Running the Nike Women’s Half Marathon D.C.

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It is hard to believe that after four months of training and fundraising, I have finally completed the Inaugural Nike Women’s Half Marathon in Washington, D.C. Last Fall, when my Mom asked me and my sister to do the race, I was skeptical that I would cross the finish line in one piece, and I never expected to run across it. When I announced my participation last December and first asked for your support, I was pretty confident that I could at least walk the whole thing. I am very happy to announce today that I did finish the half marathon, and that I raised over $3500 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as the #3 fundraiser for the Maryland chapter of Team in Training for this event. Additionally, Team McDowney raised over $8,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and all three of us crossed the finish line on April 28th. THANK YOU to everyone who supported us on this journey.

Because I have heard that it is important to write down the race story to read again in the future, and because some of you have asked for the details, here is my recap of the 2013 Nike Women’s Half Marathon D.C. I call it The Longest Story Ever Told. If you think this post is long, just be glad it wasn’t a full marathon – I know I am!

My Story

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Every runner in every race has a unique story that brought her there. On the morning of April 28th, Run Nike Women posted on their Facebook page, “On this day, 15,000 stories come together as one.”

For several of us running, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society played a part in our stories. There were 2300 Team in Training participants in this race, and together we raised $6 million to beat blood cancer. I have already shared with you my fundraising and training experience this season, including the small victories as well as the bumps in the road, and how I got introduced to Team in Training in the first place. What I haven’t shared with you yet is why running a half marathon was such an incredible personal victory. I ran in honor of seven and in memory of thirty-one people, I ran for all of my supporters and donors, I ran for all the patients and patient family and friends that have been affected by blood cancer, and I ran for me.

When I was a college sophomore, I came down with a bad case of mononucleosis that would not go away for months. After dozens of tests and a few rounds of several different medications and therapies, I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I dropped my course load down to six credits, stopped working, and slept 12-16 hours a day. I could not climb two flights of stairs without having to sit down and take a break. A four hour shift standing on my feet at my part-time job was a trial. I left every dinner early, I missed almost every party, and shopping trips were a real struggle. I even fell asleep during my 20th birthday party! No matter what I tried, I could not get better for about two years.

Without going into all the details here (because that could take a few blog posts), I will summarize by saying that my life completely changed for ages 19-21. During that time, I thought I would never work a forty hour week or play another sport, and I locked all my old dreams up in a box and tried to replace them with smaller, achievable ones. I read about people with CFS getting better and I read about people getting worse. I did not know what to expect for the future and I took things one step at a time, learning to not push myself or I would pay for it.

For people who know me well, it is easy to see how this condition was devastatingly contrary to my nature. I’m a perfectionist and overachiever, who packs too much activity into too little time, and I am always chasing the next big achievement. In the words of Daft Punk, “harder, better, faster, stronger” is my mantra. In the words of Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights, “if you’re not first, you’re last” sums up how I had felt about most things I had ever attempted. For that reason, I worked hard. And for the same reason, I had a tendency to shy away from things that I knew I couldn’t be great at. While I was sick, I made a promise to myself that if I ever got better, I would no longer shy away from challenges that were outside my comfort zone and I would accept new experiences, even if I thought I might fail, just because I could.

So, seven years later, training for and completing a half marathon is kind of a big deal. I still have to be careful with my activity level and I am very attuned to my body’s needs, resting when I need to, and only pushing it when I know I have the energy reserves. I work hard but I also work smart. I could relapse at any time and when those old symptoms creep in, I step back so that I will not have to battle fatigue again. I am working on keeping that one promise to myself, which is why I said yes to this experience and raised over $3500 for a great cause, even though I knew I would never be the best at it. I ran because I could, I ran to use my energy for the benefit of others, and I ran far!

Race Week

While much of Richmond prepared for the big NASCAR race, I prepared for my own race weekend by completely resting my injured right Achilles tendon to maximize my chances of finishing strong, trying to let work and life stress roll off my back to stay calm, and following my pre-race diet plan (semi-strictly) to fuel my body for the 13.1 miles on Sunday. I took off work on Friday to pack and prepare, and Kyle and I traveled to D.C. on Saturday morning. I was very excited to see my parents and some fellow Maryland teammates decked out in TNT gear in the hotel lobby when we arrived.

We traveled to the Georgetown waterfront to visit the Nike concept store and have some lunch before heading to packet pick-up. Lunch was at Le Pain Quotidien, and because this is a food blog, I have to show you what we ate.

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The mint lemonade that I ordered was delicious and refreshing. In the name of carb-loading, I dove headfirst into the most perfect slice of wheat bread before our food arrived. I ordered the avocado and chickpea tartine, Kyle had the spring pea hummus tartine, Dad had the smoked salmon and scallion omelette, and Mom had the roasted turkey and avocado tartine.

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After lunch, we walked over to Nike. Nike had put all of the runners’ names on the wall next to their concept store in Georgetown and we had fun finding our names in the mix. I thought this was a pretty cool idea and I was totally surprised by it when we approached the storefront.

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My sister Meghan met us for packet pickup and the Expotique, which was unlike any other race expo I have ever been to. Instead of having dozens of vendor tables and booths in a big conference center, this expo featured just the key sponsors, with really cool booths and activities for each one. Nuun had an electrolyte lounge with brightly colored electrolyte-rich concoctions, Luna Bar had a create-your-own cheer poster station, and Bare Minerals and Paul Mitchell were doing free makeovers right in the expo tent!

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We met up with hundreds of other TEAMmates at the TNT Inspiration Dinner on Saturday night and lined up for unlimited pasta and veggies. We entered the ballroom through a tunnel of costumed cheering TNT coaches and staff. They made a lot of noise and I felt like a celebrity! The dinner featured some great speakers including a few Olympians and an inspiring survivor and honored TEAMmate, Annalynn Surace, who has fought blood cancer herself two times and was running with us that weekend. Her incredible speech about her journey reminded us all why we were doing what we do, and inspired us to complete the final 13.1 miles of our Nike Women’s Half Marathon journey the next morning. At the dinner we learned that 2300 participants had raised $6 million for LLS during this event, and I learned that I was one of the top fundraisers for Maryland. After dinner, we made our final preparations and headed to bed early!

Race Day

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The alarm went off at 4:00 AM, and in true McDonald sister fashion, Meghan and I were moving quickly. . . 15 minutes later. Ha. By 5:00 AM we were dressed, checked out of the hotel, and eating breakfast in the lobby. I usually eat toast with peanut butter and a banana before long runs. I couldn’t find a banana on Saturday, so I settled for just the bagel and Justin’s maple almond butter that I brought with me. By 5:30 AM we were riding the Metro  with hundreds of other runners, and by 6:30 AM we were lining up in our start corral. Energy was high before the race started, as Nike led us through dynamic warmups that were a little difficult to complete, as 15,000 runners were packed like cattle into tight corrals. Then runners made last-minute adjustments and stretches as party music blared through the loudspeakers. The excitement was overwhelming and I had to start my own playlist early just to tune out and relax for a few minutes before the race.

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The announcer said a few words about the tragic events at the Boston marathon two weeks before, and tens of thousands of runners and spectators fell silent for a moment that gave me chills. After an hour of nonstop loud noise and bustling activity, suddenly all I could hear was a few birds singing on Pennsylvania Avenue and the quiet breath of everyone around me. I saw the sun rise over the Capitol building as the National Anthem started to stream through the speakers, and thousands of women around me quietly placed their hands on their hearts, wiped tears from their eyes, and gazed at the American flag above us. It was an indescribable feeling.

A few minutes later, we were off! A lot of runners passed me in the first few blocks, as I jogged at a comfortable pace with Meghan and Mom by my side. Mom planned to walk the race, so after about a quarter mile of running, she patted me and Meg on the back, air kissed us on the cheeks and said, “Go, girlies!”

The first 4 miles flew by. The course took us through a tunnel in the first or second mile with two bands playing underground with us. The drums echoed through the entire tunnel along with the thunderous sound of a thousand feet running through and loud cheering from participants. I was amazed at the volume and energy of that experience. Meghan and I high-fived at every mile marker, which was a lot of fun. She always saw the mile markers before me because I was so tuned into the playlist on my iPod and the scenery around me. There were a lot of TNT supporters along the course, and I saw some great motivational signs in the crowd.

We expected to see Kyle and my Dad between miles 4 and 5 but somehow missed them. That part of the course was packed with spectators on both sides, and we looked and never found them. Meg and I assumed they couldn’t get access to the cheering spot in time so we kept looking for them along the rest of the course. We saw our Team in Training coach, Jack Beach, between miles 5 and 6 and he ran with us for about 30 seconds and told us we were doing great. There were enthusiastic TNT coaches all over the course and they loudly cheered the names they saw on the front of our jerseys and asked us how we were doing. It was really cool how much support we had the whole way. We hit the 10K mark after an hour and 12 minutes and we realized aloud that we would definitely make it to the finish within the 4 hour time limit.

I started to deflate a little after mile 6 and had to walk and have a few Clif shot blocks at the water station, as I felt that my blood sugar was getting low. I was disappointed that I hadn’t seen Dad and Kyle yet because I was really looking forward to the lift. Plus we had planned to ditch some gear with them as my SPIbelt was a little too packed and Meg was still wearing the long sleeve shirt she had started in and wanted to strip down to the race tank around 8:00 AM. It was almost 8:30 at this point and warming up outside. After some carbs and water I was feeling better for the next mile or so. I accepted the fact that I might not see our cheering section until the finish line and it pushed me to get there sooner.

During mile 8, I spotted a bathroom stop that didn’t look too crowded and we were still making good time (12:40 pace compared to my training pace of 13:00-14:00 miles), so I decided to stop and take advantage. All of the bathroom stops before that one had a line of at least 25 runners and this one only had about 10. Unfortunately, the line moved very slowly, and this stop cost us 10-11 minutes, which was really disappointing because when we rejoined the course we were surrounded by people at a much slower pace. We had to do a lot of weaving for the next mile. Meghan said that all the walkers around her made her feel like she was going to start walking too, and I felt the same.

We high-fived at the end of mile 8, and Meghan wanted to take off to catch a faster group. We sped up for a bit but after about a half mile, I could tell she had a lot more energy than me and I needed to slow down. My breathing had not been much of a problem during training, with my muscle fatigue catching up to me faster than my well controlled exercise-induced asthma every time, but at this point I was starting to really feel it in my lungs and my legs. I told Meg to go ahead, she asked me if I was sure, and I told her again to go do great. I was really proud that she was doing so well, and really uncomfortable with my own body despite stretching at several points along the course. I needed to regroup and take it slow.

I started to hyperventilate, so I dialed down to a walk and took a puff of my inhaler. When my breathing was under control, I consumed some carbs and stopped to stretch and enjoy the scenery. I repeated my two mantras, “Slow and Steady” and “Enjoy the Moment” and I realized I had made it almost 9 miles in two hours. I was doing well. Not as well as I had started, but overall I was on pace based on my training, so I accepted that and tried to remain positive. I took in the scenery, which had been amazing the whole way. We had passed six memorials and monuments, Arlington Cemetery and the Kennedy Center, and had been within sight of the Potomac River almost the entire way. I focused on enjoying the moment, and that carried me through the next two miles, through a lot of pain in both knees, my right foot, and both hip flexors.

I almost cried when I saw the marker for the end of mile 11 and realized I had run the farthest I ever had. My pace had tanked and I was doing a combination of jogging and walking at this point. Every inspirational sign along the way nearly brought me to tears, along with the slow songs that randomly started playing on my iPod as I had run out of playlist and was just shuffling a Chemical Brothers album at that point. I walked almost all of mile 12 because I was in pain, I was getting emotional, and I wanted to save some energy to finish strong. Things got weird in this mile as the course widened, more people around me started getting sick and injured, and I saw strange (de-)motivational posters from spectators, like “I didn’t get up this early to watch you WALK!” My mantras weren’t working anymore and I realize now that I just wasn’t mentally prepared for those last two miles.

I hit the end of mile 12, downed one last Clif shot block, and hung unto a new mantra that I had seen at the Luna Bar area at the expo the day before: “Mind Over Muscle.” I started jogging again and right as I saw the finish line in sight, my left Achilles tendon (not the problem one) started hurting and my left big toe and foot arch started to cramp up. I immediately thought, I knew I should have tried harder to find a banana this morning, because I always have a banana along with my toast and peanut butter before running, but I couldn’t find a single banana in D.C. the day before the race so I went without. When my toe would not stop spasming, I stopped in the middle of the course and started to stretch my calf as a random TNT coach ran over to me and asked if I was OK. I told him what happened and he said, “you’re almost there, be careful, and don’t worry about this last part of the race, just take it easy and walk, you’re doing great.” I nodded my head and said thanks, and he added, “make sure you rest the rest of the day, these injuries can take a long time to heal.” Great!

I really appreciated the support when I was mentally over this race. I told him I was okay to jog, and thought, screw it, I’m so close, I can finish easy and strong. Mind Over Muscle. I jogged the last half mile, and there were so many spectators cheering my name (from the front of my TNT jersey) that it was impossible to find the three faces I was looking for: Kyle, Dad, and Meghan. I fought back tears as I crossed the finish line and walked down the red carpet to get my finisher prizes. My knees were killing me. Runner’s high, my ass! I just wanted to get out of there and stretch! I gulped a bottle of water, and accepted my finisher “medal” – an exclusive silver necklace in a little blue Tiffany & Co box (my first), handed to me off a silver platter by a cute boy in a tuxedo. Yup, this was a women’s race.

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The Finish

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I collected free snacks and my finisher shirt and headed out of the finisher area. When I had gotten out of the crowd and to a quiet spot, I started to eat a banana, texted my Dad, and started to stretch. Five minutes later, Kyle came out of nowhere and hugged me tight. Meg and Dad followed and I was so happy to see their faces! Apparently Dad and Kyle were on the bridge after mile 4, long before anyone in the race made it there, but we never saw them and they never saw us. Somehow the crew also missed me crossing the crowded finish line, even though we were all there at the same time, so I have no photos of that. You’ll have to trust my word and my timing chip for proof that I completed this race! After Meghan and I compared notes and stretched together, Mom rejoined the group and the men went on a coffee run for us. I have never been so happy to see an iced coffee in my life.

Women seeking men with coffee, ice packs, and compression sleeves.

Women seeking men with coffee, ice packs, and compression sleeves.

Immediately after the race, someone asked me if I would ever do a half marathon again. My legs and in turn my voice screamed “I don’t think so!” but after some reflection, I’m considering it. I think that if I were able to train properly, without any injuries along the way, and if my work schedule normalized so that it would not interfere with exercise time, then I think I would do it. I had a great race this time around, and I think I would  have an even better one the next time, now that I have the experience, and the knowledge that comes along with it, to say that I am a half-marathoner!

Thanks again to all who supported me through generous donations, encouraging messages, and motivational tweets, facebook posts, and instagram comments. Thank you also to the Richmond, VA and Harford County, MD Team in Training coaches and teams for the support during my tale-of-two-cities training experience. If you are interested in getting involved with Team in Training, I absolutely encourage you to do so, and you can find a local chapter here.For Richmonders, there is a Fall season info meeting this Tuesday, April 30th at 5:30 PM at the REI in Short Pump.

What’s next for Team McDowney? Supporting Nick (Dad) in his Seagull Century this Fall – more details to follow. What’s next for me? Rest and relaxation! Recipe development! And after a couple weeks of rest, trail running! Then, who knows?

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Veganville Run Is Done!

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Last week I surpassed the $2500 mark for my fundraising for the Nike Women’s Half Marathon with Team in Training. Because we met the goal before April 12th, I had to make good on my promise to run the Monument Avenue 10K dressed as a block of tofu. Thanks to everyone who donated and spread the word, I heard cheers of “go tofu!” and “run tofu, run!” all along the 6.2 mile course on Saturday morning. Here are the photos!

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It was a beautiful day for a race, and definitely the warmest weather I have run in while training for the half marathon. I had the pleasure of hosting (and doing completely unnecessary carbo-loading with) my friend Sarah from The Smart Kitchen over the weekend, as she completed her very first race!

I stuck with my friend Jess for the whole race, which was also her first. One of the most exciting moments of the day was watching the winner of the race come into the final stretch, as we were making our way to the start. That’s right, several people completed the race before we even began. We were in a jogger wave that started one hour after the first wave, and as we were making our way over the the start line area, we just happened to be on Franklin Street, in the last few blocks of the course, at the precise moment that the number one and two runners came flying through. I have never seen someone winning a race in person, so it was pretty exciting! I can’t imagine what it feels like to come in first place in a road race (and will likely never know).

The race course itself was pretty entertaining, with live bands, enthusiastic cheering groups, and a lot of costumed runners. It was a terrible training run because of the erratic pacing due to overcrowding on the course, so I just seized the opportunity to work the costume and have fun with it. I felt more like I was just hanging out with friends than I was exercising. We even stopped twice to socialize with friends and family in the median on Monument Ave, adding at least 10-15 minutes to our official time, because we really were not going for speed (as usual). The goal was to have fun and I think we accomplished that.

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Unfortunately I have been having some swelling and pain around my right Achilles tendon over the last two weeks, and it flared up near the end of the race. I think this stems from a series of hard workouts during which I pushed myself harder than I probably should have, and the sudden addition of hills to my routine a few weeks ago. I dialed my running activity way down over the last week in an effort to heal what is acting quite a bit like a tendon injury. Of course this caused me to spend more hours in the office, and consequently have a major meltdown while making dinner one night this week, due to the absence of a good outlet for my overwhelming work stress. Not my finest moment. Oh, my poor husband.

After ice, anti-inflammatories, and rest for several days, I felt great at the start line of the 10K. However, around mile 4, I felt the now familiar tendon soreness that indicated I was still not fully recovered. Based on the swelling and pain I have experienced in the 24 hours since the race, I think it is safe to say that I am off it for at least another week. I want to heal as much as possible before the big race in two weeks, so I can have an enjoyable experience for my first half marathon. If that means my “taper” is more like a hard stop, then so be it. I want to be rested, recovered, and ready to run with TNT on April 28th!

There is still time to donate to LLS, so if you missed the opportunity to give before last weekend, please visit my Team in Training page to make a donation in any amount. If you are in Richmond area, please join me at Legend Brewing Company this Thursday for happy hour. Legend will donate $1 for every beer purchased between 4:30 and 7:00 PM on April 18th. Hope to see you there!

Raising the Bar: TNT Update

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I promise you that I will have a recipe for you this weekend. I’ve been cooking and photographing in between working long hours and running long distances, which hasn’t left much time for writing. I do have some pretty great ideas and recipes to share with you and I will get them typed up soon. Recipe creation and ingredient innovation is very important to me, but I have been finding ways to fit other passions into my life over the last few months.

If you think one of those passions is running, you are absolutely wrong. I really do not like running that much at all. However, I am passionate about the mission of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training, so running has become a big part of my life since December 2012. With just three weeks left until my first half marathon with Team in Training, I have three very exciting accomplishments to share. So I’m going to hit you with some knowledge before I hit you with that recipe.

First, I ran 10.5 miles last week, exceeding the minimum distance that I want to run in training to feel prepared for the 13.1 miles on April 28th. I will have another long run this weekend and I might push the distance farther, but then I will be done with distance-building until the day of the race!

Second, I met my fundraising minimum for the Nike Women’s Half Marathon last week. The minimum amount I need to raise to participate is $1600. About $400 of that goes to administrative fees, race fees, etc. at Team in Training, and every additional dollar that we raise beyond $400 goes directly to program services, including research, patient services, and public health and professional education.

Third, I met my personal fundraising goal of $2000 this morning. The fundraising numbers that will be reported on race weekend are due in one week, and my fundraising page will remain open for about six weeks. As is in my nature, since I have met my initial goal, I have decided to set the bar a little higher at $2500. I think we can do it!

I have nearly doubled my fundraising dollars over the last week due to the enthusiasm and generosity of several dear friends, who have gone above and beyond to share the mission with others. Special thanks for Joan Love, who has executed her own email campaign to her friends and colleagues to get the word out. My sincere gratitude goes out to Jeff Carter, Steve Parker, Andrea Nattrass, Jessica Weiss, and my other work colleagues, who have made my mission their own. Steve has agreed to shave his iconic beard if his team is able to meet the fundraising goal that he has set for them. So far, they have raised double the goal amount. Way to go, team!

The next goal is ambitious – $400 in one week. Last month, I pledged on my website Veganville Run to run the Monument Ave 10K dressed as a block of tofu, if I raise a total of $2500 by April 12th. I am sewing a tofu costume this weekend, because I believe we can get there.

It has been a long run so far, and I will need your help to get to the next milestone this week. I appreciate each one of you who has made a donation and offered encouraging messages of support. Now I am asking you to share the mission and the work we have done so far. Please send out to your contact list, write about it on your blog, and share on Facebook and Twitter on my behalf. You never know where people have come from or what they are dealing with, and I have learned over the last three months that many of the people you interact with each day have been impacted by blood cancers in one way or another. I have heard some amazing stories and received immense support simply by sharing the mission with others. Will you please do the same?

Lauren’s TNT Fundraising Website: http://pages.teamintraining.org/md/nikewhlf13/ldowney

Here are some exciting things that you could share. Please email me if you would like more info.

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Legend Brewing Happy Hour – April 18th, Richmond, VA

Legend Brewing Co. will donate $1 for every beer sold in the beer garden on April 18th between 4:30 and 7:00 PM to Lauren Downey’s fundraising for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training. Come join us!

Simply head out to Legend, join us on the deck, and order a beer. Legend will donate $1 of every beer purchase to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training.

We will also raffle off some great local RVA prizes and tickets will be available in exchange for a donation to LLS! JOIN the event to see the raffle prizes as they are announced.

Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/527902787256517/

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Help Us Dance our Way to a Cure! – April 13th, Columbia, MD

Please join Team McDowney on Saturday, April 13th at Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Columbia for an evening of ballroom dancing to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training. All levels of experience are welcome, from the brand new “what’s a foxtrot?” beginner to the seasoned “my waltz will bring you to tears” professional are welcome!

Professional ballroom dance instructors will teach you the basics of 3 different dances, and then you can dance the night away! Your $15 ticket includes instruction, refreshments, a live performance by professional dancers, and raffle tickets for some great prizes from local businesses. 100% of the ticket sales will benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/148285718680407/

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Veganville Run!

Lauren Downey has pledged to run the Monument Avenue 10K in Richmond, Virginia on April 13th, dressed as a block of tofu, if she meets her fundraising goal of $2,500 to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Lauren is raising money to fund life-saving blood cancer research with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training. She will complete four months of training and fundraising on April 28, 2013, when she will run the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in Washington, D.C.

Please help her reach her goal by making a donation, then stay tuned for photos and video of Lauren sporting an attractive tofu costume at the Monument Avenue 10K, two weeks before the big race.

If Lauren raises. . .

$2,500 – she will wear the block of tofu costume on April 13th at the Monument Avenue 10K

$3,500 – she will perform one of JT’s songs from the SNL sketch at the finish line of the Monument Avenue 10K

$5,000 – she will officially “bring it on down to Veganville” and go vegan for 28 days

The deadline for donations is April 12, 2013. Donate today!

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Created 24 years ago, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Team In Training (TNT), has grown to be the world’s largest and most successful endurance sports charity training program. Since its inception in 1988, when a team of 38 runners trained together for the New York City Marathon and raised $320,000, TNT has prepared more than 570,000 people to achieve their dream of completing a marathon, half marathon, triathlon, 100-mile (century) bicycle ride or hike adventure. Those participants have raised a remarkable $1.3 billion to support blood cancer research and patient services.

The money raised by TNT participants has enabled LLS to fund millions of dollars of research to help advance new treatments and cures for leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma, and provide critical education and support to cancer patients and their families.

Nearly 50% of all cancer drugs approved by the FDA during the past decade were for blood cancers. And they are helping other patients as well. Five of those drugs have been approved for patients with solid tumors and others are being tested for other indications.

Survival rates for children with leukemia have improved from 3% 40 years ago to 90% today; Hodgkin lymphoma patient survival rates have more than doubled to 88% since the 1960s. And the survival rate for myeloma patients tripled in past decade.

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THANK YOU for your support!

Fresh Start Breakfast

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Although I am not a morning person, breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I would be lying if I said that I don’t love mornings. I do love mornings, on weekends and vacations only. Perhaps my feeling that “I’m not a morning person” stems from my experience of most mornings: frantically running late, rushing to work, gulping down coffee and breakfast, sitting in traffic. . . then spending the rest of the morning enclosed by cubicle walls with no window to the outside world. Who could possibly get excited about that?

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On my days off, I love mornings the most. I enjoy the calm quiet and the feeling that I am at the fresh start of something new. Mornings can be full of hope, energy, and plans for the rest of the day. I rarely feel disappointed or rushed on a weekend morning; I simply enjoy the opportunity to take my time. Some prefer their coffee cold, some prefer it hot. Some like their coffee French pressed, cold brewed, or poured over. All I know for sure is that I like my coffee slow. Slowly sipping a cup of coffee at the beginning of my day is a gift that I do not give myself often enough. Under that category, you could also file: stacks of pancakes, syrupy French toast, fresh oranges, fluffy croissants, and bubbly mimosas.

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I have fond memories of vacation and weekend mornings that were completely unrushed. On Labor Day weekend last year, we rented a cabin in the mountains with friends. I remember waking up before everyone else and brewing coffee in the quiet, cool kitchen, then sipping a steaming cup on the wraparound porch, while listening to the morning sounds of the woods. On the day before our wedding, Kyle and I carefully drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the thick morning fog and hiked to Humpback Rocks at sunrise. Fresh starts on cool mornings are priceless.

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I recently had several wonderful mornings in New York City, and something about moving the conventional routine of breakfast to a variety of exciting places made an impression on me. I seized the moment each day and had a delicious breakfast in a new place, with no agenda or deadline. This, of course, negatively impacted the number of activities I could cram into each vacation day, but that was okay with me. The first breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien set the tone for the rest of the mornings on my trip.

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I had a flavorful and filling yogurt bowl from Chobani SoHo.

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On another morning I went to Chavela’s for a spicy brunch with friends.

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On my final morning in the city, I had a fresh, hot everything bagel with a crispy, crunchy outside and a soft, doughy inside.

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The breakfast that made the biggest impression on me was the warm organic quinoa and pear cereal at Le Pain Quotidien. Topped with Bosc pears, dried fruit, nuts and cacao nibs and drenched in warm soy milk, this cereal was exactly what I needed after a chilly run that was cut very short.

The day before, while rushing to get out of the house to make my train to New York, I slipped on our wooden stairs, went flying with my suitcase and bag, and landed flat on my back. As I lay on the floor, loudly cursing and wailing, I thought, “the universe is telling me to slow down.” Nevertheless, I popped some ibuprofen, threw an ice pack in my bag and headed to the train station, grinding my teeth in pain the whole way.

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Fast forward 18 hours, after a lot of icing, massaging, and wishing on stars, I suited up for a run across the Brooklyn Bridge. With subway directions to Brooklyn, a route scribbled on hotel memo paper in my pocket, three layers of clothing, and some gear strapped around my waist, I was determined to make my 8 mile run for Team in Training. After 3 scenic miles over the bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan, through the financial district, Chinatown and SoHo, I found myself warming up in Le Pain Quotidien on Grand Street, suffering from killer back pain, and ordering breakfast for one with a cappuccino on the side. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the beginning of a mandatory three week break from running.

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Over a delightful bowl of quinoa and pear cereal served by an extremely attentive and courteous waiter, I finally received the message that I had been trying to ignore. Slow. Down. While the pressures of my job, way too many commitments, and half marathon training left little time for me to stop and smell the roses, I started thinking about the things I could control and began to work on a plan for less stress and more happiness. Getting slammed with a bad cold and increasing back pain over the next few days helped to reinforce the message. I’m not quite there yet, but I have made some changes for the better.

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The lessons I have learned from weekend breakfast are finding their way into the rest of my life and I do feel like I am inching backwards from an almost certain nervous breakdown and toward a happier place. Less working on the weekend, less guilt about unfinished to do lists, and more quality time with friends and family. Of course there are risks involved. I may fall behind at work, let down my team and lose my job. I might be less prepared for the half marathon and hit the wall on race day. Maybe I will never finish my name change paperwork, hang art on the walls of our house, or plant a vegetable garden this year. But for now, I won’t worry about those things. For now, I’m making breakfast. And sipping my coffee slowly. And thinking about the things that matter.

Here is a simple recipe for a simple fresh start to your day.

Warm Quinoa Cereal with Fruit and Nuts

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  1. Combine 1/3 cup rinsed quinoa + 2/3 cup water + half an apple or pear, diced in medium saucepan. Bring to boil, then lower heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat, keep covered 5 minutes.
  3. Heat 1/2 cup milk of your choice (almond milk is great).
  4. Add to a small bowl: cooked quinoa + dried fruits, nuts, and seeds + drizzle of maple syrup or honey + 1/4 tsp cinnamon + warm milk.

 

Team in Training Update

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This bridge is a mile long. 😦

It has been about six weeks since I announced my new adventure with Team in Training, so it’s about time for an update! In case you missed the original announcement, I am training for a half marathon and raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) through the Team in Training program. I am a proud member of Team McDowney, along with my mom and sister. We are really excited to raise money for a great cause and complete the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in Washington, D.C. on April 28th. If you are interested in learning more about our team, check out our fundraising page!

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Since my last update, I’ve picked up some more gear, including my first pair of “real” running shoes! I love the bright colors and they feel great on my feet. I have also added a few tank tops and pullovers from the Old Navy Active line to my wardrobe, and I have to say, they are really on to something with this last batch of workout gear. The clothes fit really well and the moisture-wicking fabric is very soft and comfortable. I have found that sometimes the synthetic materials used in running clothes can be kind of stiff and plastic-y, but that is not the case with this gear. Plus the low prices make stocking up very affordable.

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Unfortunately I missed almost three weeks of training in the beginning of January for various reasons, but now I am back on track! I came down with a really bad cold the second week of January, which turned into bronchitis, and I just couldn’t seem to get rid of it, no matter how hard I tried. My asthma makes working out in cold weather pretty difficult, and the virus made it totally impossible. On top of that, we kept getting snow and ice every weekend for a few weeks!

You may notice that in the picture of my shoes above, I am on a treadmill (reluctantly). When I got over my cold and the weather was still keeping me from completing my training, I decided to rejoin the gym. It actually made a lot of sense and I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner. Even when it wasn’t cold and raining or snowing, I found myself leaving work later and later each night, and my only option was running alone in my neighborhood at night. When I was running in the dark, I had flashbacks to every episode of CSI and Law and Order SVU that I had ever seen, which resulted in a terrifying running experience. The gym membership was inevitable, and it turned out to be a great decision.

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On the weekends, I can still do outdoor runs in the daylight. As long as the weather is sunny, I bundle up and hit the road to take in some new scenery. When I am feeling wimpy about the cold, I wear these awesome cycling socks I got in Colorado on our honeymoon. They remind me of the time I completed a 20 mile bike ride in the steep, cold mountains, as the snow started to fall in Breckenridge. The socks are a reminder that if I could do that, I can do this.

Last weekend I ran the farthest I ever have – 7 miles! It was very cold and lonely and I was really tired and sore for the rest of the day, but I feel so proud of my accomplishment. I signed up with TNT in Maryland, so I have been following the Harford County, MD running coach’s training plan. I am now getting some communication from the Richmond coaches so I can meet up with other Richmonders training for the same race (and cause!). When I got the Richmond weekend run information last week, I got really intimidated. The Maryland team was scheduled for 6 miles, but the Richmond team was scheduled for 8-9! I knew I wasn’t ready for that, so I skipped it. I am looking forward to meeting up with them soon though and see if there is a shorter option while I gradually increase my mileage.

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On the weeknights, I hit the gym for either running or cross training, depending on the day. As much as I hate the treadmill, I am starting to get used to it and I even see some real benefits to the old hamster wheel. I struggle with pacing and the treadmill has helped me with that. Because I set it at a specified speed, I can train my body to know what a comfortable pace is and then replicate that out on the road. I feel that the treadmill has helped me find my rhythm, which is very useful as the distance of my long runs is constantly increasing. Another benefit of the gym is having the option to take yoga and cycling classes for free as a part of my membership. I didn’t realize how much I missed yoga until I got back into it!

On a fundraising note, I am happy to report that I have reached 25% of my fundraising goal so far. It is a modest start and I am looking forward to getting the word out even more. I can honestly say that the cause has fueled my workouts quite a bit. Some of the donors to my fundraising campaign have had the most inspiring stories about the history and future of blood cancer research and treatment. When I glance at my TNT water bottle or start thinking about the generous donations and support I have received, I am reminded of all the people who have fought cancer and their loved ones. When I think a run is too hard or I feel like giving up, I remember that no matter how hard this feels, it isn’t as hard as beating cancer. And I think of all the people in treatment who are unable to run and I see it as a privilege that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

If you are interested in finding out more about LLS or supporting my efforts, please visit my fundraising page here.

‘Tis the Season for Giving

A few years ago, Kyle and I started a pretty cool holiday tradition. While attending college full-time and working part-time, we were both on a tight budget. Like many couples, we set a spending limit on our Christmas gifts to each other so our wallets wouldn’t be stretched too thin. Setting a limit allowed us to get gifts for everyone on our lists, pay all of our bills on time, and afford to travel to see family for the holidays.

The most meaningful part of this tradition for me was that a portion of our spending limit has always been allocated to charitable donations. Every year, we each make a donation in the other’s name to a charity that is important to us. Over the years we have supported Oxfam America, Vitamin Angels, Doctors Without Borders, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, Kiva, and more. It is really important to me that even while we had very little to give, we maintained the practice of donating to organizations that worked to help those who were less fortunate than us.

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Three years ago, we began another tradition of supporting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training on at least an annual basis. My Dad started cycling with Team in Training in 2010 to raise funds for life saving cancer research. Since joining TNT, he has completed three Seagull Century rides on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride century in Lake Tahoe, NV, and the Fletcher Flyer in Asheville, NC. I have enjoyed attending his fundraising events and cheering on Dad during his rides with my Mom, Jan, and my sister, Meghan, beside me.

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This past fall, Mom asked me if I would be interested in increasing my support of Team in Training by getting off the sidelines and participating in an event myself. She offered to give me a few days to consider it, but it was a no-brainer for me. I needed no time at all to decide that I was in. I am thrilled to announce that Mom, Meghan and I will join other Team in Training participants this April to complete the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in Washington, DC. We might walk, run, or crawl across the finish line, who knows. But we are committed to meeting our fundraising goals and completing the race together.

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I am running in memory of some dear family and friends who are no longer with us, but who have left an indelible mark on my life and have helped shape me into the woman I am today. I will carry with me a list of those I am running for on the day of the race. At the top of the list will be two strong, beautiful women who have had a profound impact on my life: Kyle’s mother, Barbara Downey, who lost her battle with cancer and was taken from us on January 17th, 2011, and my grandmother, Elizabeth Klemming, who passed away on November 14th, 2012.

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It is hard to find a person whose life has not been touched by cancer. If you would like to join me in funding blood cancer research, please visit the Team McDowney fundraising page and make a donation. If you make a donation and have a loved one that you would like me to add to the “in memory of” list that I carry with me on race day, please send me his or her name at vegologyblog[at]gmail[dot]com.

For more information, please visit TeaminTraining.org. I don’t often post fundraising opportunities on this blog, but because this cause is so close to my heart, I wanted to share it with you. Thank you for taking the time to read the first chapter of my TNT story. We’ll get back to the food news later this week!

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Dominion Riverrock 2012 Filthy 5K Mud Run

On my birthday last year, I made a list of things I wanted to do before my next birthday. One of the items on that list was “run a 5K.”I have never been a fan of running; in fact, I despise it. I find road running mentally boring and physically exhausting. However, I felt that running a race was something I should try at least once. When the Monument Avenue 10K registration came up around my half-birthday, I signed up and completed it. I checked another thing off my list with plenty of time to spare.

But it didn’t stop there. I have mentioned before that I have been trail running lately. I started running the Buttermilk Trail nine weeks ago in preparation for my next race, the Dominion Riverrock Filthy 5K. It’s a fun run, nothing competitive about it (at least for me), but I still wanted to be prepared. After suffering a bad ankle sprain last Fall that put me in a walking cast for a few weeks, I didn’t want to take any chances with my newly rehabbed ankle on the rocks and roots of the James River Park trails. So I started slow with a few friends about two months ago, and we were very prepared (and really psyched!) by the time the race rolled around this weekend. Knowing I would end up wallowing in a mud pit at the end of the run, I dressed pretty in pink for a Miss Piggy kind of vibe. I’m a sucker for a theme!

BEFORE

I discovered during training that I absolutely love trail running, and no one was more surprised by that than me. I had always hated running, but I genuinely looked forward to our after work runs on the Buttermilk Trail. I thoroughly enjoyed every Sunday morning long run, followed by coffee and breakfast at Crossroads Forest Hill. I think that the main reason I have trouble running on roads is the boredom factor. Trail running engages your mind; you can’t take your eyes off the ground for more than a second or you will trip up on a rock, tree root, or mud puddle. Having your friends with you for the adventure doesn’t hurt either.

I made a pact with my training buddies to leave no man behind during the race this weekend. It is so much more fun to run with friends, from getting simultaneous side stitches on the Belvidere bridge, to climbing over rock walls, getting smacked in the face with tree branches, splashing each other while wading waist-deep in the river, and finally crawling through the mud pit together with the finish line in sight. The only disappointing part about the race was that many of the runners in our wave were really cautious on the trail portions of the run, and they slowed down to a brisk walk for the parts of the race course that we had looked forward to the most. Although we felt pretty hardcore when we managed to pass them while bounding up rocks and leaping over roots. The muddy parts hardly fazed us. We had a blast!

Too legit to quit!

Overall, this was a fantastic, fun, well-organized run. We took advantage of the bottlenecks and walked a bit when we had to due to congestion on the course. We probably couldn’t have run the whole thing anyway, so we welcomed the breaks along the way and then finished strong. Check out this shot of Team Buttermilk, taken shortly after the run.

AFTER

Of course it isn’t a vegology worthy event if there isn’t a good food story to tell. The first way I turned this fun activity into an opportunity to eat great food was by hosting a pasta party at my house on Wednesday night. I made penne alla norma for dinner and my friends brought wine, bread and salad to share. The second way I managed to sneak a food adventure into the picture was in my post-race dinner. I had heard that the Riverrock organizers had made an effort to include healthier food vendors in addition to the standard carnival-type fare served on Brown’s Island. So Kyle and I searched for a healthy dinner after I washed off and changed. Riverrock did not disappoint!

It took me about eight minutes to find the vegetarian food truck, Goatocado. Serving up fresh smoothies and teas, sandwiches, salads and sides, Goatocado had exactly what I was looking for between dashing through the mud and dancing the night away.

Kyle and I grabbed a pair of sandwiches with steamed edamame on the side, and fetched a couple of beers to wash it all down. Check out Goatocado’s great sandwich options!

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Kyle ordered the Mountain Tropp and I had the HuMoose. It was so dark (9:00 PM!) that I couldn’t get a decent picture of the food. But trust me, it was exactly what I needed and I hope I see these guys around more often. I have seen them at some of the farmers’ markets around town before, but I don’t catch them often enough. After enjoying our food, we watched Keller Williams with the Travelin’ McCourys in a free concert on Brown’s Island. My body was exhausted from the run but I found the energy to kick off my shoes and dance like a fool for a couple more hours before calling it a night.

I ❤ Riverrock!