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Bethany Takes on Boston: I Hate Goodbyes

Bethany Boston quote

In case you missed the news, Bethany Meyer killed it at the Boston Marathon. Huge thanks again to Stonyfield Organic Yogurt for her awesome orange singlet--and the great opportunity you gave Bethany and us mother runner, who got to go along for the 26.2-mile journey! Here's her post-race report. Although she's going to take a break from writing for AMR for a bit, don't worry: We'll get her back in the line-up sooner rather than later.

“It’s big and it’s mine, but it’s stuck on the vine,” I begin.

“...And Halloween’s just hours away,” he answers. I don’t see his face, yet I know that he wears a smile.

“Tell me a good part of your day, Mom,” Alex says.  

He is a creature of habit, my third son. There are 300 miles between us. Still Alex craves the comfort of our nightly ritual. 16 hours from the start of the Boston Marathon, I welcome the distraction.

“Well, I got to visit with our friends the Thompsons. We haven’t seen them in a few years, and it’s been nice to spend time with them,” I say. “Tell me a good part of your day, buddy.”

“I ate a whatcha-callit from Dairy Queen. That thing I like. You know that thing.”

“A Blizzard?”

fourcast-2086 COLOR SPLASH

“Yes, a Blizzard. But that wasn’t the best part of my day. The best part was Dad let me ride around the block on my bike with Sammy five times! First we rode around two times. Then, we took a break. Then, we rode our bikes around the block three more times. And that was the best part of my day. Riding with Sammy. Even better than the Blizzard.”

I sing the song I’ve sung him since he was born. The same song I sing two of his brothers. The song his oldest brother asked me to stop singing unexpectedly in his twelfth year. The song I still whisper to him in his sleep. Not every night. Only those rare occasions when he is sound asleep before I am.

“I love you and miss you. Make good choices and help Dad pack your lunch,” I remind him before disconnecting.

I lay out my race clothes. Set my alarm. Check Facebook, then close it almost immediately. 57 notifications and I suspect each is a wish of good luck for tomorrow’s race. I appreciate every single one. But I need a little distance to keep the adrenaline at arm’s length so I can sleep.

I turn on my Kindle and escape between the virtual pages of my book. It’s not long before my eyes are closing.

It’s big and it’s mine but it’s stuck on the vine, and Halloween’s just hours away.

It’s my final thought before drifting into a short, restful sleep, the night before I have to run farther than my legs have ever carried me.

I wake up with cramps. Day two of my period cramps. The kind that make you want to stay at home in your oldest, comfiest pair of sweatpants all day.

Today will not be that day.

I pull on my race clothes and attach my bib to my singlet. I’m relieved I thought to pack my arm sleeves at the last minute. I throw my SPIbelt, two Imodium, three tampons, a stick of Glide, my GU’s--all seven of them--into my clear bag and open the bedroom door to Anne, the friend I’m staying with in Braintree. She’ll be running as well. We exchange a nervous smile. “I guess we’re doing this,” I whisper. “I guess we are,” she whispers back.

I toss a beat up copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Gatorade, bottled water, a banana, and a peanut butter bagel with sliced bananas into the bag. It’s heavy now and leaves a mark on my shoulder.

We walk to the train station and board the bus that her running club, The Colonial Road Runners, has chartered to drive us to a parking lot just shy of Athlete’s Village. It’s 5:40AM. Our bus has to reach its destination by 7AM. My start time is 11:15. It’s going to be a long 5+ hours of waiting. Which is why I brought my old friend Harry Potter. He’s good company.

The energy is high on the bus. I see faces that mirror the look on mine. Nervousness. And then there are the faces that remind me of Coach. The taper has left them poised to strike. If I close my eyes, I can almost hear the hum of their sinewy muscles. They train and race in a gear I’ve seldom tapped into. They will straddle a line today. They will beat the course or the course will beat them. It’s hard to keep the butterflies at bay when I’m around these guys. It helps that everyone on the bus sounds like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. I listen to their talk of pace and strategy. I distance myself from the subject matter and focus instead on the accent. If I listen closely for an hour or so, I will have it down and can pull it out like a magic trick at the dinner table for David and the boys later this week.

Imagine their delight when I say “fart” with an authentic Boston accent.

Faht.

“Is this ya first Bah-stin?” somebody asks.

I look up from my book and nod.

“Ya gonna love it,” she says. “Go slowa than ya pace. If you put it in the bank, you can cash it out lay-duh.”

“Will do,” I answer.

It’s big and it’s mine, but it’s stuck on the vine, and Halloween’s just hours away.

I check my phone, which is on silent, and see it’s been exploding with texts and FB notifications.

Dimity: “Fuel well, start conservatively, and soak it all up.”

SBS: “Kiss a Wellesley student!”

Coach: “Focus when you get to the hills. After heartbreak, it’s just a 5 mile run.”

I revisit my race plan.

  • Start slowly. Almost painfully slowly.
  • Consume the contents of my handheld bottle every hour to stay hydrated.
  • Take one GU every 30 minutes. Save my favorite flavor--salted caramel--for last.
  • Don’t walk. For the love of god.
  • Smile. This is the Boston freaking Marathon.

I expect time to slow to a crawl. I’m shocked to find it doesn’t.

Most of the bus has cleared by the time I head to the start line. The rain has been on and off all morning, but it starts to come down steadily as everyone in the fourth wave walks the mile to our corrals.

I make a last stop in the porta potty, knowing I’ll only stop during the race if absolutely necessary. A wave of cramps bends me in half.  I am forced to use my one and only backup tampon. Which frustrates me almost as much as trying to extract it from my SPIbelt and insert it while wearing a thick contractor size trash bag.

Once I reach corral six, I remove my trash bag and wait. Not for the start of the race. I wait instead for the tears. I’ve been visualizing this moment since last September when I received an email from Dimity with the subject line “Want to run the Boston Marathon?”

I wait and I wait and I wait. But the tears don’t come.

I’m nervous about the bleeding. Please don’t let it impact my race.

The rain comes down hard, and I’m worried about my hands. I wear a pair of gloves that I bought for my 13-year-old son to keep his hands warm while sledding. I hope they keep me warm. I hope they bring me luck.

The course is narrower than I anticipated. We begin running and I pop my ear buds in and start my music because my headspace needs a pick me up.

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Slow slow slow slow. I slow down until I am absorbed into the crowd and am no longer able to control my pace. I run as quickly or as slowly as the group dictates. We stop suddenly and bang into one another--hundreds of human dominoes--avoiding puddles throughout the first miles of the course. We’ll be soaked through by the finish line; but it’s early, and we are desperate to keep our feet dry and warm for as long as possible.

I can wring out my hat already. It’s only mile two. I’m nervous about the bleeding, I’m worried about my hands. Please let me get through this race. Please please please.

Bobby Brown serenades me and I’m 14 years old, dancing with my girlfriends at a LaSalle mixer. I smile at the memory. I sense the happiness on all sides of me, and I’m itching to ditch my music so I can soak up every ounce of it. I know if I do, I’ll pick up my speed, so instead I nod my head along to Duran Duran’s New Moon on Monday.

I’m wet and I’m worried and I’m disconnected. Until mile six, when I find myself on top of a group of people moving as a unit, holding umbrellas. They are shielding the courageous Maickel Melamed, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, from the rain and the wind as he walks the course. I pass Maickel, pull out my ear buds, turn around and yell, “Go! Go get it! Don’t stop! Keep it up!” The tears I anticipated at the start line show up then. They are late to the party. They are for Maickel, who will put one foot in front of the other for 20 grueling hours until he reaches the finish line early Tuesday morning.

I shake the rain off the brim of my hat and rely on Nicki Minaj to help me pull my sh*t together. The music floods through my headphones. I’m in my kitchen, hands dripping soapy dishwater, dancing with 6-year-old Chase to “Super Bass.” “Shake your booty like this, Mom. This is a good song for shaking your booty!” The lighthearted memory brings me back to center.

I settle into a pace but struggle to find an emotional rhythm for the next four miles. Finally, somewhere between miles ten and eleven, I lose the music for good.

I need the crowd, bundled in their heavy coats, encouraging my every step.

I need the volunteers, easy to recognize in their bright orange jackets, eager to refill my bottle with cups of Gatorade and water.

I need the runners around me, a gaggle of sober faces, mentally preparing themselves for the toughest miles of the race that still lay ahead.

I need to be in each mile for the remainder of the race. I need to peel them off one by one by one.

There’s a guy running alongside me. I don’t ask his name, but give me an hour with a sketch artist, and we’ll produce the exact replica of his profile.

We chat and we laugh and he tells me he will lose five minutes at Wellesley, kissing the girls. “Don’t tell my wife,” he says. “It’ll be our secret,” I wink. He gives me advice that later proves valuable. “There’s a hill that we’ll run down before we hit Newton. Do yourself a favor. Hold yourself back on that hill. Save your legs. You’ll need them for Heartbreak.”

It’s big and it’s mine, but it’s stuck on the vine, and Halloween’s just hours away.

I catch up with two girls from my bus. One of them is struggling. “It’s my hands,” she says. She, like I, runs hot. She’s not wearing gloves. The rain proves a game changer today. Everybody I speak to who runs without gloves has an awful race. I flex my fingers. My hands remain warm and dry in my oldest baby’s gloves. We are almost halfway through, and they’ve brought me luck.

We hear the girls at Wellesley before we see them. “What the hell is that?” I hear people asking. “Are the Beatles on the other side of the hill?” runners joke. I live with a bunch of guys. So it never ceases to amaze me the combination of volume and pitch a group of girls can produce, and the girls at Wellesley are no exception. The energy they bring to the course is contagious. Twice I throw my arms around the neck of a girl and plant a rain-soaked kiss on her cheek.  We are the last wave. We are the slowest of the 30,000+. The girls have been outside for hours, screaming, cheering, kissing, laughing, and illuminating the halfway mark for each and every runner.

It’s big and it’s mine, but it’s stuck on the vine, and Halloween’s just hours away.

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I see my friends--some of the best I’ve ever known--between miles 14 and 15. Kristin stands alone, scanning the crowd for my face, on the right side of the street. I scream and throw my arms over my head as soon as I catch sight of her.

We run to hug each other. We jump up and down in a full circle, hugging and laughing and screaming. She holds my hand and leads me across the street to Colleen, Danielle, and Jen on the other side. She points to where they stand, and I do a jig in the middle of the Boston Marathon course because these girls bring out my happy. I hug each one as they scream and laugh and cry and tell me I am loved. Kristin stands alone and captures a picture of our moment--my arms open wide to my friends jumping up and down in excitement. My tears don’t fall then. They fall later when I think about my friends coming all this way to support me. They fall when I picture Kristin, by herself on one side of the street. Beautiful, brave Kristin, who’ll pack up her shine and move it to the other side of the country in two short months. And how the rest of us will scream and laugh and cry and tell her she is loved.

It’s big and it’s mine, but it’s stuck on the vine, and Halloween’s just hours away.

Before long, I hit the hills of Newton. There are more walkers than runners along this stretch between miles 17 and 20. I put my head down and get to work, coaxing my shoulders to relax and willing my most recent GU to send a Hail Mary to my quads, which have been on fire since mile 8. I reach out and take an orange slice from a little girl who’s holding one arm over her head to shield her face from the deluge of raindrops. It is the sweetest, most delicious orange slice I’ve ever consumed in my almost 41 years. I tap a random runner on the shoulder to tell him, “that’s the best f*cking orange I’ve ever eaten in my entire f*cking life. You should turn back and get one of those oranges.” He grunts in response. Or maybe he grunts because we just reached the base of the notorious Heartbreak Hill.

And then I groan. And curse. Because I’m convinced I’ve just lost a toenail on my right foot, and that it’s cutting into the skin on the ball of my foot with every footfall. I’m so distracted by the thought of it—Will I lose any more? What will it look like? Will there be blood? How will I wear flip-flops? Should I paint it without the nail? Are there Lee Press On nails for feet?—that I’m halfway up Heartbreak before I realize it. I’m vaguely aware that a woman has been matching me stride for stride, and I appreciate the companionship. If we stay together until we reach the top, I know I’ll hug her and ask her name. I’ll tell her she pulled me through.

As soon as I think it, she starts to fall behind and I beg, “Come on, now. Come on. Stick with me. You got it.” I hear her voice from behind, “Nope. No. You go. Go.” I pick my head up and see only walkers. Not one person is running but me. I will them to run. Come on, you guys. It’s Heartbreak! Let’s do it! I won’t give myself permission to walk. No way. But, damn, I could use some inspiration. I think about a text I received from my friend Christine. “My parents are from Boston. My dad told me about a year before he died that if I ever got there, he’d be at the finish. Run a few steps for him, will ya?” I think about Christine and her Dad. And I know that she’d give anything in the world to be on this hill if it meant her Dad were waiting for her at the finish. And the tears come again. And I know I’ll have to ask Christine what her Dad’s name was. When I write her to tell her that it was he who pulled me through.

It’s big and it’s mine, but it’s stuck on the vine, and Halloween’s just hours away.

I crest the hill, and Coach’s text plays like a hit song in my head. “After Heartbreak, it’s just a five mile run.”

It’s big and it’s mine, but it’s stuck on the vine, and Halloween’s just hours away.

By mile 22, I’m marathon drunk. I’m OK, but I’m not. My form is fine. My nutrition will carry me through. My hydration is good. But I’m not lucid. I try to talk, but can’t form sentences. I am afraid to put my ear buds in. Afraid I’ll be so disconnected from the crowd that I may forget I’m supposed to be running a marathon. I chant my way through the last four miles.

I can do anything for 40 minutes.

I can do anything for 30 minutes.

I can do anything for 20 minutes.

I can do anything for 10 minutes.

I’m not lucid until I make a right on Hereford and a left on Boylston, and I finally see the finish line. The crowd cheers as though I’m one of the elite females. I think about the dreams that have come true along this stretch. The hearts that have broken. The lives that were lost. The endings rewritten. The grit of this city. I raise my arm over my head in celebration of all of us, and the crowds go wild in response.

Four hours, thirty eight minutes, and fifty nine seconds after starting, I cross the finish line of the 2015 Boston Marathon. And I burst into tears.

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***

300 miles away, Alex enjoys the best part of his day. He rides his bike around the block. Afterwards, he sits down to read a book. It’s an old favorite titled Big Pumpkin. It is a story of a witch who grows a pumpkin so she can bake pumpkin pie. That pumpkin grows so big that she can’t pull it off the vine alone. When a ghost offers to help, she replies, “It’s big and it’s mine, but it’s stuck on the vine, and Halloween’s just hours away.” When a vampire offers to help, she tells him, “It’s big and it’s mine, but it’s stuck on the vine, and Halloween’s just hours away.” When a mummy offers to help, she repeats, “It’s big and it’s mine, but it’s stuck on the vine, and Halloween’s just hours away.” Finally, a bat appears and hatches a plan. The bat pulls the mummy. The mummy pulls the vampire. The vampire pulls the ghost. The ghost pulls the witch. The witch pulls the pumpkin. And, thanks to their group effort, the pumpkin comes loose. The witch makes a delicious pumpkin pie and enjoys it with everyone who helped her.

It’s big and it’s mine, but it’s stuck on the vine.

And I couldn’t have done it without you.

This was our race. All of ours. We are a tribe of it’s never too late to try. A tribe of anytime you need me, day or night. A tribe of yes we can. A tribe of if I can do it, you can do it.  A tribe of we’re stronger together. A tribe of I’ll dig deeper next time. A tribe of I didn’t think I could until I did. A tribe of today sucked, I know tomorrow will be better. A tribe of it scares me, but that won’t stop me. A tribe of I am stronger than I thought. A tribe of I gave it everything I had and I’m proud that I did. A tribe of walk first, then run. A tribe of you inspire me. I tribe of I am invested. A tribe of you matter. A tribe of I never doubted you for a moment.

Thank you, each and every one of you, for caring. Thank you for joining me for one of the most memorable and worthwhile experiences of my life.

I read every comment, every email, every text.

I appreciated every FB like.

I felt every positive thought.

This was our race. Yours and mine.

What a privilege it’s been running with you.

63 responses to “Bethany Takes on Boston: I Hate Goodbyes

  1. Bethany,

    I FINALLY got around to reading your recap! I have loved following your journey, I loved your podcast, and I loved meeting you at the NJ party (I was the pregnant one who came with my mom). I felt all of what you went through in Boston, and I’m so glad you got to run it for all of us. Can’t wait to see what you have in store ahead.

    Chloe

    (PS. I had another boy. One more, and maybe then I’ll get to run Boston too?) 🙂

  2. I just read this with tears in my eyes. You soaked it up (literally I suppose) and have 26.2 miles of Boston forever in your memory.

    P.S. That’s one of our favorite children’s books too.

  3. Not gonna lie – bawled like a baby reading this. Congratulations! (That book is a favorite of my third grade classes. I’ve read it aloud so many times. Loved the marathon analogy.)

  4. What a privilege it was to hear Bethany read this blog post in person at the AMR meetup in Chestnut Hill. Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us.

  5. Way to go!! I’ve left this tab open for a couple days as I’ve had a few emotional happenings and I was hoping to get through without crying. No such luck. You did it!!!!

  6. My boss walked in right at the point where I was reading about Christine and her dad and I was starting to cry.

    This is so inspirational and so touching. Bethany, I have loved following your journey and getting to know your story. Your writing slays me. You have an amazing talent.

  7. Now that’s a race recap! It’s your connection to family and friends, your humor and grit and pure joy that collectively inspires me. Bravo on being in the moment and your awesome finish.

  8. I held back a tear or two. It was nice meeting you at your book signing and Congrats on finishing and being “Boston Proud”

  9. This is one of the best race recaps I have ever read. A huge congratulations to you! I am so proud of you and all you have accomplished. Me- a perfect stranger is proud. Bask in your accomplishment, you have earned it. BAMR strong!

  10. when I saw your first picture I knkw I saw you at the 10k mark. What an incredible recap. Thank you for making me feel like I was there. What an amazing experience. Congratulations!

  11. You are such an inspiration! Congratulations on an amazing accomplishment. You’ve brought to life your amazing journey and shared it so beautifully with all of us.

  12. You are an astounding writer. Just incredible. Thank you for sharing your journey and I can’t wait to hear more from you!

  13. Oh how I have loved your blog posts and your chats with Dimity and SBS on the podcast! So much talent. Thank you for sharing your journey. Thank you Dimity and SBS for introducing me to this wonderful mother runner. I will surely miss your posts and hope you are back very soon. Congratulations on a job well done!! A.M.A.Z.I.N.G!!!

  14. I loved reading this and I loved listening to you on the podcast. What a great experience you must have had. I’ll never run a marathon, but loved living vicariously through you! May your next one be even better, but I bet your first marathon is always the most memorable. Happy running days ahead (but rest and recover first)!

  15. I’ve so enjoyed reading your posts. It’s a revelation to read another mom’s thoughts and know that we are all in this together (I have two boys). Congratulations on your marathon run : )

    – Nancy (GMA class of ’94)

  16. Your joy, your connectedness to others – family, friends, community, etc. – and your care and understanding of each member of your family are all evident. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from you as you’ve tackled (and conquered) this challenge (running and mothering). Congratulations to you on training well, running strong and sharing from the heart. You have a gift for putting strong emotions into words. ~Lori

  17. This was amazing. I cried watching the elite runners finish on TV and I cried again reading your summary. It’s such an awesome thing to do hard things and accomplish those goals. Well done!

  18. Thank you so much for the honest way you depicted your marathon training and the marathon itself. I’m starting my first marathon journey and I’m terrified as much as I am exhilarated. You give me validation to feel that way. Congrats on your great run!

  19. You are a beautiful writer and told a beautiful story. I thoroughly enjoyed it, while I type this through tears. Thank you so much for writing this and sharing your story. Thank you as well for running Boston, for all of us who will most likely never make it. Congrats once again!! Can’t wait to meet you at Indigo Schuy!

  20. I followed you by text alerts throughout the race. I saw the alert that you finished as I was helping my husband recover from his Boston marathon at the hotel. He had a miserable run. You had a much better run even though he’s faster because you enjoyed the race. Be proud of that. Great job!

  21. What a great post-race recap!!!! I laughed, I cried and I felt like I was there with you! Congrats on one of the best days of your life!

  22. oh.my.gracious. This was such an inspiration. Thank you, thank you for sharing your journey with us and capturing it in such a moving way.

  23. Darn it, Bethany! Did you have to make me cry while I’m at work? I heard your race re-cap on the podcast, so I thought I was ready. But here I am crying, and hoping no one will notice, or I’ll have to explain to them that a race re-cap made me cry . . . something they’ll never understand. I’m running Boston next year, and reading your post makes me wish it was here tomorrow! I can not wait! Thanks for letting us follow you all along the way! Congratulations. We did it 🙂

  24. Great race report, Bethany! It’s been great following your training and then tracking your race at Boston. How thrilling to see the little running icon on my computer turn the corner, then turn again to that final street, and head towards the finish line. Thanks for sharing this with all of the tribe!

  25. Stunningly beautiful recap. Wow. I was there to watch my husband run his first Boston (10th marathon) and I am five days away from my 4th marathon … Watching the race and reading the recap have really inspired me to go out there and kill it!! Thanks for sharing your journey!

  26. Wow! I repeatedly got teary-eyed reading this. I feel like I just ran Boston myself and don’t need to. Beautifully written. I loved how you kept quoting the Halloween book. I loved every sentence. I will keep this in my inbox and read and re-read and forward to others. Congrats and thank you!

  27. Congratulations on your Boston finish! I LOVED reading your race recap and as others mentioned it left me inspired and teary. 🙂

  28. Read that entire post weeping like a baby! I have never met you, but feel like I’ve known you for years! Congrats!

  29. Congratulations!! What a fantastic race report…I’m teary eyed and incredibly inspired. Thank you for sharing this journey with all of us. We’re all incredibly proud of you!

  30. I tracked more than 10 runners during Boston and I have read so many recaps of races that I feel like I was there in some way. YOUR post is the only one that brought me to tears multiple times. Beautifully done.

  31. “If you’re brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello.” ~Paulo Coehlo
    Way to represent the BAMR tribe, Bethany!

  32. Came over at Tracy’s mention of tears, and sure enough, they’re a’fallin’.

    This was amazing, like you. Thank you for sharing this story and for being such a constant source of inspiration for so many of us. Arms up, face beaming, sending you a huge hug.

  33. Ok totally in tears here. Thank you for your post. It is such a great way to remember the awesome job you did. I can’t help but laugh about the toenail issue. It’s funny how your mind will wander to something so crazy and pull you through the hard parts. I truly enjoyed the thoughts about your friends dad. My grandma was my person like that too. When I ran NYC (my first full last fall) when I turned into Central Park she just showed up in my head. Besides my parents she was always there at everything. Every older lady turned into my grandma at that point. Thank you again for a little glimpse into your race perspective. Congrats again!!!

  34. SOBBING reading this, my friend. I always tell people that the marathon is the party -enjoy..and damn, girl – you lit this party on fire! Congrats – Wish I could hug you and plant some kisses on you. You rock at life – all of it.

    Sidenote: grateful that I am now in menopause so my period is one less things I have to worry about during a race. I mean – now I have a beard and all – but NO BLOOD. xoxoxoxo

  35. Loved this piece of work almost as much as I love you, dear niece. It was wonderful “running” with you. Thank you for the experience. Aunt Suzie

  36. Thank you for this. It’s been a pleasure following your journey. It’s been an inspiration and it has replaced most of my doubt with “I think I can” thoughts.

  37. Congrats Bethany! It was a joy to follow your adventure. Your narrative was so descriptive that I felt as if I was there. Thanks for sharing and please continue to write for AMR.

  38. What a treasure to read your race recap, Bethany. I was in tears from the first word! You have been an inspiration to me and so many others — thank you for sharing yourself so much with the tribe. Best wishes!

  39. Thank you for sharing your race with us. Reading your race recap is so inspiring. I’m heading into my second half marathon already knowing I’ll be slower than the first and it’s been hard to get excited for it, but after reading your race report I feel inspired to allow myself to enjoy this race regardless of the crap I’ve had to go through to get there or how slow it might end up being.

  40. Bethany I loved following your journey to Boston. Your recap motivates me to continue in my quest to qualify for Boston. 3 attempts missed by seconds and minutes, but I want to hear that crowd roar on Boyleston! Congrats on your accomplishment!

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