Thursday, May 29, 2014

Vermont City Marathon

This post is one that was very hard to write.  I'm not really sure I've even completely wrapped my head around what happened yet, or if I will.  All I can hope is to move on learning something from yet another marathon that gave me such high hopes at the start, only to finish very short of my expectations.  Sure, bad races happen, I am no stranger to them.  But multiple big goal races that don't go as planned, or even come close to reflecting the training I put in, is a little hard to swallow.  I don't want this to turn in to a negative woe-is-me post, so I'll try to focus on the positives of the weekend.

We went up to Burlington, VT on Saturday morning.  We stopped at the expo to get my number before heading to my friend's house where we were staying.  The plan was to have a pasta dinner that night and get to bed early.  We walked down to the store, got everything we needed, met up with my mom on Church Street to say hi, and then headed back to the house.

If you've never been to Church St, you should.

We had a great dinner, and I was the first to head to bed around 9:30.  My alarm went off Sunday morning at 5:30am.  I got up, made coffee, and sat on the couch for bit to wake up.  I made my usual breakfast of a GF bagel with peanut butter and a banana, drank some Nuun, and sipped on my coffee.  Before I knew it it was time to get dressed and head out the door.

Mary (running the first half of a 2 person relay)
and myself ready to go

The start was less than a half a mile from where my friend lives, so we walked down to Battery Park where there were already thousands of people getting ready to run.  I waited in line for a porta-potty, stretched a little, and then lined up right by the 4:00 hour pace group.  I thought it would be good to start with them in sight, even though I still had every intention of running my own race.  I noticed right away the sun felt warm.  I tried not to think too much of it.  I took a few deep breaths, started my music, and waited for the gun to go off.  It was time.  

My plan was to run the first half between 9:00 and 9:10/mile pace and then try to cut down between 8:55-9:00 for the second half (**side note, I haven't looked at my garmin or my paces, I'm not sure I ever will).  The streets were packed with runners and spectators lining the side.  It was incredible.  The support and crowds were awesome.  It was a great way to relax my mind and not overthink what I was doing.  I kept reminding myself, "don't think, just run."  The first 3 miles were a loop around town, and then we headed to an out and back stretch on a highway.  It was then that I noticed the sun continuing to get warmer, and no shade in sight.  I don't do well in the heat, so I knew I would need to stay on top of hydration to make sure I could get through the race without any problems.  I alternated between water and gatorade at each water stop, slowing down to make sure I could drink enough.  My legs felt strong and I felt very confident that I could hold the pace for the duration of the race.  

feeling strong and happy to be running

My cheering/support crew (Ryan, my mom, and brother) had planned to see me at mile 9, which was just after the out and back.  Ryan had bottles of water for me that I could take if needed so I didn't have to carry my handheld the whole way.  Right before I saw them I noticed I was sweating a lot and starting to feel really warm.  I thought it would be a good idea to grab a bottle of water while I had the chance.  It's always so great seeing them along the course.


It wasn't very long after that when I started to feel pretty off.  I almost felt like I could feel my breakfast in my throat.  I felt nauseous and then felt a little lightheaded.  I was hoping it would pass.  I was still right on pace to finish under 4 hours and I didn't want to lose that.  Unfortunately, as the miles went on, I continued to feel more uncomfortable.  I took a couple shot blocks thinking maybe I needed the energy.  It didn't help.  I was approaching the half way point and I knew Mary would be there waiting for me to run by.  I actually thought in my head at that point, that I was done.  I didn't feel well, I was extremely warm, and started to comes to terms with the fact that I wasn't going to finish this thing.  I was devastated.

I made it to the half way point and frantically searched for Mary.  I spotted her and ran over, stopping when I got to her.  She asked how I was feeling and I said not good.  I said I was nauseous and didn't feel right.  I told her I didn't know if I could make it.  She asked me how much of it I thought was in my mind and how much of it was real.  I couldn't tell.  I started running.  I knew I would see my family again around mile 15 by the biggest hill of the race.  I thought I would try to keep going and depending on how I felt when I saw them, I would make a decision then.  I know this is not exactly a good way to run a marathon, but I just didn't feel right.  I couldn't tell what was wrong, but I knew something was. My legs still felt strong, but the rest of my body did not.

As I approached the hill, there were some drummers at the bottom, and huge crowds along both sides of the course.  The energy was contagious.  I saw my family and ran over to them.  Ryan asked me how I was feeling and the only thing I could say was not good.  I asked for more water and shot blocks.  He frantically tried to search his bag for them, but I told him not to rush because the 4hr goal was no longer a reality.  At this point it was just a matter of finishing, which I still felt unsure of.  I took what I needed and shuffled my way up the hill.

This is where things get fuzzy.  We went through some neighborhoods.  I looked for a porta-potty.  My stomach was in knots.  I didn't see one anywhere.  I ran/walked on, stopping at every water stop to drink some, and pour some in to my water bottle to take with me.  Some of the houses in the neighborhoods had sprinklers set up by the street, some people were holding squirt guns.  To those people, thank you.  The sun was relentless and shade was scarce.  The miles ticked on, and I watched the time on my watch grow higher and higher.  I remember going down to the bike path and knowing there were only 4 more miles to go.  4 miles felt like 20.  I remember catching a glimpse of the lake and thinking it was beautiful.  I remember running by a field and seeing a pug trotting through the dandelions around mile 25.  I cried.  I remember seeing the 26 mile marker and picking up my pace.  At least I could walk away knowing I started and finished strong, even though I'd like to forget what happened in between.  I remember taking the last turn on to the grass, seeing my family once again, and then finally seeing the finish line.

Once I crossed the finish line, I frantically searched to find my family.  There were so many people.  Everywhere.  I felt weak, and dizzy.  I finally found them, as well as a spot in the shade.  I braced myself on a tree for a few minutes.  I still felt nauseous.  I tried to walk around and move hoping it would help me feel better.  I drank some water.  Eventually, I thought I was feeling ok enough to walk back to my friend's house.

As we started to walk, I started to feel worse.  I suddenly felt like I really needed to use the bathroom.  We were walking right by one, so I stumbled in.  Thankfully my mom followed me.  I started to feel incredibly dizzy and caught a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror, I was super pale.  My mom asked me if I was ok. I said no and that I didn't feel right.  She grabbed me, brought me outside, and yelled to Ryan that they needed to get me to the med tent.  So off we went.

I had my arm around Ryan and felt like I could barely hold myself up.  Everything was spinning, my ears were ringing, my hands were tingling, and I felt like I was slurring my words.  Once we got to the med tent, they put me on a cot, and took my vital signs.  My blood pressure was pretty low, even lying down.  I felt like I just needed fluids.  They offered to give me an IV, but said it would take at least a half hour to get started.  So I asked for gatorade and water instead (at first they said I couldn't have anything to drink, but since I had recently peed they let me have some).  As I laid there, cautiously sipping my drinks, I very slowly started to feel better.  Then the cramping started, in my hips, and then in my back.  A very nice girl came over to stretch and massage me while I continued to try to drink.  Ryan stayed right by my side in the tent, giving frequent updates to my mom who was having a nervous breakdown outside (they only let one person in with you, unfortunately).  It took a while, but eventually I felt well enough to try to go back to my friend's house.  My mom went and got the car to drive me back instead of trying to walk again.

We had a BBQ planned for after the race, I had been so excited for it.  The BBQ happened, while I spent the day on the couch in a haze.  I didn't feel quite right for the rest of the day.  I felt dizzy from time to time, and felt like I had been hit and run over by a very large bus.  All I could stomach was a concoction of fluids.  It was not exactly the way I wanted to spend the day trying to get over what happened during the race.

Thankfully when I woke up on Monday, most of the fog had cleared and I was feeling much better physically.  Mentally, it was a different story.  Once my brain was capable of functioning again, I felt the extreme letdown and disappointment of what happened.  Once again I was left feeling like I had been capable and trained for so much more.  We walked down to church street again for some coffee, and then said goodbye to Vermont.

I do love VT...
and this was my favorite marathon course so far.
If you're thinking about running it, I would highly recommend it.

I realize being able to say I have now finished three marathons, is a huge accomplishment in itself.  I really do.  However, when the goal is no longer 'just' to finish, the accomplishment can easily be overshadowed by the disappointment of not reaching your goal.  I know I can do it though.  I know I can run a sub 4 hour marathon and I know I will run that marathon some day.  I hoped it would happen in Vermont, but it didn't.  However, I will continue to hope, work and believe in myself and my goals until it does.

And when it does?  Then I'll have even bigger goals to work toward.        

Monday, May 19, 2014

Race Week

If you had asked me after I finished my first marathon in the fall of 2007 if I would run another one, I probably would have laughed in your face.  Actually, I think my response may have been that I would be sticking to half marathons, because they were long enough to be a challenge, but not long enough to kill you.  Apparently I thought the marathon was a death sentence.  Fast forward 6 years to October, 2013, and I was ready to give the marathon  another shot.  I had high hopes of breaking 4hrs, but it just wasn't in the cards for me that day.  This time around, I was already thinking of my next marathon before I crossed the finish line.  I learned so much that day, and I knew I was capable of more than what the time on the clock said.  

Now, seven months later, I find myself at the start of another marathon race week.  The butterflies have started.  The thoughts of excitement, followed by oh crap this is happening have flooded my mind.  I feel ready, and confident based on my training, but refuse to forget what a beast he marathon is, and respect it for that.

Goal: Finish under 4 hrs.

Plan: To run my own race.  

In the fall I made the mistake of running with a friend, who was going to try to pace me to a sub 4hr finish.  She is a much fast runner than me, and instead of just trying to finish sub 4 she was aiming for closer to 3:50.  It's like I almost forgot just how long a marathon is, and even though I felt great! in the first half...I still had a whole second half to go.  It didn't end well.  I think because of that disaster, I have a better understanding and appreciation of the marathon distance, as well as what my body is capable of.  A few of my friends are running this race, Lori is running the full marathon, and 3 of my friends are running it as a relay.  My friend, Mary, told me recently she had the option of running the first half or the second half, and asked if I would like company at the start (the 2 other girls are running the second half).  I told her that I would love the company at the start, but as soon as we crossed that starting line, I would be focused on myself.  I ran Boston's Run to Remember last May with Mary, and she likes to go out fast and pass as many people as possible at the start.  We agreed this time there would be no weaving for me.  I will remain focused on the end result.

Hydration:  This is a big concern for me.  I sweat.  A lot.  Because of that, I need to drink a lot while running long distances.  Obviously, that increases when it's warm.  The weather for Sunday as of now, says 76 and sunny.  That's warm.  I can't decide if I want to carry my handheld water bottle or rely on the water stops.  I've been looking at the course and it looks like we will run by the start and finish area 3 times throughout the race.  This is comforting because I can have Ryan, who will be there to cheer me on, have multiple water bottles ready to go.  

looks like we pass through this area around mile 3, 9, and 15
Fuel: This is another concern of mine.  I usually bring shot blocks with me during my training runs, and those work well.  However, in the fall I remember getting to mile 18 or so and feeling like I needed more than just the shot blocks.  I got to a water stop that also had bananas and ended up eating one because I desperately felt like I needed something.  I'm thinking of brining a picky bar to have available to eat if I feel like I need more than the shot blocks again.  Picky bars are easy on my stomach, and easy to digest.  I think it would be great mid-race fuel if needed.  

Mantra: I am strong. I am capable. I believe.      

Last weekend I ran Ragnar Cape Cod.  I was nervous that it could potentially impact my training in a negative way.  I was wrong.  The relay gave me confidence that my legs can still run when both physically and mentally tired.  I was both motivated and inspired by my teammates, which is something you can't get from multiple months of training (mostly) on your own.  The way I felt after that weekend was the inspiration for my first mantra.  

I am strong. I am capable. I believe. 

This week I'll be trying to relax, recover, and hydrate as much as possible.  Tapering is always fun (umm no) but with an upcoming move to Boston, I have plenty to do to keep me busy.  I'm coming for you, Vermont.  Bring it on. 

If you want to track me, you can do so here.  I am number 3071.  

Tell me, have you done the VT City Marathon??  What did you think? 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Ragnar Cape Cod

This past weekend I ran my first Ragnar Relay with 12 other incredible women as team Flock You Like a Hurricane.  It was by far one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

It will be hard to put the weekend in to words, but I'll do my best.  The journey began last fall when I saw rumblings on twitter about Ragnar Cape Cod and putting together a potential team from some Oiselle team members.  I immediately responded that I was interested.  Eventually a team was formed and before I knew it I was signed up to run a Ragnar Relay.  Holy crap.  I was a little hesitant about it for a while because I knew I was going to South Korea the week before and wasn't sure if I'd be recovered enough, and more importantly, if I would be able to get the time off work.  Many thanks to my boss, I was able to make it happen.  

I headed down to Logan Airport Thursday afternoon to pick up MelissaAliDanielle, and Carolyn.  Lindsay was supposed to join us too but her flight was delayed multiple times, so she didn't make it to Mass until that night.  We had dinner scheduled in Plymouth at Mamma Mia's to meet most of the other members of the team (RebeccaAnne, Amy, and our fearless team captain, Stacey), talk about a few logistics, and eat a bunch of carbs in preparation for the weekend.

Flock You Like a Hurricane taking over Plymouth
After dinner, we picked Lindsay up at a bus stop, and then headed down to Stacey's house.  Van 2 started and finished day 1 close to Stacey's home and she was gracious enough to let us all camp out there (thank you times a million, Stacey!!).  After some relaxation, talking, and a glass of wine, we retired to our beds to hopefully get a good nights sleep before the shenanigans began.

Friday morning we woke up, enjoyed a nice breakfast, and coffee (sorry van 1), went to pick up the van, and some last minute necessities.  Then it was time to decorate the van with markers, and ourselves with tattoos.  We loaded everything up and were on our way to Duxbury Beach to meet the other van at the first major exchange.  I started to get really excited since it was almost our time to run.  The beach was filled with white vans, porta potties and people ready to run.  We were debriefed, and then walked over to the exchange to wait for Melissa to finish leg 6 and hand off the snap bracelet to Lindsay for van 2's first time to shine. 


van 2 ready to take over

reunited at the first major exchange
Melissa passing the torch (err snap bracelet) to Lindsay
Once we left the beach we made our way out on to the course to cheer for Lindsay and the other runners in van 2.  I didn't realize how much fun jumping in and out of the van multiple times along the way could be.  It was so much fun cheering for and supporting my teammates.  Being a part of a team is something I have been missing recently.  I was runner 9, so my first run was the shortest of the 3.  I was excited to get started but had a blast cheering while I waited for my turn.  

amazing teammates   
My first leg said it was 3.6 miles easy, but it ended up being just over 3.  I felt strong from the team energy but tried to hold back a little because I knew I had a long road ahead of me.  My average pace was 8:25 for those 3ish miles.  After my leg we stopped for coffee, continued to cheer our butts off, and eventually found ourselves at the second major exchange around 8:00pm, ready to pass the bracelet back to van 1.  

if you're in Mass and spot a Marylou's...go.  you won't regret it.

go team, go
After we finished our first legs, Stacey was once again so generous and welcomed us go back to her house to eat dinner, shower, and try to sleep for a couple of hours before we had to head back out.  I think I slept maybe an hour and woke up around midnight to pack our stuff and go meet van 1.  It was tough trying to get moving, but exciting too.  I'm not going to lie, I was a little nervous about running in the middle of the night, but I actually had a lot of fun.  Between the hours of 6:30pm and 6:00am we weren't allowed to yell and cheer loudly.  I must say, we perfected the art of cheering quietly.  My second leg was 5.6 miles and I averaged an 8:40 pace.  It took a couple miles to feel like my body was completely awake, but once I got going I enjoyed the dark run much more than I thought I would.  

We met van 1 at the next exchange and then drove to the following exchange located at a school to try to get some sleep in the gym or van around 5:30am.  I ended up staying in the van and curling up on the back seat.  At that point I was so tired anything looked comfortable.  I managed to sleep for an hour or so.  When I woke up my stomach was not feeling very well and I was actually pretty nervous for the next couple of hours.  After multiple bathroom trips, Lindsay was kind enough to offer me some immodium, which seemed to do the trick. 

We regained the snap bracelet from van 1 close to 10am and were once again on our way for our third and final legs.  This was the leg I was most nervous for.  I had my longest and most difficult leg that was 7.6 miles.  My legs felt tired from the start, but I gave it my all.  It was so motivating to see my teammates who stopped to cheer and offer water while I was running.  As they beeped and cheered when they drove by I found motivation to keep going and keep pushing.  I thought over and over how they had all worked so hard before me and I wanted to do the same for them.  I finished the run with and 8:38 average pace, a ton of confidence, and an appreciation for teammates that I've never felt before.  

the end is in sight

The relay finished in Provincetown and as we drove down the road to the finish I started to feel sad that it was almost over.  We waited for our final runner, Jessie, to reach the finish so we could all cross together.  It was an incredible feeling to cross that finish line with 12 runners and 2 drivers, 192 miles after we started.  

we did it!
After the race, a few of us hung around to eat our free food, drink free beer, and scope out the gear.  Eventually we made our way back to Stacey's house again where we would stay for one last night.  Along the way we stopped at the beach for a perfect end to an amazing weekend.  

When I left for Ragnar on Thursday, I knew I would have a good time.  But, I never could have imagined just how incredible it would be.  Little did I know sharing a sweaty van with 6 other runners, would be one of the greatest experiences of my life.  I went in to the weekend not really knowing anyone, and I walked away with countless memories and new teammates who I am honored to now call my friends.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

running in South Korea

Marathon training means having to run many miles even while on vacation.  I knew the hotel we were staying in had a treadmill, so I could do the shorter runs there, but there's no way I could do my two long runs on the treadmill.  I searched for places to run and asked my friend who's living in South Korea what she would recommend.  She told me nobody really runs on the streets in and around Seoul, but there is the Han River that has a bike path along most of it where many people go.  Sounded good to me.

While not all runs went exactly as planned, or hoped, I would say overall I was pretty successful in maintaining my training while in South Korea.  Here's what happened:

Friday:  35-40 min easy was on the schedule.  If you read my last post, you know that we left Thursday morning and did not arrive in South Korea until Friday night due to the time change.  I was exhausted when we got there and went straight to bed.  No run.

Saturday: I woke up before my alarm went off...around 4:30 I think it was.  My body just didn't want to sleep any more.  I went to check out the gym at the hotel and use the treadmill.  The gym was small, 3 treadmills, a bike, some dumbbells, and a massage chair.  There was no fan, or air conditioning.  It felt warm before I even started running.  I ran 45 min easy + 4 x 100m strides.  I was drenched from head to toe when finished.  Oh how I love running on the treadmill (sarcasm).

at least the view wasn't so bad
Sunday: The plan - run 20 miles along the Han River while my mom, brother, and Ryan entertained themselves for a few hours.  The plan did not go quite as planned.  The food in Korea is very different than home.  There are not as many gluten free options, so my dinner Saturday night was very small (chips and guacamole).  Sunday morning I woke up starving and had a Picky Bar I brought.  We went to Dunkin Donuts and I had a couple eggs with cheese (no bread), coffee, and water.  I hoped it would be enough, but I had a feeling it wouldn't be.

eggs served on a real plate
Dunkin Donuts in S. Korea > Dunks in the US
We took the subway to the stop we thought was the right one for the river.  We ended up walking in circles for probably 20 minutes before we found it, only to realize another stop was right next to it.  Live and learn.  When we first saw the river my first thoughts were excitement and awe.  It was beautiful.  I was pumped to have the chance to run in such an amazing place.  

waiting for the subway
do I really get to run here??
My plan was to run 5 miles one way, run back to where I started, and then run 5 miles the other way, and back to where I started.  As soon as I started running I felt off.  I felt like I hadn't had enough to eat and I could feel the intense humidity immediately.  I tried to take it slow and focus on the views around me.  I ran 5 miles, turned around and headed back.  I felt hot and thirsty and had drank a lot more than usual for how far I had gone.  Around mile 7 or 8 I decided to take a few chews to see if it helped my energy.  I ate three, had some more to drink and continued on my way.  It didn't help.  As I approached the area where I started and reached 10 miles, I knew it just wasn't going to be my day.  My clothes were soaked from sweat and I didn't have anything left in the tank to continue.  I planned to meet my mom, brother and Ryan 3 hours after I started.  I tried to walk a little more to kill some time while I waited for them, but even that felt difficult.  I sat on the steps and waited.  After only a few minutes I heard Ryan yell my name.  They had come back early thankfully and were having something to eat close by.  I was happy to see them, but bummed it was much sooner than I had hoped.  I felt defeated and upset that I didn't have a long run in me that day.  But I knew the reasons, which helped keep my frustration at bay.  I knew I could give it another shot the following weekend.

Monday: Woke up early again and ran easy on the treadmill for 40 minutes

Tuesday: Back on the treadmill, 15 min warm up 10 x 1 min on, 1 min off @ 10k pace, 10 min cool down.  The treadmill pace was kilometers/hour, so I didn't really know what pace I was running.  I just ran harder for a minute, and then easy 10 times.  This workout typically isn't too hard for me, but this day it felt tough.  I was still struggling to find enough food to eat and it was taking its toll.  Being able to eat the foods I need and fuel the way do for running is something I took for granted before this trip.  I definitely realize now, more than ever, how important it is.  I was definitely feeling the effects of lack of fuel.  

Wednesday: 40 minutes easy on the treadmill, felt ok

Thursday: The sky was pretty hazy most of the time we were in S. Korea.  However, Thursday morning the sun decided to show its face.  What's worse than a run on the treadmill in a warm gym with no air?  A run on the treadmill in a warm gym with no air in the sun.  It had to have been 80+ degrees in there.  Not fun.  I did a very slow 15 min warm up and 4 sets of 1000/400 (1000's @ 10k pace - 7:55, 400's @ 5k pace - 7:09 with 30 second rest in between and 3 min rest between sets).  Other than being extremely warm, I felt pretty good.  I went extra slow on the rests and drank as much water as possible.  I was happy to have my last treadmill run in S. Korea done. 

Friday: Rest

Saturday: 20 miles along the Han River, take 2.  This time I made sure to eat a decent dinner the night before, and we went to the buffet in the hotel for breakfast so I could have more than just eggs.  In S. Korea they have rice, or would have rice, with every meal.  I love sticky rice, and it was a great substitute for my normal pre long run breakfast.  I had rice, an egg, some fruit, and was ready to give it another go.  This time my mom, brother, and Ryan were going to rent bikes and bike along the path close by.  Ryan carried some extra water for me, and they checked in with me every now and then to make sure I was doing ok.  It was a huge help.  This time I started out going the other way, ran 5 miles, turned around to look for my family.  When I met up with them, I turned around again and ran a few more miles before heading back.  The weather was beautiful.  It was a little warm, but the sky was clear, there was a nice breeze, and most importantly, there wasn't much humidity.  I took my time, enjoyed the views, and finished all 20 miles.  It was perfect. 

beautiful views...obviously pretty happy
me running, my brother and Ryan biking by my side
loving it
Sunday: Rest - traveled home 

Overall I feel pretty good about how training went.  I didn't feel as well as I have been, but considering the conditions, I think I managed ok.  We walked constantly while there as well, which I think contributed to some of my fatigue.  I feel very fortunate to have been able to run along the Han River.  It was definitely a highlight of the trip for me, and one of the most beautiful places I have had the opportunity to run.  

Monday, May 5, 2014

South Korea Part 1

I could probably write a novel about my trip to South Korea, but I'm going to try to just highlight the good stuff.  This first post will be about what I saw, did, and ate.  I'll write a separate post about running and training while there.  Many pictures included.

Thursday, April 24th, I got on a plane for a very long flight to South Korea.  My younger brother, who is 17 now, was born in South Korea.  He was adopted by my mom when he was 5 months old.  My mom always told him when or if he was ready to go visit, we would.  He decided that this was the year he wanted to go, so we went.  We got on a plane Thursday morning at 8:00 in Boston, flew 6 hrs to Seattle, got on another plane and flew 11 more hours to South Korea.  South Korea is 13 hrs ahead of the east coast, so it was Friday night around 7:30 by the time we got there.  Needless to say we were all zombies by the time we got there and went right to bed.

waiting to board the plan at Logan
Mountain poking through the clouds close to Seattle
Flying in to Seattle
Lunch at the airport in Seattle
Back on the plane, Korea here we come!
Saturday we planned to meet up with a friend who is currently living in South Korea teaching English as a second language.  She's been there for a few years and knows her way around.  She offered to show us around for the day, so we obviously took her up on that.  We walked around the city, visited Gyeongbokgung Palace, had our first authentic Korean food experience, did some shopping, more walking, and then crashed early.  Adjusting to the time change was not easy.  It took about 3 days before we were able to sleep past 6am and stay awake past 8pm.  

View from hotel
thank God for Starbucks
lanterns were hung around the city for Buddha's birthday 
Gyeongbokgung Palace

Shopping in Insadong
when in as Koreans do. Peace.
Day 2 we went to the Han River so I could go for a long run.  I'll write more about that when I write my next post.  When we got back from the river we got a late lunch at a Mexican restaurant my mom read was good.  When in Mexican?  Anyways, it was delicious.  

Han River
Trying to find Mexican food
Found it!  Obviously needed a margarita
South Koreans wear matching "couples clothes".
...this was the best we could do
Day 3 we went to an aquarium.  It was inside a mall that was being built.  We took the subway to most places.  Their subway system is really great.  Clean, huge, and easy to navigate even if you don't know how to read or speak Korean.  Most things are written in English as well, which helped us out a lot.  

Dory and Nemo
Hey there 
Day 4 we went to the National History Museum.  When we got there their were a bunch of school boys waiting outside the building.  A few of them approached us asking where we were from.  We told them Boston and their response was "baseball"!  They started telling us they were on the baseball team and talked to us for a few minutes.  They were super cute.  

Day 5 my mom and brother went to the DMZ.  Ryan and I stayed back and walked around Seoul some more, and did some shopping.  We got lunch at a Korean BBQ restaurant, which is really popular.  The tables have burners in the middle of them and they give you the meat uncooked to cook on the burners in front of you.  Included are a bunch of side dishes, which always includes Kimchee (fermented cabbage with spices and sauce, it's sweet, spicy, and they eat it all the time).  Later that day we bought some Soju (very cheap rice wine), which they often drink and I had heard a lot about.  Obviously, I had to try it.  We were pretty tired from the previous days, and took the afternoon to relax in the hotel and drink some Soju until my mom and brother got back.  When they got back we went to yet another Mexican restaurant that was absolutely delicious!  South Koreans definitely know how to eat and have lots of good food available.  

Korean BBQ, selfies, and Soju
Day 6 we went to another palace and toured the (not so secret) secret garden.  It was beautiful.  There are many palaces in South Korea, where the kings used to live.  They keep them preserved and are big tourist attractions.  Later that day we went up to the top of Namsan Mountain, which is really just a big hill.  The views from the top are amazing.  We took a tram to the top, and walked back down.  At the top of the mountain there is Namsan Tower.  We went to the top of the tower, which has 360 degree views of Seoul and South Korea.  It was incredible to see all the buildings and mountains surrounding the city.  Also at the top of Namsan Tower are "love locks."  There's a fence where couples have put locks to signify their forever love. Ryan brought a lock with him to put on the fence for us.  I didn't know he did that until we arrived in Seoul (awwww), it was really sweet.  

walking through the secret garden 
view from the tram
view from the tower
after placing our lock,
you can kind of see them on the fence behind us
Namsan Tower all lit up
Day 7 we went to the Korean War museum.

cheesing in front of the museum

Namsan Tower in the background
Day 8 we went back to the Han River so I could do another long run (again more about that later).  When we got back from the river we met up with our friend again for a late lunch.  She took us to a restaurant to try Samgyeopsal, which is another popular meal where they bring the meat raw, and it cooks on a grill in front of you.  It's typically pork, we also got beef.  They serve a bunch of side plates with it, rice, and lettuce leaves to wrap everything in and shove it in your mouth.  It was delicious!

the Han River was beautiful! 
Sunday it was time to go home.  We got on the plane at 10 and landed 13 hrs later in Toronto.  From there it was an hour and half on another (very small) plane to Boston.  We were very sad to leave, but ready to go home.  The flights didn't seem quite as back coming back as they did going out.  The trip was an amazing experience and one that I am so lucky to have had the chance to take.  

back at the airport, sad to leave
view of the sunset from the plane, when we left Korea it was morning,
we flew in to the night and then back in to the mind boggling
Final notes: Seoul is so different than anywhere I have ever been before.  I was blown away by the number of people in the city at all times.  We looked it up and there are over 10 million people living in Seoul, almost 15 times as many as those living in Boston.  You are constantly bumped in to and weaving around people walking through the city.  It took some time to get used to that, as I'm not a big fan of extra large crowds.  There was no escaping it.  There is shopping everywhere.  There are various different areas throughout the city that are lined with stores, restaurants, carts set up to sell things, and carts full of food.  They have tons of different street foods.  We made the comment that South Koreans love to walk, eat, shop, and repeat.  It was definitely an incredibly eye opening experience that I will forever remember. 

Up next: running in South Korea.