stuck in the low 30’s that morning. The sun was coming up and I knew I would warm up considerably once I started the race but meanwhile I had to wait for nine waves of runners to leave for the 5k course before it was even time to line up for the 15k and in that time I was freezing. I should have gone for a warm up run but it was so crowded at the start I couldn’t see where it would be best to go for a run away from the course. Instead, I just stood there jumping around and freaking out about all the mistakes I had already made. These included: 1. I forgot my sunglasses. It had been cloudy the day before and it was so dark out when we left in the morning, they were the last thing on my mind…until the sun came up and was shining directly on the start line. 2. I didn’t eat enough – when I got up I made a little bit of toast with almond butter (my new obsession) and jelly but that was three hours ago. I had planned to bring a Luna bar with me to eat a half hour before the start of my race but I forgot that too. It was finally time for the 15k runners to line up and I was in the first corral. I stood there with my toes and fingers numb, obsessing about the sun and empty stomach until we sang the National Anthem and they blew the bullhorn.
It took me about two miles to get the feeling back in my toes and finally warm up. Once I did I was able to focus on my pace and start setting goals for the rest of the run. I wasn’t sure what to aim for in such an odd distance race but I initially thought I would shoot for 8 minute miles, so I took off at a strong pace on a downhill. Once I reached the first 5k of rolling hills I was averaging 8:13 and figured I would do my best to hold that pace for the next 5k. The hills continued coming and I was slowing down.
My hamstring was causing some discomfort and I was definitely struggling with some fatigue since I was hungry. They did give out chocolate on the course but I worried that I would respond well to that on my run so didn’t take the chance. Maybe a chocolate flavored Gu would have been helpful. At the 10k my average slowed down to 8:18 so I headed into the last 5k of the race hoping to bring that down. I hoped that every hill might be the last but they kept coming until one last big downhill at the end. I finished the Hot Chocolate 15k in 1:17:12 – a 8:17 minute mile that I was pleased with given the tough course and my nutrition mistake.
Michelle and the girls had all run the 5k which started 35 minutes before my race so they were done running before I even started. I was extra motivated the last couple of miles to finish up since they were probably freezing waiting for me. As I ran toward the finish I heard Michelle yell my name from the sidelines. I crossed the finish line and she found me letting me know that all the girls were warming up in the car. I got my giant mug of hot chocolate and chocolate fondue (yep – post race fondue) and headed back to the car. The race had some impressive schwag – the hot chocolate, the fondue and a fancy hooded fleece that felt great after I cooled off from the run.
We all went out to breakfast to refuel and they talked about what all their next races would be. I was a little jealous. They were all so nice and I wish I could be a part of their running fun more often. Hopefully, I’ll make it back sooner rather than later for more fun with them.
We were able to relax most of the rest of the day and I got to spend some time with Jack. He’s so grown up now and very strong and healthy. He’s current sport is Parkour which has him flipping and tumbling and getting ready for his future profession as a stunt man! I got to see one of his Parkour lessons and was super impressed by his back tuck. Way to go Jack!
We spent Sunday night with all the kids watching and singing along to Pitch Perfect and I tried to watch the Grammy Awards but the long couple of days got the best of me. It wasn’t long after LL Cool J’s monologue that I fell asleep on the couch with the dog. My body needed some rest and it wasn’t going to wait for anyone – even Madonna with a cane.
Monday afternoon Michelle drove me to the airport to head back to Boston. The trip was short but we filled it with lots of fun and plenty of time to reconnect. The Moreas have always made me feel like family and welcomed me with open arms so I’m certain it won’t be quite as long until we see each other again.
In the meantime, I have less than three months until I run Boston again. Spending time with Jack reminded me why the funds we raise are so important and seeing him so healthy made me even more proud to be a part of the Run for Research team. If you would like to contribute to my campaign in honor of Jack and all the individuals who are affected by liver disease, please visit MY FUNDRAISING PAGE.