Wednesday, September 24, 2014
I could have slowed down in Natick when the heat started to get to me and everything was crowded. I could have eased off instead of following the girl with the neon yellow shorts through Wellesley. I could have let myself walk for an extra 5 seconds, 10 seconds, when my leg was cramping. I could have stopped to hug my boyfriend. I could have not sped up, making my last mile the fastest of the final 10 miles. When I'm in a marathon race, I'm not thinking about those choices. I try to remove myself from the situation as much as I can and objectively assess: can I keep this pace? Do I need water? Is something hurting? Should I slow down? become less questions than data entry points: a + b = c. But in the end, they are choices. And I want to remember that, when I have the privilege of toeing the line in Hopkinton this April, that I am there because of the choices I made to keep fighting on a warm April day in 2014.
In the meantime, I'm in the midst of an extremely unconventional training cycle for the Madison Marathon at the beginning of November. Between the fact that I've been dancing semi-professionally in a show and with a company, bike commuting virtually everywhere, and working full time, this training cycle has turned into a game of "how many physical activities will Audrey do today?" Aside from this weekend and next (show weekends for Heartbeat), I've been religious about getting in my long runs, even if that meant running 20 miles, then riding my bike to a 4 hour dance rehearsal. There's certainly a high level of intensity going on, although in a much different way than I feel during a typical training cycle. If nothing else, this marathon will be a fascinating case study in how well I can perform based on less running, but a significant amount of strength/cross training. Dance brought me to a half marathon PR on 20 miles a week 2 years ago, so shouldn't it be able to get me to a marathon PR on 40? I guess we shall see come November...
Tuesday, May 06, 2014
I made it through the entire day yesterday with only a couple of instances of getting emotional, but now, as I start writing this, and browse through pictures and tweets from yesterday, and kind of process the whole thing, I am finding myself getting choked up. This was not my fastest marathon (although, it was my second fastest, and my fastest ever trip from Hopkinton to Boston, which is saying something). I will never run a PR when it's 70 degrees outside. But this race, god, I fought. And the entire race - the crowds, the emotion, everything - was so incredibly wonderful. And I will never forget what it meant to run Boston 2014.
The days leading up to the race were a bizarre mix of nerves, excitement, and trying to calm myself down. At work on Thursday, I walked in to find the entire clinic decorated with banners, signs, and blue and gold for me (and promptly burst into tears haha). I think that was when everything sort of became real for the first time. It's a good thing I had a light schedule and not much doc to do, because my brain was off on some other planet. I also had to sit through an inservice at the end of the day and I'm not sure I could tell you one thing that I learned from it...oops. Friday was when the nerves started to hit me pretty hard and my body started playing tricks on me - am I feeling stuffed up? What's going on with my hip? Thankfully, by Saturday my nerves had dissolved into mostly excitement and the thrill of being here and doing Boston - actually racing it.
Suddenly it was like all of the detachment from the my legs and the crowds and the heat and everything became too much and it exploded outward. I was so wonderfully aware of the kids handing out freeze pops (you had better believe I ate one), of the cowbells, of the signs, and of the fact that despite the cramps beginning to overtake me, despite the heat and everything else, I felt strong. As I approached the top of Heartbreak I was overjoyed to encounter a guy in full kilt playing the bagpipes - my New Bedford dream, finally come true! I crested the hill with new vigor in my legs. Sure, I wasn't exactly dropping back down to 7:30 pace, but for the first time in quite awhile I felt like finishing strongly was actually a possibility. Now requalifying was at the forefront of my mind, and I would stop at nothing to run under a 3:35. I ran down the BC hill - how many times did I visualize the race playing out here in my mind? I certainly didn't feel as strong as I had imagined all of those times, but I went back to thinking "let the hill take you" and tried to let the massive downhill do all the work. By this point, my quads were just toast. The cramps in my left leg were starting to move from 'uncomfortable/awkward' to 'ouch', and my right leg was starting to join in. But when I reached the bottom of the hill, I noticed something interesting - strangely, from a heat/body standpoint, I was starting to feel better? The pre-heat exhaustion symptoms of nausea and lightheadedness that I had been feeling over the past hour had subsided and I was feeling somewhat like a normal human again. I continued to pass people at a constant rate, which continued to boost my spirits. Maybe I wasn't moving as fast as I wanted to be, but I was moving faster than a lot of people out there at this point in the race.
Brookline (miles 22-25)
As I passed mile 22 and made the turn at the reservoir, the process that had been in motion over the last couple of miles reached a head, and I went from hanging on to actually turning on the gas a little bit. I definitely grinned as I ran down that hill, coasting off the energy of the throngs of people waving signs, hands for high fives, the noise and energy infectious. I knew in that moment that I had made it past the breaking point, and I was going to make it after all. With the crowds getting louder by the second and the knowledge that my cheering sections were ahead, I pushed on, sending positive vibes to my legs. Strong, push off the ground, fast. I need to take a second to talk about the crowds - now, I've done this race twice and I know that the crowds are completely beyond compare. But the thing that got to me this year was how many times I heard spectators saying "thank you" to us. The runners. Thank you for coming back, thank you for not being afraid, thank you for showing the world what we, as a community and a city, are. And I've never been more proud to be wearing my Greater Boston singlet - hearing "Boston Strong!" "Greater Boston!" "Let's go Greater Boston!" "Alright Boston!" all the way along the course, I think my heart got a little bigger every time. I was too deep in the pain cave during the actual race to fully process it or get emotional about it at the time, but thinking back on it makes me start to tear up a little bit. It was beautiful. The entire mood was just one of such joy, gratefulness, celebration. Because we are here, running together, beneath an azure blue sky.
I stayed to the left side of the road because I knew that's where my friends would be, and sure enough, just before mile 23 I spotted a "hey Audrey, nice legs!" sign and 4 of my Boston Badgers going crazy (apparently one of my friends screamed 'YOU'RE A SEXY BITCH!' but I have no recollection of that lol). And a couple of blocks later, there was Andrew (holding our dog!) and my dad. Words can't express how happy I was to be able to run past them actually feeling strong, even thought I yelled at Andrew "you win, I hate you!" as I went by, in reference to his bet that I would run over a 3:30. One more little hill to crest and then down, down, down towards Boston. My quads were absolute toast. The cramps were escalating to the point where I had to walk for a few seconds to try to massage the left one out (of course, a moment that MarathonFoto just HAPPENED to catch on film, thanks a lot haha). When I started running again after that, I decided that that was it. My leg could fall off mid stride and I would continue running.
The last 2 miles were by far the most joyful, fun last miles of a marathon I've ever run. It was the first time that I've ever hit rock bottom earlier on in a race and then instead of continuing the decline, actually going back uphill. I was giddy with the fact that I had actually picked up the pace again, still passing people after all this time, and I had like 16 minutes left to run. I grabbed a delicious freezy pop from someone - really, isn't there always someone handing out freezy pops on Beacon? And aren't they always the most delicious thing I've ever tasted? At some point after Coolidge Corner, I ran past a man playing "Roll Out The Barrel" on a tuba...not sure if it was the Wisconsin connotations of that song, or just the fact that it was a guy playing the tuba, but I absolutely was grinning from ear to ear. I could see the Citgo sign in the distance, and the steep uphill that precedes it. And I knew that for the first time, I was going to RUN up that hill and crest it with pride. There was a moment - I can't quite remember if it was on Beacon, or running through Kenmore - when I literally closed my eyes for a second and thought to myself: "Remember this. Remember this moment, and how you feel. Soak it in. Because it really doesn't get much better than this." The crowd was somehow managing to become even MORE intense as we approached Kenmore, which hardly seemed possible given how insane Beacon had been. And there it is, the Citgo sign, and 1 mile to go, and this is just going to be the most wonderful mile you've ever run in your life. (I'm actually tearing up as I remember this, no joke).
So there I am, running through that tunnel under Mass Ave when suddenly the roar in your ears is replaced with a moment of silence, like a deep breath. There's a sign overhead that says 1K to go. And immediately my mind is back at the track, at dice workout of insanity, at that stupid mile repeats workout, running strong with my teammates. 1000 meters. 5 laps around the indoor track. Finish it strong. Strangely enough at that moment I happened to come across a GBTC master's runner (who I later found out was live-tweeting every mile) and it was just cool to have that moment of recognition with a teammate. Right on Hereford. I'm passing people, still, after all this time, and I know that the next turn, well, it's happening. At some point I think I took a glance at my watch and deep in my brain processed the fact that I was definitely going to go under 3:35, 3:33 was looking like more of a possibility. As I made the turn my entire left leg cramped for a moment - quad, calf, toes, everything. With a little hitch step, I shook it off - that shit could wait. Because now I'm running down Boylston. I'm exhausted, but I feel like I'm sprinting at full out speed. The sky is the most perfect blue, and beyond, the blue and yellow banners are even more perfect. So many people going crazy on the sides of the road; I can see colors in a blur in my periphery. I pass McGreevy's ('the official training restaurant of GBTC'), and I think of it just as I said that I would. I am running past the places where a year ago there was so much devastation, and today there is nothing but glory. The 26 mile sign passes. The arch gets closer and closer. And the pain fades to the background, and all I can feel is joy, pride, love, gratitude. I sprint my heart out and as I cross that blue and yellow line, I essentially blow a kiss to the sky. I've been running for 3 hours, 32 minutes, and 14 seconds. And I am purely happy.
Some more things happened after the race. I felt incredibly nauseous (actually, my stomach didn't feel right for about a week and a half after the race) and literally the only thing that tasted good to me was beer. So...I went to the Publick House, and I drank beer! And it was glorious. But the stuff that happened after isn't as important as the stuff that happened during, and before. I may not have met my time goal for this race - but hell, I think I know a single person out of the 30+ people I know who did this who did. I've said this before about Boston, but when I look back on this race I'm not going to remember that 'damn, I was training for a 3:20 and I ran a 3:32'. I'm going to remember the guy playing the tuba, the Elon guy in the athletes village, my self-motivational speech that pushed me over Heartbreak hill and back into the race. The insanity of the spectators, THANKING the runners, and blue and yellow Boston Strong everywhere. And I'm going to remember the training that got me there, which, more than ever, I loved. Every single run. And I'm going to remember how unspeakably proud I am to live in this city, to run for my club, and to have this magnificent race be my "home course", as much of a sneaky bitch as it may be. And since I've already got my qualifier for next year...well...it looks like I'll finally be trying Boston in an odd numbered year. :)
Saturday, April 19, 2014
I wrote kind of a long ramble about many things that I will eventually finish and publish. But for now, I'm focused on these words that my coach emailed to my team, almost 4 years ago, before the best race of my life:
You have to use what you know and feel about your fitness, the weather, and the course, and your experience, to sense the right effort in the early miles. Ultimately in a marathon you don't achieve a goal like in the rest of life, but prepare yourself and take what the day gives you.
Don't let your watch tell you what to do. It is only there for your entertainment.
You are ready.
I am ready. And I'm racing Boston. And that is the most wonderful thing there is.
Monday, March 17, 2014
The weather forecast for the race had been slowly dipping lower, starting with a promising high of 40 early in the week and ending with the real thing...high of 32. And windy. Woof. Dragging my tights out for a race in mid-March was not an enjoyable experience. I had my now-traditional pre race Finagle Bagel and met up with Joy and Briana for our annual pilgrimage to New Bedford. We made it to number pickup, where security was crazy. Guess these are the times we live in. I looked up my number and got REALLY excited for a minute because it started with a 14. 14 is my favorite/lucky number and somehow despite how many races I've run this was only the second time I've had it appear on my bib. So I figured today had to be a good day. I knew I was fit. That wasn't the issue. The problem was that I had run out of my mind to a 3 1/2 minute PR at this race last year off of virtually nonexistent training. So, with multiple 50-60 mile training weeks under me, it was going to be quite a blow to my confidence if I didn't PR. But my pace of 7:15 from 2013 already seemed crazy, even as fit as I was. It definitely didn't feel like a given, and that was what was in my mind heading up to the line.
After finding the "secret" YMCA bathroom with the door that locked from the inside, we warmed up a bit and then headed to the corral. After the singing of the national anthem, it was time to get underway. New Bedford is a HUGE race and as a New England Grand Prix race it draws a lot of fast runners from the various clubs. Also cool was that Kim Smith had jumped in the race last minute (apparently doing a tempo run...which still meant she beat all but 2 of our men's team. Pro runners are amazing.) I came off the line with Briana and Taylor and tried to get into flying V formation..and off we went. Taylor immediately took off, and I decided to just relax into it for a bit. My legs had felt rough all week, so I wasn't sure how things were going to go. I feel like I know the course at New Bedford well, and I pretty much knew even splits were out of the question. Mile 1 is downhill, similar to Boston actually, and I came through at 6:48. The second mile continues in a general downhill direction but I usually slow a bit there. Then comes a mile-long set of rolling hills. I was leapfrogging with Briana and several other people at this point, and interestingly I was actually passing on the uphills!! I honestly am not sure if I've managed that before...it was a strange feeling to actually feel strong heading up a hill. I knew I had slowed a bit with the hills, but I felt strong and in control, and I also knew that coming up next was possibly my favorite 4 mile stretch of any race. My split at mile 4 was a bit slower than expected...I think like 7:20? I can't actually take splits on my current watch so I had to do math. I wasn't feeling amazing, so I had a little moment of panic there for a second...not nearly as bad as last year, but still, the doubts were there. But then I remembered where I was, and how I never run even splits on this course. And I decided to fly.
From miles 4-7.5 you run through essentially a long, gradual downhill, and I knew if I was going to put time in the bank, this was where it would happen. So I started thinking about covering more ground, pushing off, and most importantly, passing people. And next thing I knew, I wad clicking off 6:55-7:00 splits like nothing. If you had ever told me I'd see a sub-7 mile beyond the first crazy mile of a half, I would have laughed in your face. And yet. My biggest concern was actually that I now felt massively overdressed...my underarmor long sleeve was feeling stifling and I was seriously jealous of a girl I saw up ahead of me who tossed her over shirt and gloves to someone on the sidelines. Around mile 6 I picked up a group of 2 girls in red singlets, girl in orange shorts, and a tall guy. I was seriously excited, because I almost always seem to find myself running alone in races...so a pack! It was so exciting! We ran together for a mile or so, and it was just the stimulus I needed to not back off the pace even as I was getting just the tiniest bit fatigued. Eventually I passed through and was on my own again, but thinking about those 3 girls behind me kept me pushing.
We made the turn onto the ocean, and at first, miraculously, there was a TAILWIND. I was feeling pumped on life at this point, and passing people left and right. I took my Gu and it was just delightful. I saw a camera and I actually smiled at it. I smiled at the spectators. I smiled at myself. Why would I ever want to casually run a 5K when I could do THIS?
I was still hitting 7ish splits, although the fatigue was starting to sneak in a little bit....annnd then we turned into the most cruel headwind ever. I pretty much immediately felt my pace go downhill and life got decidedly less fun. Suddenly everything was really, really hard. I was also running kind of alone again so I didn't have anyone to draft off of. The rest of the race was full of mental and physical ups and downs. The Irish water stop at mile 10 was a joy, but then I just wanted to be done. I finally caught a pack, and then it disintegrated. We turned into town, and my brain couldn't do math any more so I had no idea how much I slowed down. And I just wanted to be DONE. We came to the hill at mile 12, which actually was not as bad as I remembered. Then I almost got taken out by a woman with a giant stroller crossing the course and I just couldn't handle it anymore. We made the turn towards the finish. I looked at my watch, saw 1:32 something, and suddenly the haze I had been in for the last 3 miles lifted, and all I could think was "oh, shit! I've gotta GO!" And I absolutely sprinted down that hill, passing a ton of people in the process. And finally I crossed the finish line in 1:34:05. An almost 1 min PR.
Next stop, Boston...
Sunday, March 02, 2014
The long story:
The week leading up to this race was not one of my better ones this training cycle. I had a phenomenal long run on Sunday, but had been nursing some niggles ever since. Combine that with several commitments during the week and fitting in the miles was definitely feeling like a chore. I actually took the day before the race completely off in an attempt to calm things down. This race was really my first big test of this training cycle; a sort of 'where the hell is my fitness anyway?' type thing. I would say that training has been going pretty well, but nothing overly spectacular has happened to make be believe that I'm in PR marathon shape. So...that's the leadup to this story.
I woke up on Saturday with absolutely no desire to race. So early, so groggy, so hyperaware of the twinges in my knee and SO unhappy to be dealing with yet another blustery sub-20 degree day. I headed off to Salem with some of the GBTC crew. We arrived early to the race, got our shirts, etc, and had a dance party near the porta potties for a bit before going back to the car to attempt to stay warm. Everyone's phone was giving a different reading of the temps ranging from 3-15 degrees but regardless of what the actual temperature was, the way it felt was pretty obvious: effing cold. We finally managed to drag ourselves away from the warmth of the car, and after one last porta potty stop we were huddled together on the starting line. I never really got nervous before the race because I kept telling myself that I was just going to do a long run. I believe I announced to my teammates before the race that "I have no intention of racing this thing". That, as it turns out, would be a big fat lie.
Without any fanfare the horn blew and we were off for 20 miles. I watched my teammates blow by me immediately and I thought to myself, nope. Relax, relax, relax. I calmed down and watched them go. My plan was to go out feeling relaxed and relatively comfortable, and then reassess. I definitely succeeded in feeling relaxed, and was actually pretty shocked when I went through the first mile at 7:25. Somewhere around mile 2, I realized that I had lost one of my gels...the safety pin holding it to my shirt must have broken or something. As I was frantically feeling myself up trying to figure out where it could have fallen, and meanwhile trying to reassess my fueling plan now that I only had one gel, a magical thing happened. I heard a voice behind me: "Did you lose a gel?" A guy ran up next to me. "I saw that you dropped it a little ways back, but it went so fast I couldn't grab it for you. I have an extra gel, do you want it?" This man became my new favorite person in all of time and space. I happily took the gel, thanked him profusely, and wished him good luck. I didn't catch his name or number, but guy in the black and yellow jacket with the extra espresso Gu - YOU ARE MY HERO.
The next few miles passed uneventfully. I didn't take splits but kept an eye on my watch at each mile marker and was steady on right around 7:25 pace. The course is a double out and back, which was fun because you get to see everyone throughout the race. I yelled for all of my teammates as they passed and then made the turnaround myself. I took some water at this point which had frozen in the cup...love you, New England winter. Back towards Salem we went, with some nice downhills scattered throughout this portion of the course. I was still feeling nice and comfy at this 7:25 pace but wasn't yet allowing myself to think about the possibility that I would be able to hold it for the entire race. Around mile 5 I passed my teammate Briana, and we chatted for a second about our plan for the rest of the race. I wished her good luck and moved onward. I could see my friend Joy maybe 300 meters ahead and started to begin thinking, just a little bit, about closing the gap. Not adding any significant effort, not consciously speeding up, but just pulling the line, bit by bit.
After the out and back the course heads into a little loop around the city, where I began passing a few more people. There's sort of a long, drawn out stretch of empty street and I thought to myself how this part of the race might not be so enjoyable the second time around. Right around mile 8 I passed Joy, the last teammate within my reach. No more red singlets to reel in anymore...I was on my own. I passed mile 9, still sticking with my pace, still feeling peachy, and I literally thought to myself "not bad, Zaferos, not bad at all". So far things were going extremely well, and the thoughts started to creep into my mind: so, maybe, you could try to hold this pace? I came through the 10 mile at 1:14:30ish, still right on schedule. At this point in the race I had "Hey Baby" as played by the Wisconsin Marching Band in my head, and all I could think of as I went out for the second loop was "ONE MORE TIME". So I did the logical thing and yelled that to the guy who was directing the 20 milers back out onto the course, and he proceeded to repeat it over the microphone. A few moments later, I passed a man who gave me a funny look, and then screamed "WISCONSIN! BADGERS! YEAH!" (I was wearing a Wisconsin hat.) I was so taken aback and excited by this development that I put my arms in the air and screamed. WOOO! There are so few moments in my distance racing life when I have the chance to experience pure joy during a race, and this was certainly one of them.
The pack had thinned out considerably as we headed out for the second loop since we had lost the 10 milers who seemed to make up the majority of the field. I latched on to 2 older men for a bit, but my real focus was a girl maybe 200 meters ahead in a Reach the Beach shirt. That logo was like a target for the next few miles. I eventually caught up to her around mile 12, and the two of us spent the next 2 miles cheering for every single person we saw coming back on the opposite side of the course. I had to giggle a little bit at the fact that here I was, running a race that I never would have imagined, and I had the energy to be cheering for my teammates while cruising along at 7:25 pace at mile 14. I mean, who am I? I passed RtB for a bit between 13 and 14, then she got back in front of me after the turnaround. I paced off of her from 14-15 and finally passed her again around 16. Between the distraction of the cheering and leapfrogging with this girl, those awful middle miles went by incredibly fast. By the time I realized what was happening there were 4 miles to go. I was definitely starting to feel the fatigue at this point, but I was still staying on pace and I started to feel the confidence that my legs would hold for 4 more miles.
Back into the town, I was basically running alone. There were a couple people who I could see vaguely up ahead but they weren't close enough to make contact yet. With 3 miles to go, I finally came to the realization that even if some disaster occurred over the next 25 minutes, I was going to run a whole lot faster than I expected. The miles had seemed to be clicking off pretty quickly until after passing the 18 mile mark. At that point, it started to seem like mile 19 would never come. But it did, and then HOLY SHIT one more mile. This was the longest mile EVER. Probably because, as we came to discover later, it was actually 1.2 miles. But I am not sure I have ever dug down so deep to finish a race hard in my life. I passed this woman who said something to the effect of "Alright Greater Boston, looking strong." And I was looking strong. Looking and feeling and just generally being strong, which was not something I ever expected to feel in the last half mile of a 20 mile race. But here I was: strong. And fighting to the end. There was this girl in a pink shirt that I kept getting closer, and closer, and closer to as the blocks ticked by and by God, I was going to pass her. As we finally approached the last turn leading to the finish line, I found some other gear that I didn't even know existed and pushed by her. And that was it. This was just the best. Ever.
So once upon a time, I thought that my marathon PR was a fluke. And I thought that I never could be that successful at longer distances again, that I was doomed to mediocrity. I think that this race, and the whole performance of it - the mental game, the hunger to fight to hold pace and to pass people, the ability to stay relaxed and execute a race plan - completely proves that wrong. I don't think I've ever been so happy to be wrong in my life. And, no pressure, but I might have to at least consider the possibility of a PR at Boston. If I can relax into it like I did today, when you add in the crowd support and the fact that it's BOSTON, I can't count it out anymore. After all...I still have 7 weeks of training to get even stronger...
And for pure entertainment, here's a list of the songs that I had in my head during the race:
-Let It Go
-Hey Baby (marching band version)
-Answer the Phone by Sugar Ray (...what?)
-Ocean Avenue by Yellowcard (...also...what?)
-Keep Holding On
Saturday, February 22, 2014
Tuesday, January 07, 2014
I ran 15 races, which is more than I raced in 2011 and 2012 combined, and the most races I've run in a year since college. I ran 2 track miles, 2 miles in a relay, a 2.5 mile trail race with Andrew, 6 5Ks, a 6K, a 10 mile, a 15K, a half marathon, and a marathon. I ran a race with my dog. I placed in my AG/overall women in 2 races. I raced in 25 degree weather with snow and 85 degrees with humidity. I set 2 PRs (15K and HM) and one technical PR (10M, as it was my first outing at the distance). I remembered that I still hate cross country. I was humbled by the marathon and shocked by a stellar performance in the half. I remembered that 5Ks are HARD and the track is a whole lot of fun. I ran from Cambridge to Concord, not without a few mishaps along the way. I road tripped to Pennsylvania for an attempt at a last chance BQ. I became great friends with my teammates and remembered that half the fun of running is the people you do it with.
Outside of running, I lived the dream as a semi-professional dancer throughout 2013. I joined a modern dance company, choreographed a solo for NACHMO, and began rehearsals for what would become the show of my life, Heartbeat. In March, and then again in November, I got to live out my dream dancing a lead role surrounded by the most talented people I've ever had the chance to work with. I got to take classes in Washington DC which challenged me to my limits and made me grow as a dancer. I performed on a small stage in Arlington, in a dance studio in Cambridge, on a catwalk in Harvard Square, and in a grassy field in Concord. I stayed up for 24 hours straight creating a piece. I returned to dancing en pointe after far too long away. And I realized that my life was not complete without this, my original passion.
I spent wonderful times ranging from unremarkable to extraordinary with my love and my pup. I climbed a mountain in Vermont and sampled beers all along the east coast. I got to be in my city at the moment when Boston Strong became even more of a reality than it already was. I graduated with my doctorate and began my life in a profession I love, truly making a difference every day. I spent wondrous Saturday mornings (and some Saturday evenings too) with my Boston Badgers, who continue to bring the Wisconsin spirit to the East coast. I spent time with family and with friends new and old. And I loved every single minute of it.