' Adventures with FitNyx: June 2015

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Race Recap: Towpath Ten-Ten

Though having to leave Chicago deeply saddens me, I have been trying to find the positives in my untimely departure, and of course fitness is one of the first avenues that comes to mind when I look for things that make me smile.  I've run a few little races in the Cleveland area with my father, usually last minute, but now I have the opportunity to pick some great races and plan/train for participation, so I took the opportunity this past weekend to kickstart my very own RunCLE 2015.

While I'm not a huge fan of the actual city of Cleveland, the Greater Cleveland area has many wonderful things to offer; primary among these are the many parks and preserves that surround the city.  Thanks to the Canalway Parnters, this weekend I had the chance to run the Ohio/Erie Canal Towpath, a beautiful stretch of historical parkway that runs along over 100 miles of canal locks, landmarks, and cultural heritage.  I remember fieldtrips to the locks as a child, and trips on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railway which was also on the route this weekend, so it was a fitting return for me while I ran the Towpath Ten-Ten, the second in the Towpath Trilogy of races from Canalway Partners.

The Towpath Trilogy, which includes a half marathon, the ten-ten (choice of 10k or 10 miles), and a full marathon, is a tradition that has been built from the first Towpath Marathon in 1992.  Created to raise awareness and funding for the expansion and maintenance of the Towpath Trail, the trilogy's proceeds exclusively benefit the Canalway Partners and their mission to preserve this expansive piece of Ohio history.  I've run for some great causes before, but this particular race really hit home for me.  Even if you're not interested in running the Towpath races, I would strongly urge you to consider donating to the Partners, to help preserve not only a marvelous strip of natural space, but also hundreds of years of history from America's roots!  You can also volunteer at any of their many events, to help lend a hand to this excellent partnership.

ANYWAY.  Back to the race.  Despite the lovely setting, the weather was less than ideal for the entire morning.  We started with heavy cloud cover and sticky warmth, which is never a good start to a race day - especially in a valley that won't see much by way of wind or natural ventilation.  I met up with my cousin in the parking lot, which was almost a mile from the starting lines.  Race emails leading up to race day had stressed repeatedly how important it was to arrive early, and had advised participants of the distances (0.7 miles to the 10-miler start, a full mile to the 10k start), but somehow the warnings hadn't really sunk in, and we were running a little late!  By the time we turned the last corner for the starting line, the race had already begun!

We wouldn't have been able to keep up anyway.

Thankfully, the miracle that is chip timing allowed us to relax and start a few minutes behind without feeling rushed.  It didn't take too long to catch up to the back of the pack, but it also didn't take too long for the clouds to open and start dumping water on us.  It rained for much of the first two miles, but I have to be honest, the cool water was actually rather pleasant.  If only it hadn't been such heavy drops!  Once the actual rain stopped, though, we hit muggsville.  Humidity was over 80% for the majority of the run, and the valley air was excruciatingly still.  Had the sun come out, it would likely have been unbearable, so for once I appreciated the overcast sky, but still!  Humidity is the worst.

Source: Arcadis

We gutted out the first five miles with minimal walking, except while crossing the two suspension bridges on the course.  While I found the bridge views and appearances to be very interesting, I was not a fan of the very, very noticable swaying motions we experienced while crossing!  Neither myself nor my cousin had experienced that much bridge sway before, and certainly not during a run, so we  played it safe and walked to allow our bodies to better anticipate the motion.  After mile five or so, the humidity finally started to take its toll, and we initated a run-walk split, slowing our pace for one minute every time we hit a mile marker.  Miles seven through nine actually went surprisingly quickly, even with my first-ever mid-race bathroom break, but during that final tenth mile, soreness reared its ugly head and we had to walk just a little more than we had intended.  This was a training run for both of us, so neither of us regarded the need to walk as a weakness; instead we were trying to take care of our bodies and adjust as needed.

Doesn't matter how icky the day is, this is always
a ray of sunshine at the end of a run!

We crossed the finish line in 1:53 and change, a surprisingly good time for us considering the difficulty we experienced with the humidity.  While not as impressive as my half marathon a couple weeks prior, it was still a solid time and I'm quite proud!  We claimed our medals and meal tickets, and quickly cleared the finish line area.  Back in the parking lot (another half mile or so from the finish) was the post race food: a full brunch spread from Quaker Steak and Lube!  We made it back to the restaurant just in time to catch the tail end of the age group awards, which led into some live music from a very talented man with a guitar.  We loaded up our plates with bagels, scrambled eggs, sausage, some divine macaroni and cheese, and whatever else we could fit, then settled into a booth and started the long recovery process.  I found a few minutes to pay my compliments to the race director, then we wrapped it up and headed home to rinse away all the sticky!

Oh man.  Yes please.

Organization: Easily, the highlight of this race's organization was the volunteer work.  I've been to many race events by now, and I've had a wide range of volunteer experiences, from total disinterest and unhelpfulness, to day-changingly positive.  The Towpath Ten-Ten was day-changingly positive, thanks to ample attentive helpers all over the course.  I think it is especially relevant to note how smoothly the aid stations (which were plentiful, thank goodness) were run: different colored cups to distinguish water from Gatorade, loud and clear vocal distinctions from the cup holders, and, most importantly, eye contact like woah.  It's so frustrating to come up to an aid station and have an inattentive volunteer who doesn't realize you're trying to take the cup out of their hands.  Not so at the Towpath - every volunteer was actively looking to connect with approaching runners, so they could adjust and provide the most fluid hand-off possible.  And while every race will have good volunteers mixed in with the average or poor ones, to have an entire race with lots of stations that are ALL equally well manned is a testament to organization.  I'd also like to note that pre-race communication was clear, and that my late start was totally my own fault!  I had plenty of warnings!

Weathered but DONE!  I've looked worse after races.  Maybe.

The Course: I've already rambled about the beauty of the Towpath Trail, but I have yet to mention how well marked the course was.  True, the trail is mostly a straight course with few turns or offshoots, but every mile was clearly marked and the two race distances were easy to distinguish from the signage so no runners saw the 10k's four mile sign (which was the 10 miler's seventh mile) and panicked!  Once again I was reminded how spoiled Chicago's flatness has made me, as some of the course experienced elevation changes, but nothing severe or insurmountable.  The bridges were probably the largest incline areas, and the hill was less noticable when focusing on the awkward swaying.  It would be nice to find a more parking-convenient starting location, though with the nature of the trail I can appreciate the difficulty in finding the proper place to start two race distances that rely on a certain turn-around point.  Overall, a very scenic course with enough little challenges to keep the path interesting over an extended run.

The Swag: Runners in the 10 miler received a technical shirt, a medal, and the post-race brunch for cost of $40-$50 (depending on how early they registered).  This might be one of the best valued races I've seen in a while, especially considering the race length, the quality of the swag (the shirt is really nice, even if it is cut a little short), the high level of organization, and the charity aspect of the race.  I'm impressed with how much value was packed into a tidy package.  The 10k cost ranged from $30-$45, but those runners did not receive a finisher's award, which skews the value of the shorter race only slightly.  I really like the medal!  It's got the little guy on the mule, a reference to the barge pullers that would frequently travel down the trail (hence, towpath).  I was also surprised by the quality of the brunch, and though I didn't eat nearly as much as I put on my plate (it looked so gooood), everything that made it into my mouth was delicious.  It was also surprisingly nice to have a designated "chill space" after the race that wasn't a bustling tent festival.  We could ease into comfy seating and just relax for a while, which is a value all in itself!

The Bottom Line: I plan to be involved in future Towpath Trilogy events for certain, whether it's running or volunteering.  I was thoroughly impressed with this race, and with the people involved, not to mention my excitement for the associated cause.  I haven't been thrilled about my Chicago departure, but experiences like this one remind me of all the joy and excitement that waits for me back home.  I will definitely find my way back to the Towpath soon, and I hope to see you there with me!

What brings you back to your favorite childhood memories?  Do you have a soft spot for particular races or events that have impressed you in the past?  How about suspension bridges - anyone else find that swaying thing to be a bit distracting?

Friday, June 19, 2015

Freaking. Awesome. YOGA! (SoulPose GIVEAWAY!)

Life has been... a little rough lately.  My time in Chicago is drawing to a close, and I am still afraid I will be leaving my heart in Illinois when I finally complete my move.  Some days I don't think I'll be able to make it through to bedtime - and those nights I wonder if I'll be able to get out of bed the next morning.  I keep putting one foot in front of the other, despite withing I didn't have to walk this path, but eventually I'll get where I need to go.

Image source: She Knows.

In the meanwhile, I've once again found myself drawing deeper into the practice of yoga.  Breathing and sinking in to poses has been helping me find some bits of clarity in the mess that remains of my marriage.  Some poses bring more tears to my eyes, others take me to a quiet place inside myself where there's less turmoil.  I'm finding new ways to experience yoga, and finding a bit more balance within myself.  I've even started teaching more yoga classes, though I know I'll have to say goodbye to those classes next week.

I'm also trying to find ways to truly enjoy my last weekend in Chicago.  For example, on Saturday the 28th, I'll be getting dirty at the Dirty Girl mud run, volunteering in the morning then running the event myself later.  But for Sunday the 29th, my last full day in Chicago, I have an even bigger event planned: Soul Pose.

Image Source: Soul Pose

Soul Pose is a yoga festival inspired by The Color Run's new theme "SHINE."  Much like other yoga festivals, this event will bring together yogis from all over Chicagoland to roll out their mats, focus their breathing, and get their bend on!  UNlike other yoga festivals, Soul Pose will also feature an all-day block party, with glitter packets and tribal paint and music and more!  After a great experience with a color run last year, along with a growing passion for yoga practice, I'm pretty excited to see what this fusion festival can offer!

There are a few things I know will be great take-aways before I even attend the event.  Every Soul Pose registration comes with some amazing yoGifts: a beautiful blue yoga mat, a plush yoga towel to match, and after the yoga session, a Soul Pose charm bracelet!  I may save a ton of money by filling my closets with race swag, but these unique swag items are a welcome change to the popular t-shirt/waterbottle giveaways.  Also, I feel like it will encourage an even greater sense of communitas at the event to see so many other yogis and yoginis practicing on the same mat, as if we're all standing on just pieces of the same whole.

Image Source: Soul Pose

All in all, I'm pretty excited for Soul Pose.  The date on the calendar may mark the end of a very meaningful chapter of my life, but the day itself will be far more enjoyabled thanks to the many connections, both within myself and with my fellow participants, that I'll be making on my mat.

Sound like something you could use in your life too?  Then how about I send you a FREE ENTRY to the Soul Pose of your choice?!  Thanks to the wonderful people from The Color Run and Soul Pose, I have one free entry for a Soul Pose yoga festival to giveaway to a lovely reader.  You can come to Chicago's with me, or find a city a little closer to home - Soul Pose is in 14 cities across the US, and adding more constantly!  Use the Rafflecopter below to enter, contest will close at 11:59pm on Wednesday, June 24th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

How do you handle rough times in your life?  How do you handle heartbreak?  Any advice?

Monday, June 8, 2015

Race Recap: Sunburst Half Marathon

Okay, we're starting with this: I did not hit my goal time (2:30:ish) for this race.

I crushed my goal.  And my old PR.  By a LOT.

So much of this recap has been written in the crazy, tear-filled, soaring sensation produced by achieving a result I didn't really think possible at this point in time.  I'll do my best to ensure I give as unbiased a view of the race experience as possible.  Fortunately, it was overall an amazing day, with very few negatives, so even if I end up with the world's most shining race review, it is most likely pretty accurate.

The Sunburst Races take place every year in South Bend, Indiana.  The organization offers race distances for everyone: 5k, 10k, half marathon, AND full marathon!  Runners of any level can find a course that they will enjoy; they even have a special course for 5k walkers.  I've been to South Bend before, to see my brother graduate from the fabulous Notre Dame University, but didn't get to see much beyond campus, and haven't been back since.  The Sunburst half marathon gave me the opportunity to see so much more of the beautiful town as we looped along the river and back into the campus over the course of 13.1 miles.

Race day go-bag packed in advanced.  I was *ready* for this one!
Special thanks to MESTRENGTH as usual, as well as Body Glide and
 Clif Bloks (not pictured) for making race day a snap!

My preparation for this race was minimal, at best.  I had a solid run streak going immediately after registering for the Sunburst races a couple months ago, but as life got hectic, I was barely running at all.  Short of a few puppy runs, and a random "prove I can still run distances" 10 miler last week, my shoes had mostly made themselves comfortable in my closet.  The surprising 11 minute miles from that 10 miler, though, gave me more last-minute confidence than I expected in light of my poor training.  On race morning, it was that confidence that pushed me to line up with 10 minute milers - but we'll get to that in a bit.

Despite weeks of on-again, off-again springtime weather, race day was perfect.  The start times were still a little cool, but that was actually ideal, especially for the longer race distances.  It did heat up later, and the second half of the race got a little toasty, but I'd much rather have a slightly too warm gorgeous day than a cooler but miserable day!  I got to the starting line about 45 minutes early, since my dad was running the 10k race (which started a half hour prior to the half marathon).  He'd already picked up my race packet on Friday night before he and my mom had checked into our hotel, so we didn't need any bag checking or last minute race logistics.  Instead, we could just enjoy the morning and the neighborhood.  Dad's race took off promptly on time, and I was able to meet up with a fellow Chicago blogger: Emily of Out and About!

Emily is one of the bloggers who originally inspired me to start chronicling my own journey, so it was something of an honor to run with her at long last!  She encouraged me to challenge myself by attempting her planned 10 minute mile pace, which intimidated me a little.  But, despite my slight nerves, I lined up right next to her - and stayed there for almost seven full miles!  Honestly, I could likely have stayed with her even longer if I hadn't strained my hamstring - which probably happened because of the long three-plus hours I spent in the car the night before the race. 

Running with Emily was an absolute blast.  She's cheerful, encouraging, and passionate.  Plus, she's an intelligent runner, by which I mean she understands the tricks that can help cut considerable time and effort out of a long run.  We are both religious about running the course tangents (staying to the inside of curves, instead of the outer portions of the course), which may not seem like a big deal, but can take off dozens of steps every mile on a course as winding as the Sunburst path, and we both walked the aid stations (allowing us to fully swallow the water and Gatorade offered).  She also had a plan for her mid-race nutrition, and when I found my plan mirrored hers, I actually got a little excited!  Matching strategies with a more proficient runner boosted my confidence even more, which helped make it easy to stick with her as long as I did.  You'll see more about my nutrition experience in a separate post in a few days...

If that's not having fun, I don't know WHAT is!

Unfortunately, just before the marker for mile seven, I felt I had to back off the gas a bit.  I started to slow down, but was surprised to find it was very difficult to run slower!  We'd been settled at a pretty consistent pace for so long, my body just wanted to stay there.  For the entire rest of the race, I very slowly ended up putting distance between Emily and myself, but I never lost sight of her until the very last mile.  That means I kept a fairly consistent pace for the last six miles, which I managed to do by floating between a couple other lovely ladies who were right in my pace range but had better control over their consistency.  I made some new friends and kept pushing myself for the entire race, even when we hit Hallelujah Hill at mile marker 12.

Which reminds me - Chicago really has spoiled me with its flatness.  South Bend is HILLY!  More of our race moved uphill than downhill, and sometimes by a pretty steep grade.  My most recent experience with any kind of hill training was the 5k I ran about a month ago, and it only had ONE hill.  It was a steep, challenging hill, but it wasn't what one could really call "training" in a proper setting.  The choice to start the final mile with a crazy steep hill was nothing short of madness on the course planning team's part.  Even worse, it was immediately prior to the base of the hill that the 5k walkers' course joined the half marathon, making the hill incredibly crowded.  Apparently Hallelujah Hill has been a feature of Sunburst races for years, but I would definitely be okay with that tradition falling by the wayside!

Photo credit to Amanda of Too Tall Fritz, another Chicago
blogger who headed down to South Bend to tackle the FULL marathon!

Finally, at long last, I rounded the final curve and saw the finish line looming ahead.  There had been times when I wanted to walk, or slow down drastically, but I had fought through them all to get to this point.  And when I saw the finish line, and heard the live band start jamming with Uptown Funk, I knew it was time to empty the rest of the tank and GO.  I tapped one of the girls I'd paced with on the shoulder and said, "Let's finish this."  We both took off as fast as we could go, crossing the finish line together at 2:15:37 - a PR by half an hour!!!!!  It was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life, seeing that clock and realizing what it meant.  The elation carried me through the next 10 minutes of collecting my medal, getting photos with all three of my running buddies, snatching up as much chocolate milk and berry frozen yogurt as I could hold, and finding my parents to share the astonishing news!

As luck would have it, my parents had actually been AT the finish line in time to see me cross!  I had been aiming for a time of 2:30:ish, with my previous PR at 2:44:ish, but they had faith in me and made sure to arrive early just in case.  They had gone back to the hotel after dad's 10k (which he did in under an hour, and also had a blast with) so he could shower, then hustled back to the finish line to be there for a finisher photo.  Unfortunately, the biggest complaint I have about my experience at Sunburst prevented mom from being able to take a photo of one of my proudest moments: a large group of spectators had managed to get on the course side of the barriers at the finish line, and had completely obstructed the view for anyone there to see their family and friends accomplishing an amazing feat.  Even event security was trying to remove the offenders, but to no avail.  It's additionally frustrating because the alternative to having a friend or relative take a finish line photo is having to purchase an official race photo for an outrageous amount of money.  Normally, I would just pass right on by the expensive photos, but because my family was robbed of their ability to take our own photos, I don't feel quite so bad about screencapping this one from the website:

Once the race was over, the side effects of that level of exertion finally started to hit me.  Some of it was pretty ugly, but I'll save the gory details for my nutrition post.  Mostly, though, it was the onset of the aches and pains that are a fact of life when you push your body to do something for which it isn't fully ready.  My hamstrings were the first to throb, thanks in part to having strained the one mid-race.  Next up were my hips and knees, to be joined by my deep calf muscles later in the day.  I was pleased to notice that, though many spots were pretty sore, none of them were nearly as bad as they had been after my first half marathon experience last year.  What really surprised me was my inability to eat much when my family went out to lunch!  Usually I'd be ravenous after a run, but I barely was able to choke down some eggs and fruit.  I didn't eat a more substantial meal until late evening.  Now, two days later, I'm still a little sore but at least I'm back to normal eating!  Now it's time to plan for the next fun adventure: the Towpath 10-10 back home in Cleveland!

Ugh that last split was right before the hill.  Ugly last mile, but fantastic overall splits!

Sunburst Races 2015 Recap Details

Organization: I was thoroughly impressed with the level of precision with which these events were run.  Races started on time, courses were very clearly marked, personnel were vocal and clear about directions, aid stations were ample and well-manned, even the police officers assisting at major intersections were upbeat and cheerful!  Though I didn't attend packet pick-up myself, dad said it was an breeze, but that it was also a little unusual: there were no paper listings, so you just went up with a confirmation or your bib number, and they handed you a bib, then you went over to a different tent to claim your race shirt.  From what I understand, it was efficient despite the unique setup.  According to Emily, the gear check (available only for half and full marathoners) was a little confusing, but she was still able to leave her items at the check-in, then pick them up at the finish line later.  As I stated earlier in this post, the only real complaint I had was that event security couldn't seem to keep the finish line clear for spectators to see their loved ones cross, but that was a minor blemish on an event that blew me away with its high levels of organization and dedication.

Lots of paths to take...  And all of them exciting!

The Course: Boy, do I wish I had photos from this course.  Every step was scenic.  We wove through cute little neighborhoods where local residents sat on the lawn and cheered for the runners or set out sprinklers to give us some respite from the rising temperatures later in the course.  We followed the Mishawaka riverwalk for miles, winding along its banks or crossing over its rapids.  We sprinted the last tenth of a mile into the middle of the Notre Dame campus, right by the football stadium and the basilica.  Heck, we'd have finished ON the football field as per Sunburst tradition if it wasn't under construction!  Except for the rolling hills, I loved the course.  Aw shucks, I even loved the hills, they were a different sort of challenge.  I wish I could run a path this beautiful EVERY time I run!

The Swag: Every participant received a nicely-sized technical shirt: lemon-lime for the shorter distances, royal blue for the half and full marathoners.  I love when I pull on a shirt and not only does it fit, but it looks gooooood!  This is a shirt I'll actually be wearing!  Finishers for the half and full marathons also received a Sunburst medal - but someone must have forgotten to check the calendar, because the medal ribbons say June 5th instead of the actual race date June 6th!  Still, it's always exciting to have someone drape some bling around your neck after you complete a hard event, so I'm not about to complain about a little error in the date.  I do have to say, for the $70+ entry fee, I was a little disappointed to see that race photos would be an additional charge.  I fully understand how much money it takes to put on such a huge event, especially when I can see just how many details were so thoroughly covered, but the high cost of races is already a huge hurdle for many people.  It's hard to have someone out on the course to take free photos of you and/or your friends over the span of a few hours, so it's nice to have professional photographers out there taking good photos of your experience.  It just, well, sucks to have to pay almost as much as the race entry fee just to download the handful of photos taken of you.  The #1 way Sunburst can improve the experience would be to either switch to a more affordable photography company, or to provide race photos for free with entry.  I'd even pay an extra $5-$10 entry fee if that would get me free photos; I just don't think I should have to pay an extra $50+ for digital downloads of my own accomplishments.

***UPDATE!***  I talked to the race directors and they are actively working on a solution to the misprinted medal ribbons.  Having been on both sides of ordering promotional items like these ribbons, I know there are TONS of places along the change where tiny miscommunications or slight errors can cause a mix-up like this one, which is a very minor problem considering just how much awesome Sunburst accomplished for this event!  Unfortunately the vendor delivered the medals only a couple days before the race, so when the error was caught, it was too late to swap everything in time.  If you received a ribbon with the incorrect date, keep an eye out for information from the organizers once they are able to determine the best remedy.  Thanks Sunburst!

The Bottom Line: I'd go 3-4 hours out of my way to run this race again, for sure!  A run this gorgeous, with this level of organization, coupled with unbeatable memories of accomplishment, definitely has to go on the list for next year.  I'd highly recommend putting this race on your to-do list if you can make it, you'll be thrilled you did!

Who else ran this weekend?  Any other PRs out there?  What was it that made your favorite race earn that title for you?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Race Recap: Embrace the Race 5k

In February, I ran the Cupid's Love Dash with Carpe Diem Races.  I had such a good time, I just had to run with them again!  The perfect opportunity came a few weeks ago with Embrace the Race, a 5k to raise funds for women's cancer research centers.  While I'm writing this a little late (and thank you for your patience), I can definitely remember most of my experience.  For example, I remember how miserably icky and rainy it was!  The Cupid's Love Dash was run in the cold and snow, so I had been hoping a May race would be a little warmer and/or drier - I was wrong!  It's unfortunate that the weather around here hasn't been very nice this spring, especially when running in a town as picturesque as Highland Park.  Hopefully I'll get a chance to experience a race there with sunshine and warmth!

Packet pickup at the Running Right store was such a breeze.  I actually recently started working in Highland Park, at least part time, and had a half hour lunch break that was more than ample time to drive to the store, check in, get my stuff, chat with the lovely race director, and get back to work with enough time to stuff some food down my throat before getting back on the clock!  I'm starting to love picking up race packets before the day of the race...  Originally I preferred race-day pick up because the races were typically farther away, and it wasn't logistically possible or intelligent to go so far out of the way.  Now that I'm being a little choosier about races, and taking location into consideration a little more, I'm finding myself able to grab stuff early and be fully prepared to pop out of the car and run on race day.

I also get cute "flat Amanda" pictures out of it when I can lay out all my
race gear the night before.  Makes me feel mentally prepared, too!

Rainy race mornings are perfect examples of why early packet pick up is such a convenience.  I parked right down the street from the starting line, and didn't even get out of my car until five minutes before the gun.  Just like last time, the race organizers gave a great pre-race speech, including reminders to the many walkers to start in the back instead of giving the front runners more obstacles around which to weave.  While that message will never get through to every walker, I did see quite a few people who were right in front work their way towards the rear, making room for the lead runners.  Thanks walkers!  You'll never know how much that elite group (or anyone running for a PR, for that matter) appreciates your consideration!

We started exactly on time, which was a feature of the previous Cupid's Love Dash that had really impressed me.  Anyone who has ever run a race on a day with adverse weather conditions will understand the importance of starting on time!  Every extra second spent waiting in the rain is excruciating, so I was thrilled to be moving quickly.  I struck out at what I hoped would be a fast pace - only to experience sharp pains in my shin about three steps past the starting line!  I have no idea why I suddenly was hurting, especially since I was wearing my new, fitted-to-my-foot-and-stride shoes that had yet to give me any problems.  I hoped the pain would wear off quickly, but was stuck with an aching shin for the entire race.

Once again Carpe Diem chose a scenic course through Highland Park, looping down the quaint main street to start before weaving through residential areas for the majority of the race.  This time, however, there was an unexpectedly steep hill along the final mile, but somehow I managed to gut it out with minimal trouble!  In fact the only spot on the course that gave me any issues was a particular intersection about a tenth of a mile from the finish: despite seeing many runners traveling down the street, an elderly couple decided to wait until the moment I was in the intersection to pull out and turn right into the middle of the course!  They even made eye contact with me before (and during) their dangerous turn, and honked at ME when I hit their bumper mid-dodge.  Fortunately I was able to get out of the way without injury, but it was definitely a little scary!

Certainly glad I bundled up a bit for this one...  I didn't PR,
but a solid performance considering the weather
and the hill on the course!

I love any race that gives everyone bling for finishing, and I especially love any race that has a nice food tent afterwards!  While Embrace the Race didn't have the piles of delicious candy that Cupid's Love sported, there was plenty of food to go around, and Muscle Milk was on the scene giving away full-sized samples.  Thanks to the weather, it didn't seem like many runners were lingering too long at the after-party, and to be perfectly honest I don't blame them.  I chatted with the race director briefly before grabbing some Muscle Milk and heading to the warmth of my car, but despite the rain I left with a smile on my face, and that tells me it was a good morning!

Organization: Easy breezy packet pick up, an exact on-time race start, and plenty of after race goodies are just a few of the organizational highlights.  Carpe Diem must have some amazing relationships with the city of Highland Park, because just as I noticed in February, every major intersection had police and race volunteers keeping traffic at bay and encouraging participants.  While I may have been unfortunate to experience a car on the course, we crossed a LOT of suburban streets, and it would be impossible to police every single intersection.  Having the main crossings amply covered was impressive and more than adequate.

The Course: Beautiful Highland Park is a great setting for a 5k, and would be even nicer in better weather!  I'm impressed by how well marked the Carpe Diem courses are, and by how the organization finds ways to keep runners running long stretches of straightaways instead of snaking us through a maze of city streets.  The hill, which was not part of my previous experience with Carpe Diem, was definitely a step up on the challenge scale.  Times may have suffered slightly (I'm sure mine did) but by adding dimension to the course, the hill helped make the race a little more memorable.  And since this race was a bit of a training run for me (anticipating my Sunburst half coming up), it was an extra layer of practice for later!

Running Right provides reusable bags, always a nice touch.

The Swag: In February, I was impressed by the value of my entry fee.  Not only did I have a great race experience, but I'd also received a tech material shirt and a finisher's medal.  I'll admit this race's swag was a little less impressive, as the t-shirt was a standard heavy cotton shirt instead of a silky tech shirt, and there were no heaps of candy after the race!  But I did still receive a finisher's medal (I do love me some bling), and the post-race food was plentiful even if it was not rife with chocolate and sugar.  For a $30 local 5k, you'll definitely get your money's worth.

The Bottom Line: Another solid Carpe Diem race!  I really like the organizers and the setting, and hope to continue seizing their race days as often as my schedule permits!

Any other notable races the past few weeks?  How about the Soldier Field 10, how'd that one go?  Do you have a favorite race organization that keeps you coming back to race after race every year?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Sunburst Half in FOUR DAYS!

It's been a few months since I registered for the Sunburst Half Marathon, and I am embarrassed to admit that those few months have not really passed in my favor.  Between the layoff and the impending divorce, and the possible cross-state relocation, I haven't had the time or the focus to train properly for this upcoming race, and suddenly it's right around the corner!

I've hardly run at all in the past few weeks, apart from a couple races (a 5k and a 5 miler) and a handful of 1-2 mile puppy runs, so my confidence has been pretty low the past few days as I realize it's too late to switch distances or get in any proper training.  I keep telling myself my class schedule is keeping me in good cardiovascular shape while also helping me build some strength in key areas like my core and hips, but running 13 miles in one go is very different from teaching a handful of group exercise classes each week...

So last night I decided to get one last "training run" in, if I could.  Laced up my shoes, threw in some headphones, picked a direction, and went for it.  I had two hour-long easy listening albums on my phone, and decided to run out to the first, then back home to the second, anticipating maybe 7-8 miles total with my legs being so untrained this year.  I did not expect to feel as good as I did around mile 5, nor to be so enticed by the beautiful trail on which I did a large chunk of my run!

This isn't the actual trail.  Apparently my photos did not actually *take* so
this is a generic trail photo from the Forest Preserve District's website.  Still
really pretty though!

My good feelings and the gorgeous day kept me going, and I was shocked to look at my GPS as I ran up my driveway only to see that I had run TEN MILES - and I had done it in one hour 50 minutes, for an average pace of 11 minute miles.  Unbelievable!  I'm lucky to keep 11 minute miles on race day during a 5k!  My calves were starting to feel a little tender, but I had no knee or hip pain and I probably could have kept going for a few more miles with little to no problem.  It felt really satisfying to prove to myself that I actually HAD done some things right to prepare!  

During my run last night, I also took along a packet of gel nutrition and a pack of Bloks.  I used Bloks for my first half marathon last year, but that run was so much agony I had no idea if they helped or hindered.  I decided to test out both methods of race nutrition and see how I felt about using something to my advantage on race day.  Unfortunately, I grabbed a vanilla gel pack, and that was NOT going to cut it on a hot day.  It felt like slurping down warm milk!  Definitely not what I want mid-run.  The Bloks were fruity and smooth, and I had no problem chewing, swallowing, or digesting them when I pulled them out mid-mile-five.  I'll be taking a couple packs of Bloks with me on Saturday, for sure, which will help me feel more "prepared" and will give me an extra boost of mental confidence come race day.

The next couple days will see a short puppy run or two just to stay loose, and a focus on staying limber.  I'm even considering switching my Zumba Step classes this week to just basic Zumba Fitness, taking out the extra pressure on the legs and hips.  Saturday will be here soon, and I'll be more ready for it than I realized!

Anyone else running Sunburst?  If you ran in the past, what was your experience?  Maybe you're running something else exciting this weekend - tell me all about it!  AND GOOD LUCK!