Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Missing My Friend.

I've been a kitty mama for 20 years. I've spent more time with my cats than I have with most people. Spike was one of three cats we have cared for and the one who was lucky to live the longest. To say things feel wrong without my sweet little buddy would be the under-est of understatements. I know it was time for him to go but even though it feels like we were preparing for this for a while, I'm still left with a big gaping empty. It's not that I wanted him to keep on living the way he was, I'm just sad for the good times we can't have back.

Spike, 1997-2017

Our cats had very different personalities. The stereotype about cats is that they are aloof and while sometimes that can be true, if you're around them a lot you'll find they all have their own individual quirks. Our first cat Sailor (also known as Po) was definitely "king." He was the alpha-cat in charge and he knew it. Lulu, the youngest and smallest was of course the baby. She was an oddball who liked us enough but really loved her brothers above all humans.

Then there was Spike. Spike the gentleman. Spike the protector. My little shadow.


We didn't intend to get more than one cat but after having Po for a few months I knew I wanted him to have a friend. I remember stopping into the local pet shop by our apartment a little after Christmas in 1997 and saw they had a new litter of kittens just a few weeks old. One in particular jumped out at me but I needed to convince Jason it was a good idea first. After a couple of weeks he caved and we went in to get the kitten but when we arrived someone else was there getting ready to buy the one I had my eye on. Turning back to the other kittens in the litter I saw one hanging back from the others not drawing a lot of attention to himself. He had a sweet looking face and little white tip at the end of his black tail. How could I have ever wanted any cat other than this one? He was obviously perfect and we brought him home with us that day.

We named him Spike-- partly after the character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer but also because he was a tough little guy who held his own against a not very happy Po when we first introduced them. After a few days he settled in though and they were good buddies together for many many years. The two of them used to sun themselves in the windowsill of our apartment in Chicago where I would always hear people walking by and saying hello to them. With the addition of Lulu a year later our little kitty family was complete.

Sailor, Lulu, Spike. Fall 1999.

As he grew, Spike latched on to me and loved me like no other cat I've ever had. If I was at home he would follow me around all day. He always wanted to be near me, watching me, talking to me. He even slept on my pillow every night right up by my head, purring into my ear. You would see him light up with excitement when he could see I was getting ready for bed. As he got older he spent less time following me around but he always found me on my pillow the end of the day.

Every night.

Like most cats, he loved soaking up the sunshine. He especially loved the new balcony we built a couple of years ago and every winter he spent most of the day lounging on one of the radiators. I always said Spike on the radiator in October was the one true harbinger of winter. In his final year we believe he may have been experiencing some dementia as he would often leave a room and then start meowing and howling like he couldn't find us. Jason, the kids and I would always howl back so he could remember where we were. When we would come home after being away a while he would "talk" nonstop to me for what seemed like hours. I hated leaving him alone for a longer stretch of time this past year but loved how hearing how happy he was when we would return. The house feels so quiet when I open the door now.

Making sure I don't go anywhere.

I miss my friend. It's been twenty years since I've been without a pet. I don't know if/when we will get another one. Having older (or sick) cats for the past 8-10 years has been a lot. I also can't imagine having a different cat right now- although I realize that things are fresh and that will most likely change. What I do know what that we gave all our cats fantastic, long lives where they were very much loved. I also know without a doubt that Spike loved me. I just hope there are sunny porches and warm radiators in kitty heaven.

A post shared by Tracey Gessner (@tmgessner) on

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 Highlights

2015 included a house remodel, Ladies Rock Camp, my first (and second) Boston qualifying marathons, performing on stage at Chill on the Hill, working on the inaugural Milwaukee Running Festival, Chicago Bears season tickets (and a trip down on the field!) a couple of Sconnie vacations, and getting my family to run 5Ks with me. Plus the year was capped off with our 10 year anniversary as Milwaukeeans! Time flies, no joke.


2015 was good to us. Onward to 2016!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

I FINALLY DID THE THING: Rockford Marathon BQ!

*Re-posted from my running blog, Robot Lady Runner. Because I'm sharing it everywhere.




The entire week leading up to Rockford Marathon I kept five different weather tabs open on my laptop. Every time there was a lull in whatever I was working on, or if I hadn't checked in the past oh, 30 minutes or so I would click over to them and go down the line:




I thought someone must be playing some kind of cruel joke on me by forecasting 40 degree temperatures on race morning. Obviously, this was going to change and I would be slogging through unbearable heat and humidity (or both) like I expected when I registered for the race.

It wasn't until Friday afternoon when the temperature in Milwaukee started to take a sharp nosedive that I started to actually believe that this thing could possibly go my way.  I mean, the only missing piece to my puzzle was the weather, right? I felt like if I couldn't pull this race off when everything tipped in my favor then I really had no excuses left.

I drove to Rockford on Saturday afternoon so I could pick up my race packet. They do have race day pick up but I was antsy, and I wanted to make extra triple sure I had been switched from the half to the full marathon like I requested. Pickup at the Clock Tower was super no-frills and I was in and out in probably 5 minutes flat. (Bonus: The postcards we sent for the PNC Milwaukee Running Festival were in the bags!) 

I still had some time to kill before I needed to meet my dad for dinner so I decided to drive down to the race start. On the way I stopped at a nifty t-shirt shop called Rockford Art Deli and picked up an "I Heart Illinois" sweatshirt with Abe Lincoln and the Sears Tower on it. (Yes, I can totally love both Illinois and Wisconsin and no you can't stop me.) Once I was down there I thought, why not drive the course? I certainly didn't want a repeat of th course shenanigans at the Chitown Half Marathon in April. I pulled the map up on my phone and drove most of it (except for the parts it hops on the bike path.) This made me feel good because I was also able to scope out the long uphill stretch I was concerned about. It didn't look too bad driving it but because the course was 2 loops I knew the second time through this section would hurt. 

Course Exhibit A

When I got back to just before the finish, I pulled my car over at the top of the hill at what would be mile 26 and tried to visualize coming down the last stretch seeing the clock at 3:3X:XX. It may sound hippy dippy but it felt like something I needed to do.

The rest of the evening was pretty standard pre-marathon stuff: Pasta dinner at Capri (a classic Rockford Italian restaurant) with my dad, brother and sister-in-law, followed by general race prep fussing and bed by 9pm at my dad's house. I set my alarm for 4am since the race started at 6 and I like to have plenty of time to eat, drink coffee and get ready. Lights out.


Obviously I woke up and went to the bathroom about a half dozen times and eventually woke up about 5 minutes before my alarm at 3:55. I wasn't tired at all. The first thing I did was check my tweets and texts and saw this from Jason (who was back in Milwaukee with the girls.)

Something about that really struck me and I kept thinking about it. (Pssst. Foreshadowing.)

I got ready in about 15 minutes and basically just waited around for coffee to clear out my system before going. (Truth.)  During this time I got a message from my good friend Shiow in Chicago and she informed me that her plans for the day were canceled and that the would be coming in to cheer for me! I sent her the proper cheer coordinates and felt pretty excited since I thought no one would be there on the course. My dad also woke up and paced around with me even though he swore up and down he would never get up this early. He told me he would drive down to see me at the finish later and I was out the door at 5am.

General pre-race stuff. Blah blah. I dropped my bag at the start and stretched a bit. It was cold! Awesome. I think it was about 44 degrees- although clouds would have been nice. One thing I definitely noticed was the wind coming pretty strong out of the north. I got a text from my friend Chris warning me about the wind projected for the day and he told me to tuck in behind other runners and draft in a headwind. I wondered how much I would be able to do this at a small race? I was a tad worried about this development.

Onward. So this event is super low key. They call it a "runner's race" but sometimes I think that's just code for "cheap?" This would be my fifth time running it and although it's always pretty well organized and full of great volunteers, it's still very, very no frills. Last year they didn't put on the marathon at all (only the half and 10K due to money issues) so this was the first year back for the full. This year there was no one announcing anything at the start until about 2 minutes before the race started. Not even an national anthem? Weird. Somebody just picked up a mic a minute before 6am and counted us down. Ok then. We were off!

Oh hey, I guess I'm doing this again. After 22 weeks of training and a DNF 4 weeks ago. I was so excited that I didn't realize that my Garmin didn't actually start when I pressed it. Balls! When I finally got it started I wasn't sure how many seconds had went by. (Pssst. More foreshadowing.) I tried not to let this bother me too much though and began to settle in. My strategy this time was to play it super conservative. The first 6 miles were going to be going north, directly into the wind I was worried about earlier- and also a steady uphill for about 2 of those miles. The week leading up to the race I was considering going for a 3:35 based on my training but in the end I decided there was no way I was going to risk bonking again so my plan was to aim for just under a 3:40- about 3:38ish. I decided I would go out at an 8:15 pace for at least the first 13 miles and re-evaluate there. The cool weather made the pace feel pretty ok but because of the wind and the uphill I wouldn't call it "easy." Still I felt optimistic! We always do in the first 6 miles right?

On the way north on the first loop I was lucky to tuck in behind some half marathoners. The were chatting and having fun and I was right behind them trying to shield myself from the wind. I felt like I was dealing with it ok andI kept telling myself it would all pay off on the way back south when I would have the wind at my back. I managed the 2 mile climb without faltering but I knew it would be a killer on the second loop. 

Course Exhibit B

Around mile 7 or so we crossed the river and headed back south. I was surprised that i didn't immediately feel a strong tailwind at my back to balance everything out. Lame! The air did feel super calm though so at least I didn't have the wind in my face anymore. Also, I was going to see Shiow at mile 12! I took this opportunity to guzzle the rest of the water in my handheld. I figure if I had a friend to refill for me I would take advantage of it. There was no way I was going to end up a dehydrated mess like I did in Kenosha four weeks ago. Around this time I saw a woman with a sign that said "What Would Harry Potter Do?" Honestly I was confused. I thought about yelling "Accio Finish Line!" at her but decided to save my energy. 

This stretch of the course is the best since most of it is on a bike path right next to the river. It's super pretty and FLAT and there are people around to cheer you on at various points. And then I saw Shiow! She has cheered for me at multiple races (where I've failed to meet my goal- womp) but she always wears a bright tomato red hoodie that I can see from far away. When I saw the hoodie I pumped my fist in the air. Woooooooo! She ran beside me and asked me how I was doing and I said pretty good, but would she refill my bottle for me before I saw her again at 18. 

Rockford's "Symbol" sculpture. Being symbolic of something. (No I did not take this during the actual race.)

She took off and I felt like I got a huge boost. Although this section of the course was great I felt like the second loop was looming hard- especially that hard trip back north into the wind. Seeing Shiow got me energized and I trucked onward, passing the half marathon mark in 1:48:19. Nice, but I didn't have a lot of wiggle room if I slowed down. (Ahem. Foreshadowing.)

So here I was re-evaluating my pace at the half. I felt pretty good but I also didn't want to risk speeding up when I knew miles 13-18 were going to be the uphill/windy section again. After the half marathoners finish it get's pretty desolate at this race too so I wouldn't have any one to draft off of. I decided to stick with an 8:15-ish pace and check back in again when we hit the turnaround. 

This was wise. The second time out was exactly what I expected. The hills felt hillier and the wind felt winder. Luckily I don't mind races where I'm alone because that's pretty much what it was like. I always had someone on sight ahead of me but I was never running "with" anyone after this point. I allowed myself to slow just a bit during miles 15 and 17 since these where the more significant inclines. I figured I could make it up when we hit a big downhill at 18.5. I saw Shiow again at the top of the larger hill before 18 and she handed me my water bottle back. Backstory: this is where I dropped out in Kenosha so it felt awesome to grab the water bottle and shout that I was going to do this thing! Shiow wooo-ed at me and said she was headed to the finish and I made my way to the glorious glorious downhill.

Mile 19.5 I finally got to turn away from the wind and head south towards the finish. Only about an hour left to go! Ooof. This was when I hoped to kick it into another gear and sail to a 3:35-3:36ish finish but.... waaaah. Maybe the wind took more out of me than I expected or maybe it just wasn't meant to be. Whatever. I couldn't speed up but I was going to try like hell to hold on to whatever I had left. I started thinking about that tweet from Jason. I kept saying to myself, "TODAY IS FOR YOU." Because eff missing my goal again! Today was my day whether it wanted to be or not. I was going to MAKE THAT SHIT HAPPEN. 

Again, where was my tailwind? Those last 6 miles of racing a marathon are going to feel like a butt no matter what. Maybe the tailwind was there but I didn't feel it. At this point I was clinging to whatever I had left. When I got to mile 22 I was pretty sure I had enough of a buffer to still get a 3:38 as long as I ran under 8:45 minute miles but dammit math is not what my brain was wanting to do right now. Also, I had no idea how many extra seconds my Garmin didn't pick up at the begining of the race. I passed a few runners who were fading and walking so that part felt good but overall I was so stressed out over the math at this point that I just kept pumping my arms and repeating my mantra: TODAY. TODAY IS FOR YOU.

After mile 25 we left the bike path and headed down the final, long stretch of road. It's flat and long except for the part where you can see the hill waaaay down at the end leading up to mile 26. It's one of those hills that would never really feel like a hill except for when you've run 26 miles beforehand. As I slogged my way up the hill the final song on my playlist came on. OH SHIT. If this song ended then I knew it was all over. (Lyrics: The clock keeps turning, the world keeps burning, it's life and death, we won't rest, 'til we're dust and bones...) I was pretty sure I had enough time but those last tenths of a marathon seem like an eternity. Also my Garmin was now 2 tenths of a mile ahead of the mile markers so DAMMIT MORE MATH. At the top of the hill at mile 26 (where my Garmin said 26.2 thankyouverymuch) I saw a girl with a sign that said "Touch Here For Power" with a big green button drawn on it. I slapped the cardboard button with one hand and then took my now empty water bottle and spiked it on the ground in a fury. I didn't want a single ounce of extra weight as I turned the corner and ran towards the finish. 

I rounded the corner and although I couldn't make out the clock just yet I could see Shiow's red hoodie in the distance! I punched my hand up in the air and sailed down the hill. 

As I approached got closer to the finish Shiow came out into the street and started running next to me, screaming: "GOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" She started dropping names of everyone who was cheering for me back at home: JASON AND SARA AND ROCHELLE ARE ALL CHEERING FOR YOU! GOOOOO! I still had probably another tenth of a mile to go and I shouted back, "WHY IS IT SO FAR AWAY?" Seriously we must have been the most ridiculous thing. I would pay so much money for a photo of this moment. (There was no official race photographer at this event. Mega-womp.) 

Anyway, the clock finally came into focus for me and it made sense why she was screaming. It said something like 3:39:XX! I was baaaaarely going to squeak this sucker in. ( I know, I can't handle the drama either.) I stared straight ahead and pushed those last couple strides out to cross the finish at 3:39:41! 

We might have won the Loudest Finish Award.

I immediately put my hands on my knees in shock that it was finally over. There was someone there snapping a bunch photos of me and it was honestly very overwhelming. (I need to figure out who this person was- I was told there was no "official" photographer but I now for a fact someone was there taking pictures of the finishers.) My knees buckled for a second and I put my hands on the ground and tried to catch my breath. I looked to my right and my dad was standing right there waiting for me! I pulled my emotional mess of a self together and went over to him and Shiow shouting, "I did it! By this much- but I did it!"

My dad and me!

Now here's the kicker: Although my time technically qualifies me for the Boston Marathon, a 3:39:41 most definitely won't be good enough to allow me to actually register for the 2016 race. They take the fastest qualifiers first and work backwards until the race fills up. Historically "BQ squeakers" don't get in. BAH. This means Im still going to have to qualify harder again at another race. (Most likely Lakefront Marathon again, which will then qualify me for 2017.) At first this might seem a little bittersweet but honestly nothing can take away from the high I felt at that last moment when I knew all my hard work was going to finally pay off down that last stretch of pavement. Even if I don't run Boston in 2016 I KNOW I DID IT. I really did it! And the long drawn out story of trying/failing/trying/failing only intensifies how accomplished I feel about finally reaching my goal. Looking back at my splits I could hem and haw over where could have gone faster but the truth is I could not have run one bit faster that I did in those last 4 miles. I left every last thing out there on the course so there's no point in second guessing things.

Exhibit C

Never ever ever when I started running did I think I would qualify for the Boston Marathon. When I finished my first marathon 5 years ago in 4:26 it never even entered my mind that it would be something I could someday do. When I ran my first sub-4 marathon it never was something I considered. When it took me 2+ years to whittle my time down to a 3:50 it still seemed like a complete fantasy. Something about Chicago Marathon in 2013 though lit a fire in me and I can't quite explain why. All I know is that I'm so glad it did.

And now I get to experience yet another awesome moment when I smash my 3:39 into oblivion this fall. :)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Sail On.

This is Po.

Po's real name was Sailor. (Partially inspired by Nic Cage's character in the David Lynch movie "Wild at Heart." Also, we thought it sounded cool.) We brought Sailor home in September 1997- about a week or so after we got married. Jason and I had moved into our first apartment in Chicago and wandered into the tiny pet shop down the street on Lincoln Avenue. There was a litter of teeny tiny little orange cats screaming for attention. One of them was to be our Sailor Po.

Baby Sailor. September, 1997.

I used to call to him as a kitten in kind of sing-songy voice: "Saay-lor. Oh Saaaayyy-lor boy." I eventually replaced "boy" with "Po" and thus the nickname was born. An explosion of pseudonyms soon followed: Mister Po, Popo, Pojangles, Po Diddley, etc. It was always a big deal in our house when we would come up with a new Po name. I remember singing the Notorious B.I.G. song, "I love it when you call me Big Popo" to him. Po names were the best names.

Po and Miss Lulu. Like they do..

The word that keeps coming to mind when describing this cat is "magical." It seemed like Po was tiny for about two weeks and then he blossomed into a lion. He was regal. He ruled our tiny little apartment (and every place since then.) When we brought home his brother Spike and finally his baby sister Lulu, Po was always boss and they knew it. A gentle king, but king nonetheless. In his prime, Po weighed around 20 pounds- but he was solid you know? When people would visit us there was always a strong reaction to him when he would saunter into the room. Things like "Whoa, that is a CAT" were often exclaimed in his presence. He would be a appropriately aloof (as cats are) but he knew how to work a room.

Po's favorite thing in the world was comfort. He sought it out in all it's forms. He had a purr like a lawnmower that you could hear from two rooms away if he found the perfect spot to nap in. (Oftentimes the perfect spot was a doll bed or a pink bean bag chair- the perks of living with two young girls.) His preferred place to be though was on Jason's lap. No other belly would do and he would show his annoyance at your inferior lap if Jason's wasn't around. It was also unacceptable if there was a laptop in the way of his favorite place to snuggle. There would be a battle for the prime lap position but in the end, Po usually won. He was hard to resist.

People often say that pets are family and I firmly believe this to be true. Something about having Po with us all through these particular years in our lives though makes losing him even more... stark to me. I barely remember a time in my adult life without him. (Was I really even an adult before that?) We brought him into our home when we were both 19 years old, not having been married even a month yet. He grew with us those early years, saw us bring babies home from the hospital (what a great memory watching him react to Juliana for the first time), and lived with us through 3 cities- 5 different homes. I was practically a kid myself when he came to us 17 1/2 years ago. Now that he's gone it feels like a huge part of my life is coming to a close. It sounds silly that I'm talking like this about an animal, but I can't picture anything filling this missing piece in my life right now. There simply won't be anything like what he was to us again.

In the past few years Po husky frame slowly started to shrink but he was still healthy and strong for the most part. We lost his sister Lulu almost 4 years ago to diabetes but he never had any major problems. We started affectionately calling him Old Man Cat (for obvious reasons) but also because with the passing years he began to develop a very wise air to his personality. We started to notice that instead of people commenting on how big he was, they were now commenting on how he looked like a sage, old man. The Gandalf of cats, if you will. He had a devoted following on the internet.

These two. Every. Morning.

I could write about this damn cat forever. But I won't. It all boils down to: I miss him. I miss his tiny little baby meow that never fit his regal stature. I miss how the stairs creaked as he limped down them one by one for dinner at the end of the day. I miss how he would stare at me patiently every time I ate a bowl of ice cream, begging to lick the bowl afterward. I miss him hogging the bed at my feet at night and purring in my face to wake me up on Sunday morning. I realize that it hurts this bad because I was lucky enough to love him so much for nearly 18 years. It doesn't make it any easier though.

Goodnight, Sailor Po.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Ladies Rock Milwaukee

This is a thing that I did in my real life:

I signed up for (the first ever!) Ladies Rock Milwaukee Camp back in October and I secretly stressed out about it almost every day leading up to the kickoff party. I kept telling people about the program not only because I thought it was such an awesome idea, but also because telling people would hold me accountable and keep me from getting too scared and bailing out.

I’m so glad I didn’t bail out.

I’m not trying to be grandiose but quite honestly this was one of the most terrifying and badass things I’ve ever done. (And I think I do a lot of ridiculous things?) Basically I’m I giant introvert who likes to combat my shyness but putting myself into increasingly challenging situations. It’s how I keep myself from curling up into a gigantic hermit crab shell and withdrawing from social interactions forever.

Maybe it sounds a bit strange that having grown up performing dance and musical theatre I would be this frightened by singing in public again. It’s not like I haven’t been in situations like this before. Having attended a performing arts middle and high school I had many parts in musicals and performed solos on stage when I was a kid. When I pursued my degree in dance I performed in front of audiences many many times and it was something that I absolutely adored.

This was sooooo different.

#1 Holy hell that was a long time ago

#2 We formed our band on Thursday evening and performed our original song on stage just two-and-a-half days later. Some of us had never played an instrument before. I have done absolutely NOTHING that comes close to this sort of thing, ever.

#3 For me, performing dance on stage is a different animal entirely. You get to become a character that is separate from yourself. But using your voice to sing... it feels like there is nowhere to hide.

#4 Did I mention how long it’s been since I’ve been on any stage?

Even more so than the performance aspect, I was kind of terrified of the “process.” How the eff do you write a song? Hell if I know. I used to noodle around on my guitar and write some (admittedly terrible) songs back in high school. I’ve always loved to sing but I’ve never had any idea how to make my own music and lyrics mesh. I really had no clue how I was going to walk into a room with three other women and come out with an actual piece of music that we all liked and agreed upon. Which makes what happened by the end of the weekend even more amazing:

On Sunday night we performed a real life, upbeat, belt-it-out pop song. 


I’m not even sure how our song happened. One minute I was sitting on the floor with Sara, Patty and Anneke, furiously scribbling down words and phrases in our brainstorm session. Then the next thing I know we’re in the practice room listening to the chords Sara learned (that morning!) and I’m trying to improvise a melody on top of it. Add in a funky bass line and some kicking drums and… hey we wrote a song! Our band coach Mary Joy jumped in with some super helpful feedback along the way and guided us whenever we got a little stuck on something. (The Ladies Rock volunteers were seriously full of amazing.)

So our group of sixteen women formed four different bands, and each band wrote a completely different kind of song. It was so cool to hear what everyone came up with! Even more awesome was watching the same women who nervously introduced themselves alongside me on Thursday night take the stage on Sunday with such confidence. Everyone took what we learned in our safe, secure little bubble of encouragement and rocked the part when the time came to play. I seriously did not think I would ever do something like this at 36 years old. I mean, my kid plays in a band now. It's kind of her deal now, not mine. I'm just super happy that for one weekend I got to fulfill this silly little dream of mine. GET OUT THERE AND DO THINGS.

I also want to write another song.

*More photos from the event here. I'll update with the video once it's available in a couple of weeks. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Farewell 2014

I usually write a year-end recap during the month of December. This year things got away from me (gigantic house remodeling project, traveling, etc) and now that 2015 has started happening I feel like I've sort of... missed the boat? Not that I'm ungrateful for all the amazing things I was able to do in the past year- I'm just in that post-holiday No Man's Land fog where everyone is still hanging out in their sweatpants all day and not on a regular schedule yet. My brain is basically mush right now. And possibly part-whiskey.

When Monday rolls around I'm sure things will start to feel back to normal again and life will resume as usual. I began my 18-week training program for Wisconsin Marathon this week so that's neat. (2015 run goals are here if you're interested.) I've also got a new opportunity coming up that I'm excited about and will elaborate more on later when it gets fleshed out a little more. But before I dive full force in to the new year, what were the highlights of 2014? When I step back and look at everything I realize that it all comes down to Travel, Running and Family.

1. Travel: We went big with two major trips this year: a family trip to Costa Rica at the beginning of the year and then a grown-up trip to Barcelona in July with good friends Billy and Heather. Both were amazing in completely different ways. Costa Rica came in the middle of a Polar Vortex-y winter that felt like it would never end. I felt like the cold was going to break me at that point and I'll never forget that first day digging my feet into the sand on the beach while feeling the sun beat down on my skin. Also, we went zip-lining.

Our trip to Barcelona was jam packed. We were on our feet constantly as we explored the city. I left my running shoes at home for this trip but I felt exhausted and exhilarated at the end of every day (which usually ended in the wee hours of the following morning.) Drinking my morning coffee on the balcony with a view Sagrada Familia remains a very surreal experience for me. The world is such a fascinating place and every time I travel I want to learn more and more.

2. Running. I didn't run a single ultramarathon this year as I was completely focused on running a Boston qualifying time in the marathon. I put a bold goal out into the world and I fell short- more than once. (It's cool, I'm ok with it.) I feel like I learned so much about training and racing this past year though- more than I have in the 7+ years I've been running. I felt just about every emotion there is to be felt along the way and I know that my story isn't even close to being done.

(A small adjustment.)

3. Family. I feel like 2014 was really 5 years long when I look at my girls. Not because it dragged on forever but because they pretty much grew up before my eyes in the past 12 months. Ava traveled to Denmark and started playing guitar in a rock band. Juliana made the big transition into high school and suddenly became a super confident, responsible, mini-adult. People always say childhood goes by fast but I feel like there are points where we make huge leaps forward all at once. 2014 was one of those years.

So that's the supershort super-condensed version. I do want to add this though: On New Year's Day I went for a 5-mile run around the neighborhood. When I get back I realized there was a snowy owl perched on the roof of our new balcony. I was pretty taken aback by it since I'd never seen anything like it before. (Also, it was staring me down pretty hard with it's intense yellow eyes.) I'm not a superstitious person at all but I like to think that this is a sign of good luck in the coming year.  If 2015 has milestones like the ones above then I can't wait.