Saturday, March 19, 2016

DreamBig 2016 - #50 Alabama

STATE #50 - Auburn, Alabama
Auburn Running Festival - Finish on the 50
Finishers: Auburn Family

Week of March 13, 2016...
Daylight savings happened on Sunday and slowly things all started to come into perspective. I had my last training run on Tuesday after a quick pool workout, and about halfway in I realized this was it. The next time I laced up my Mizunos would be for the big day. Sprinting down 7th to the house, I thought - the next time I kick it in like this will be across the 50 yard line. It gave me the chills. I went inside the house and found that Gregg had made a "50" out of the random foreign currency in our "Bali" change jar on the kitchen counter. Everyone was getting in the race week spirit. Later that evening after work, I came home to a big flat box in which I found an amazing personalized 50 half marathons in 50 states medal holder from Jeremy. I called to thank him and I think he was more excited about it than I was -- and I was REALLY excited.

Not a bad view for my last morning training run!
50 states medal hanger from JMac 
Roomie Kitchen Coin Artwork
On Wednesday, I decided to walk to work because it was a gorgeous morning. I arrived around 8am and when I walked into the office, I was stopped in my tracks by an explosion of colored streamers, posters and balloons all around my desk with good wishes from all of my coworkers, many of which were out of town. Poor Josh was in the office and I quickly removed myself as I felt the emotional waterworks abruptly bubbling to the surface with the potential for overreactive tears. I didn't want the poor boy to have to deal with a weeping Ashley. Once everyone got into the office we shared in a mimosa toast before getting to work for the day.

Work Desk Surprise from Team Fermata!

I took a half day Thursday as I knew things were about to get crazy and I needed to run some errands before friends and family started coming to town. Around 10:30am I actually had an interview with the Auburn-Opelika newspaper and Katherine (the reporter) told me it would be a feature in the paper the next day! I went into the office around noon and brought Tupelo as a visitor and worked until it was time to pick mom up from the airport who was flying in from St. Louis.

Hanging at the airport in the trunk with the pup
Mom got a tour of Atlanta, since it was her first time in town, and we waited until Gregg arrived home with Chris who had just flown in from NYC (Chris went to Bali with me and Gregg back in September 2015). We had drinks at the house before heading to Watershed for dinner. Kali, my friend from Omaha who ran #8,15, 34 and 40 with me, arrived from work in Chicago and met us at the restaurant for dinner. Somehow during our meal the Clermont Lounge became a topic of conversation and before I knew it, we were standing outside the establishment ready for the adventure ahead....with my mother. After snapping a few photos outside, we paid our $8 cover and made our way in. I will let my readers pause to google "Clermont Lounge" then please note this is not a normal occurrence and it was my mom's idea. We actually had a great time drinking our canned beers and eating Peanut M&Ms out of mom's purse. The best part of the night was Kali's decision to buy me a shirt that says "I saw your Mama dancin' at the Clermont Lounge" - how appropriate. After getting a few pulled pork sliders and some additional photo evidence, we made our way back to the house for a big sleepover.
What has this crazy lady gotten us into?
After Kali purchased me a new shirt
March 18, 2016
Friday was finally here and it started out great. I was up fairly early too antsy to sleep so I got up when I heard Gregg in the kitchen and went to do some work while I drank coffee. My article was out at this point so I gave it a little read and then shared it with my dad and sister via text. We were all slow moving to get up and in no rush. Gregg had to go into work so Kali, Chris and I went out exploring for breakfast while mom stayed home to get ready and pack up. We settled on a cool hidden gem called Stone Soup Kitchen and had an awesome little midday brunch to prepare us for the long weekend ahead.

Stone Soup Kitchen
Once back at home, I had a minor freakout when I went in my room and saw 2-3 suitcases of clothes exploded everywhere -- and I hadn't even packed yet. I kicked everyone out of my room and with a tension neck and headache quickly developing did my best to pack for the week. As Type A as I am, I hadn't prepared for this one bit. I figured we would have some time in Auburn so I just decided to bring some essentials and shop for whatever what crucial when we arrived.

Karin, a friend I met through Kali in Omaha, arrived from her work meeting in Atlanta and volunteered to be the shuttle driver to Auburn. So Karin, Kali, Mom and I packed up Karin's car around 2pm and hopped on I-85 south for the 100 mile trek to Auburn. I was uncharacteristically quiet because everything was coming so fast and I didn't really know how to process the excitement.

Here we go!
We crossed into Alabama and the rain slowly started to move in about the same time. Once we got into town, we made our first stop at Grace Methodist to pick up our packets. Kali was making a scene about it being my "big pick-up" and the ladies working registration asked if I was the one who was running all 50 states. And this is where the madness began!

Home Sweet Home!
Packet Pick-Up #50
Once we were done with the packet pickup, we dropped mom off at the Auburn University Hotel and Conference Center and then booked it over to the stadium where I had an interview with Jeff Shearer, a senior writer for We had texted a little prior to the interview so I warned him in advance that I may get emotionally. Thankfully, with two daughters of his own that was nothing out of the norm. We met him in the Coliseum parking lot and walked over to the stadium in the rain.

Pretending like we owned the place, we walked into the stadium and right out to the field. I was shocked I didn't start crying immediately, but I did get very excited. After taking a look around, we had a seat on some benches under the stadium and had a quick interview before getting a few video clips and pictures by the field.

We set out on our next adventure of finding race attire running from J&M to TigerRags and finally to Anders Bookstore where we found so many options and the most perfect race shirt of all. With all of our chores done, we raced back to the Auburn Hotel to check in and throw our stuff in the room pre happy hour. During this time, Karin and Kali raided the coffee shop of all of the Auburn Opelika newspapers with my race story on the front page. We met up with Felicity, my ZTA sorority sister, who had flown down from Manhattan for the fun as well as the Parres Family, my hometown adopted family, who flew in from Saint Louis.

We all hopped in the car and made our way over to The Hound where my parents had organized a happy hour for anyone who had already arrived in town. My dad, king of 11 x 17 paper, had printed out blown up copies of my race save the date and posted them on the front door and all over our happy hour room. This is when things started to really get to me. The room was packed with friends and family from all different parts of my life. It was actually wild to see how many parents of my friends had come to support including the Moore's, Lila Harris, the Douglas Family and the Bryan Family. Mr. Bryan had gone above and beyond to make this weekend special for me by calling all around to the different news stations, newspapers, and Auburn Athletics to make sure they included my story in their weekend update.

Outside the Hound
Blue Moon and K. Buck
Moore's and Meredith
Pauli, Meg and Momma Bryan
Love Felicity!
Wonderful present from the folks from Mrs. Gourde

Kali, Hungry Chris and Karin

In addition, Pauli and Megan, my best girl friends from Atlanta had arrived as had some of my wonderful Auburn friends, Meredith, Katherine, Tyler, Courtney and Heath. My ZTA little sister, Halie rolled in from the beach in her rented pick up truck about halfway through the party with bronchitis. What a trooper. A lot of my Deloitte coworkers, including several partners, showed up as well which meant a lot seeing as I am no longer with the company. We all enjoyed drinks and fried green beans, mac n cheese, pork rinds and stuffed dates while everyone mingled and got to bond over how they were connected to me.

My adopted fall football family, aka the Parres
My mom presented me with a really cool gift from a long time family friend. Holding true to the midwest obsession with monograms, it was a custom piece of art with my initials in the background and then small drawings of a memory from each of my races flowing through the script of my initials. The Parres family also gave me two silver bangles one that says "She Believed She Could, So She Did" and "#DreamBig: 13.1 in all 50 states".

Road Map of memories from each race from Shari Gourde
Quote bangles from the Parres Family
Once done with happy hour, a group of us made our way over to Little Italy for pizza. I was getting really tired and not in the mood for a college pizza joint at this point so we made our way back to the the hotel with the girls. Once there, I packed up what I needed for the morning and moved down to the room I had booked for Jeremy before he got the flu. I figured it wouldn't be a bad idea for me to sleep alone since I have horrid anxiety.

I spent the rest of the nice feeling like death. I started with a sore throat and then moved to flu like symptoms. My heart was racing nonstop and my adrenaline was pumping all night and I was only able to get short 10-15 minutes of rest at a time. I had dreams that I missed the race, dreams that I passed out during the race and dreams that I was so sick I had to cancel. So all in all, great night of sleep.

March 19, 2016
After the most restless, uncomfortable, anxious night of sleep I have ever had in my life, I finally decided at 4:38am that I was allowed to get out of bed. That's what time I wake up every morning during the week to train, so it was appropriate. I am in the middle of a push up challenge at Fermata so I knocked out my 100 pushups, taking breaks to send them an email about finishing my pushups prerace and how horrible and anxious I was feeling.

I finally got in the shower and when I got out Pauli had texted me saying her and Megan couldn't sleep so they came down to my room to hang out while I got ready at 5:15am. To calm myself and to entertain them like little toddlers in my big bed, I told them both funny and embarrassing stories from the past 49 races that I experienced while traveling the country. I finished getting ready around 6:15am and decided to make my way down to Toomer's Corner.

I walked outside expecting to walk into the cold and rain -- but instead it was a cool morning and the rain had stopped! Walking through downtown, past Samford, the sickness in the pit of my stomach started to fade and my excitement started to set in. I spotted Jack across the street pinning on his race bib and sent him a creepy "I'm watching you" text. Jack and Hunter came and hung out with me while I waited for Rosannq from WSFA Channel 12 news. Jack ran race #21 and #23 with me in SC and NC and is also training for the half Ironman with me. Hunter also ran #21 with me in SC.

By the time Rosanna arrived, my mom and a few other friends had also appeared. We had a brief on camera interview which attracted a lot of attention which not exactly my intentions. She also interviewed my dad who had arrived back from McDonalds and a few friends being Kali and Hunter. For the remainder of the pre-race time, we were followed by cameras which made me feel like I was on a reality show. Meredith, Kali, Jack, Hunter and I were all ready to race and started making our way towards the finish line. I got a few pictures with the Parres family minus Mitch who was out on his own run around town.

We were taking a selfie and were about to head out a little late around 7:20am when Mitch arrived for a last minute good luck -- sweaty -- hug. Before I knew it the race started and off we went! The start of the finish!

The Auburn course was hilly but nothing our crew couldn't handle. We started out going south down College and then turning on Samford and down Gay. We did a quick loop to add some distance and soon passed the 1 mile mark! Making our way back onto Gay, we climbed up towards University to jump onto Wrights Mill Road. We saw Meredith's parents at this point standing in the median cheering for all of the runners. So far, this course almost identically mirrored the bike portion of the sprint triathlon that I had raced in 2015. Even with the hills the miles kept ticking by until we got to the bike path out my Chewackla State Park.

The faster runners were coming back at us since this was an out and back loop, so I got to see Brooke Nelson, my friend Cole's mom, as well as Laura Austill who was running her first half and was killing it! Our group made the turn and head back the way we came. Heading back towards campus, we had a few people ask if I was the girl from the newspapers. I let Kali be my spokewoman as she basically told my whole story. Around Mile 6 we also saw De Moe who was an avid runner I had met at the airport in Maui after my race back in January. De Moe is also running all 50 but in doing so had run multiple in several states and will have run 100 half marathons by June! He runs in a kilt and drinks cinnamon whiskey the entire race. I just got chills thinking about that. So I ran across the street to give him a hug and then kept on going.

At this point our pack was playing games with some people up ahead, some people falling back and then randomly we would all swap places and running buddies. Meredith ran with me for the majority of the race and talked nonstop -- she did such a wonderful job training on the world's first treadmill while working in Mexico City that she had no issues talking to entertain me the whole time. We had a big hill climb between mile 6.5 and 7.5, passed Meredith's parents again and headed back down Gay towards campus.

Making a quick turn off Gay, we made our way up past the Art Museum and across College towards the RV fields. I had another girl ask if I was the 50 state runner at this point as well. People in this town love to read, that's for sure. We passed Mile 9 and I made another snapchat video similar to the ones I had made at Mile 3 and 6 updating friend on both our location and the fact that I was amazed I had not yet cried my eyes out.

We made our way up and around the Hill and then down Mell past the Quad and all of the library construction. When we started down the Thach concourse I got momentarily misty eyed as I could see and hear a large pack at the bottom of the hill outside of Haley cheering for us with a huge "Congratulations" banner. So close to tears, but countered with a smile as it's hard to run and cry.

Once we got to the Village, we passed the Mile 11 marker and it started to get real that I had 2 miles to go. A few confusing turns and we were on Magnolia heading up Old Row towards the Pike House. We made a turn down Hemlock and then again onto Thach past Farmhouse. I was on cloud nine at this point as we made our way back to Wire. We were basically following my old Tiger Transit route from undergrad. I saw the Mile 12 mark and had to hold back from speeding up. I saw Brooke Nelson running the opposite way towards me and she turned to run the last mile once we met up. Thinking back this was pretty sentimental as her son, Cole, was one of my first running buddies in Auburn during undergrad. We had a big hill to climb up Samford by the practice fields and I just kept pumping my arms and listening to Mrs. Nelson talk to keep me distracted.

We made the turn down Donahue and it all became real. I made my last snapchat and had a hard time holding back the tears. I momentarily picked up the pace as we cruised past the baseball field but then realized this street was longer than I thought so I turned back the pace. Once I hit the corner of Heisman and Donahue, I was right under the watching eyes of Cam, Bo and Pat as I picked up the pace into the stadium. I had dreamed of this moment over and over for the past 5 years. I used this future moment as motivation during all of my races, all of my training sessions and all of my finishes.

The moment didn't seem real, but as I turned the corner into the stadium, 50 yards was all I had left. 50 yards. After almost 665 miles of racing, 50 yards was between me and a life accomplishment. Trying to keep a smile on my face, I hit the gas. Hard. I crossed the finish line both of Race #50 and of my dream big goal.

I'll humor y'all with one of many ugly cry pics
The seconds after the race ended are all a blur. I remember grabbing my medal as I ran through the finish and then I was struck by an overwhelming amount of media - photographers, news cameras and cheers from family and friends had me crying but at the same time unsure of what to do. I put my hands over my face unsure of what I was feeling. When I looked up, the first person right in front of me was my roommate, Gregg, so I immediately went to him. The funny thing about this is Gregg's usual reaction to my tears are asking if I'm okay and then slowly shutting my bedroom door and letting me be alone, so it is funny that this was how it all ended and that this first reaction was what was shared on the news.

So much going on at the finish
The next few minutes continued to be full of cheers and excitement as I put on my medal and unfastened my #50 number from where it had been concealed under my race number like every race before. I proudly held my medal high and then thanked everyone for being a part of the big event and announced my retirement and relocation to Bali. I probably thought this was funnier than everyone else.

I tried my best to make my rounds and give hugs to all of my friends who had made it there for that day. Michael Pittman, my travel/race buddy from Hawaii's post, made the drive down that morning to watch the finish. My friend Logan and his new fiance, who has been receiving postcards from me from every race since the beginning was at the finish. My sister and brother-in-law who got in late the night before got hugs as well. It was so special and again so overwhelming to have all of those people there just for me. I am so used to crossing the finish line, grabbing a banana and heading on my way but this was so different and so special.

#7 for Kali - #50 for Ash!

We took a few big group photos before most people head out of the stadium. I lingered a bit more to try and soak it all in. Kali and I took some photos and I almost forgot to take my official picture before leaving the field. I ran into two girls who I had connected with on Instagram and who had been inspired to start their own 50 state goal. One completed #9 with Auburn and the other #17 - both girls also running the Atlanta half marathon in the morning. I talked to several strangers who were curious what all the hype was about and then finally kicked myself off the field.

We made our way out to the tailgate that Tyler Sample, his fiance Courtney and brother Heath had set up as a gathering spot out by the Tiger Transit stop and Green Space. Complete with a Bloody Mary bar provided by the Bryan Family, Mimosas, donuts, pork sandwiches and all the fixins. There was music and corn hole and dogs and all of my fans. Again, still in disbelief this was all happening, I spent most of my time just sitting on the ground trying to take it all in. Courtney had made me a framed collage of all of my race pictures and had everyone sign around it.

All the half marathon finishers - thanks for keeping me company!

De Moe my Hawaii airport friend!

I always have food...

The day had turned out to be warm, sunny and gorgeous and I can only believe that the one and only Phillip Lutzenkirchen had something to do with that. Although I never knew him, his story has brought me so much strength and encouragement through my race and this race was no different. It was a perfect Auburn day and the perfect way to finish my big dream.

Once things started to wind down, we cleaned up and made our way to Momma G's where, exhausted, I enjoyed some nachos and then as a group we all drug our feet back to the Auburn Hotel for some well deserved naps. Everything finally hit me a little once I started taking off my bib and medal. But I was also very exhausted.

Once recharged, a group of 16 of us made our way to Acre for dinner at 6:30. We made my parents and the Parres parents sit at another table so we could have a kids table. We had a wonderful dinner and while sitting there it hit me all of a sudden how amazing this all was. My best friends from all very different walks of life, were all sitting at the same table together, getting along like they had known each other their entire lives and had all traveled all this way for me. It was really touching and I just couldn't stop thinking about it the entire trip. Everyone took off to the bar while Mitch, my sister and BIL stayed to help the parents polish off a ginormous dessert board.
Goofy Pic Pre-Dinner
Work Friends, but Friends before work... and no longer work...

Ahner / Parres Dessert throw down 
MONSTER Dessert Board
In true Auburn fashion, we all reconnected at Skybar. The bar where I started my karaoke career with Felicity and the bar where I had my first run at being a small business owner by running an operation called 32oozie out of my purse. The night started a little slow, but once we had the bartender change the channel to the 10 o'clock news and we had our group hooting and hollering about me on the news, then the night started to pick up. We danced and had a ball until around 2am when we all walked home.

Overall, this may have been one of the best weekends of my life. I wish I could go back and recreate it all again. The response after the fact has been nonstop from all outlets. I had more texts and Facebook messages and posts than I have ever had in my life. I had another front page story in the AO News on Sunday. I was the lead story on I was a top story on the CAA intranet main webpage and I am still getting requests for interviews several days later. I've received so many wonderful, thoughtful gifts from friends and family. I received a free entry to Bo Bikes Bama from a Montgomery cyclist who read my story in the YellowHammer News. I've received so much encouragement and appreciation from total strangers through posts and emails. I've received flowers and cards from friends who couldn't make the trip and it's more than I could have ever imagined.

Flowers from Renee, Dan and Vanessa from my year in NYC
Auburn - Opelika News - Sunday 3/20

Auburn - Opelika News - Friday 3/18
Homepage of CAA -- right next to a Tim McGraw article
But you know what? It still hasn't hit me. For some reason, my body and brain will not accept that the big dream has been accomplished and the goal is over. It started to concern me until I was out tonight (Tuesday 3/22) on a training run in Piedmont Park when it hit me. I can't process it because it's not over. It will never be over. Life is too short to not have dreams and aspirations. The world is too big and there is too much out there to explore to ever stop craving my need for adventure and dreams. This goal may be over, but when I look back in 70 years you better believe I will be thinking to myself: I Lived.


Here are all of my 10 seconds of fame articles if you want a journalists account of my big day:

AO News:

WSFA Channel 12 News:

Yellowhammer News:

Auburn Plainsmen:

By the way, I have absolutely loved hearing from people who have stumbled upon my blog one way or another. Please continue to email me your own personal goals and stories of your adventures at