' Adventures with FitNyx: August 2016

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Beating the "Long Run Hobble"

Runs continue to get longer as I rapidly approach the date of my first full marathon (October 30 = TOO SOON) and my body is still adapting.  The journey over the past few months, with half marathons throughout and an increased training regimen, has threatened even my well-seasoned athletic legs with some of the worst soreness I've ever experienced, and I've had to learn to recover better and more intelligently along the way.  Compression sleeves, smarter hydration, and increased stretching have all helped keep my legs moving at a decent clip, but one of the biggest changes I've made has been paying more attention to my footwear.  Of course most runners know to have their running shoes fitted properly and many of us use custom orthotic inserts for the best possible running configuration, but how many of us pay attention to what we wear after we run?  I definitely didn't - until I heard about a company called Telic and their amazing recovery flip flops.

Too many times after a run, I just throw on my cheap crappy flip flops or whatever other unsupportive everyday shoe is within arm's reach and can handle my foot sweat (TMI? sorry).  Inevitably, the next day I would barely be able to walk, hobbling up the stairs and down the hall into my running company office to the usual good-natured but still brutally honest teasing.  Seriously, there were days when I looked exactly like this after a race:

Telic flip flops help alleviate that post-run stiffness by redistributing the weight on your feet when you walk.  Instead of putting a lot of pressure on one or two points (like the ball of your foot or your heel), the weight is more even and your muscles are able to relax, while also enjoying a very cushioned sole that reduces impact stress.  Plus, the heat-activated material conforms to the shape of your foot, and the textured soles give you a hint of massage to boot!  Or to flip flop, I suppose...  Either way, my soreness and awkward limping have been almost completely erased since I've started wearing them more consistently, leaving me feeling a little more like this:

Quick warning, though!  I started taking my Telics with me to races, so I could put them on immediately post-run.  Turns out, in the summer, this is a BIG MISTAKE!  That "heat activated" material I mentioned?  Well, it reacts to extreme heat too, like the summer weather we've been having.  My first pair SHRUNK in my car while I was running!  Telic was awesome and sent me a replacement pair, but please be careful about where you leave your flip flops, because they really do get ruined if they're left in the heat.

Paying more attention to my feet post-run is changing my ability to keep moving, which allows me to stick more closely to a training schedule.  Gone are the days when I can use the "but I can barely walk" excuse to get out of a scheduled run, and honestly, the extra training has helped me make huge gains in endurance and strength.  When you're taking proper care of your body, from head to toe, your body becomes more and more capable of amazing things!  So throw out those thin dollar store flip flops and recover properly - I promise, your feet (and legs and hips) will love you for it!

Have you tried recovery footwear yet?  What other products or techniques do you use to relieve soreness, recover faster, and keep your body healthy?  What's the wrost "whoops" moment you've had with a good piece of gear that you accidentally ruined?

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Fall Race Calendar

This week's Tuesdays on the Run is taking a look at fall race calendars, and as I'm finalizing my own, it's a perfect time to talk about some of the races I have coming up, as well as some of the races I wanted to do this year but have had to postpone.

Anyone who's been reading my blog at any point in the past five or six months probably knows by now that I will be running my first full marathon at the end of October when I take on the Marine Corps Marathon.  This honestly may be a one-and-done marathon experience, but I can't imagine a better race for what might be my only 26.2 experience.  Of course, I said after my first half marathon that I probably wouldn't do it again, and that has not proved to be true at all, so it could go either way with this full marathon thing...  Today does mark the 60-day countdown, and as I just recently runfessed, I'm starting to get nervous.  Thankfully, I have a few other things on my calendar to keep me occupied and training over the next two months.

Coming up this Saturday, I'll actually be completing a different 2016 running goal: six half marathons in six months!  The Boy Scout Half Marathon in Bowling Green, Ohio, has the potential to not only earn me an extra moon over in the Half Fanatic charts, but also to be a new PR at the distance.  My recent training runs have finished with pacing faster than what I need for a PR, and I haven't really been "trying" to run that fast.  Saturday's course is being advertised as having "minimal elevation changes."  If that's true, and the day's conditions are decent (ie, NO 95% humidity, eh), I have a very good chance of shaving some time off the old PR.  My training run the other night had me completing 14 miles and taking only five minutes longer than my current half PR, so technically I alread PRed, but we'll wait until it's really "official" before I celebrate!

In October, I'll be on my beloved Towpath once again for Towpath Marathon weekend.  Obviously I'm not doing the full marathon for that one; as much as I love the trail and the people who put those races together, it's not really the pomp and excitement I'd like to have in my memory for my first-possibly-only marathon.  I will, however, be doing yet another half marathon on the trail, continuing my half streak to seven-in-seven.  And why stop there?  I'm about to add the Black Toenail Friday half in Michigan to my calendar for November, and am already registered for the Cedar Point Santa Hustle half in December!  If I can manage to keep it up, the early 2017 goal is to complete a full 12 months of half marathons by running one in January, February, and March.  Taking recommendations - ready go!

Originally, I had wanted to run the River Run half in September, which is the longest race owned by Hermes (my company).  Since we own it, though, it's all-hands-on-deck on race day, and I'll actually be working all day instead!  I also had my eyes on the Las Vegas Rock and Roll half (or possibly full, trying to become a Double Agent) but the travel and the proximity to my uncertain success at the MCM were prohibitive and I decided not to sign up.  I was also hoping to find a way to get to Tulsa OK for the Route 66 half, but once again the cost of travel and the awkward timing in November made me opt out for this year.  All three races are still on my wishlist, and I'm sure I'll somehow find a way to make them all happen, but for this year, I'm satisfied with my schedule and excited to add some new bling to my collection!

What are your running plans this fall?  What are some of the races on your wishlist?  What should I run in 2017 (and how can I make travel/costs more efficient - ie, can you hook me up)?  Don't forget to check out the host, Marcia's Healthy Slice, for the rest of the Tuesdays on the Run linkup!

Friday, August 26, 2016

August Runfession

This month, I started sticking to an actual training schedule and getting more mentally prepared for this whole "I'm running a marathon in two months" thing that's been looming over my head - and with the increased preparations, I have discovered some things I should probably runfess this month!  So here goes, my Friday Five Runfessions for my first true marathon training month...

Hosted by Marcia's Healthy Slice

I runfess that I am atrocious at keeping up with laundry.  Just terrible.  And it's worse when I'm running and cross training more frequently, because I only have a limited amount of "preferred" workout clothes, so the smelly pile gets to a certain point before I'm diving back in to find the GOOD pair of shorts to wear for my long run.  Wanna hear something really gross?  I wore shorts the other day that were still soaked from sweat (not rain, just sweat) from the race I'd run a week prior.  The shorts had been in a plastic bag in my backseat marinating for days, but they were the "good ones" and I needed them for the long run, so I held my breath and pulled them on.  It was bad.  I should be embarrassed, but they're the good shorts and this is a runfession, so...  Yeah.

I runfess that I hate morning runs - but I love them at the same time.  I'm writing this fresh off my second day in a row of waking up a little earlier and getting in a few miles before work, and I just can't see myself learning to make a habit of it.  My life has been plagued with insomnia and difficulty falling asleep even when I'm exhausted, so when I finally DO fall asleep, I want to cling to every last second of it.  Getting up to run (which then means showering and probably having wet hair all day) is completely unappealing.  But then, when I actually wake up and run, the rest of my day feels so good!  I'm more alert, feel better about myself, and more relaxed because I'm not worrying about fitting my run in after work when I want to do other things.  Supposedly, there's a way to "train" your body to be a morning person.  We'll see how that goes once I have my own place and can dictate my morning routine without bumping into my parents the whole time.  (Yup, that's just an excuse to not start right away.  Pass me my pillow, please.)

I runfess that I am starting to actually like hill training!  It's surprising me to say this, but after a few weeks of tackling a particularly nasty big hill in the local Metropark, I think I'm enjoying the challenge of running up that beast.  Seeing results in my split times at my usual RPE helps me look at the elevation work in a more positive light.  Sure, it's awful to be pushing step by step up the steepest grade incline within 20 miles of home, but when you get to the top (and especially when you get to go back to the bottom), it's soooooo worth it!

I runfess that I am pushing through some little muscle and joint niggles that I probably shouldn't be.  My mileage is increasing, and I'm noticing a couple of consistent points of pain or strain that could end up causing problems.  But I'm also finally "on a roll" with training, and feeling good overall, so rather than cutting back, I am instead trying to improve my recovery game even more.  I've also switched my running strategy for the long runs, and have made friends with that old running adage "go slower to go faster."  By incorporating a run-walk strategy into my training, I'm already seeing a reduction in muscle strain.  With my six-in-six half marathon goal almost complete, and the Marine Corps Marathon shortly after my sixth half, there just isn't time to go backwards, but hopefully I am making the right adjustments to keep me healthy.

And finally...  I runfess that I'm a little scared about this marathon thing.  I don't like admitting that I'm scared, but with only two months to go before I attempt 26.2, the nerves are twitching and I'm getting apprehensive.  Seeing big numbers on my training calendar is scary too - this weekend's 14 miler will actually be my longest run ever, and they only get longer over the next few weeks.  Fortunately I have a running buddy who will join me for at least one of those super long monstrosities, and I've been feeling pretty good with most of my training lately, but it's still all so new and intimidating.  Trying to put my doubts aside and focus instead of appreciating just how much I really AM capable of doing, and hopefully that'll carry me through.

What do you have to runfess this month?  Any tricks for staying on top of laundry a little better?  How about assurances that running a marathon will NOT actually kill me?  And don't forget to check out everyone else's Runfessions and Friday Fives - click the icons to visit the linkup home pages!

Hosted by the DC Trifecta!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Running by RPE

On Sunday, I went for an 11 mile long run (the longest training run I've ever done), and I remember at one point thinking to myself "wow, this running thing isn't really getting any easier!"  Not sure what it was exactly that put such thoughts in my head, but after weeks of the most consistent training I've ever done, that's truly the way I feel when I'm running.  Then I checked my splits, and found I was running way faster than I had set out to, and I was actually running half marathon PR splits - and while it certainly wasn't feeling any easier, I realized it wasn't feeling any more difficult either.  My run felt the same as any other run, but I had spent the whole time moving faster.

There's a term for the way I run: it's called RPE, or "rate of perceived exertion", and it's an actual measurement device used by exercise and medical professionals alike to determine how hard an individual is working.  Simply put, it's how hard you feel like you are working, and can be broken down into a 1 to 10 scale as follows:

When I'm running, I'm almost always at an RPE of about 5 or 6.  At the end of a race, or even for a larger portion of some 5ks at this point, I might push anywhere into the 7 to 10 range to "empty the tank" (or whatever is left), but I almost never try to sustain a pace that feels excessively uncomfortable.  This means that every training run feels the same to me, but as my body adapts to the mileage and builds endurance, I find myself moving faster at the same level of exertion.

Running does get easier.  The problem comes when you take the easier (ie, slower) splits and stop trying to improve.  Sure, I could run 12 minute miles again and rate my runs at an RPE of 2, but running longer distances at a pace that constantly gets faster even when I add mileage is proving that my efforts are paying off.  Adding things like hill training only speeds the process, as after climbing a massive hill, any flat run goes a lot faster for the same amount of perceived effort!

The sweet, sweet view from the top of that hill.

I know there are many people who run by pace; or, more specifically, run intervals or even whole runs at their goal race pace, to slowly adapt their body to running at that faster speed.  Someday, I might try this, but until I have a much, much better base built up and feel comfortable running long distances on a regular basis, the plan is to stick with using RPE to gauge my running pace and to watch my average pace continue to drop!  When that plateaus, we'll talk about how I plan to mix it up to restart my gains...

How do you rate runs, track progress, or plan your training?  Are you familiar with RPE?  Do you use it to gauge your workouts, whether it's running, strength training, or any other exercise?

Friday, August 19, 2016

Weird PRs

My race history page continues to fill, and I keep updating my PRs at various distances.  It's crossed my mind a couple times that I have some really weird PRs - and I was reminded of this again tonight while running and thinking about a joking text I wanted to send to a couple of my fellow race managers.  We have an upcoming event that is a 4.75 mile course (and that's how they advertize it, not a five miler that they're making short), so the office conversation today was all about why races pick off-distances, and whether people actually train for something like a 4.75 miler with a goal in mind.  At the end of the day, if only one race in the country does a 4.75 mile course (or maybe a handful, though I've never heard of another), does your time really count as a PR?

NOT my PR chart.  Nor are they my delightfully rainbow medals.

There's an ongoing "joke" in the running community that anyone running their first race at a particular distance gets an instant PR.  This much is certainly true, and some people keep track of their PRs at races they repeat every year.  So I guess the odd-distance races can count as a PR, but how many people in the running community are keeping track of them?  Is a 4.75 mile PR something to post to Instagram or Twitter, or will followers be a little confused?  I actually took my odd-distance PRs off of my race history page.  I don't think I'll ever run another 10 Nautical Miler (that's roughly 11.5 miles) unless it's the same race, and though I can think of a handful of four milers off the top of my head, the one that I've run doesn't have a PR listed either.  After some internal back-and-forth, I decided to keep the 15k PR posted, but even that's a kind of weird distance that you don't see too often.

Race distances that I have posted for PRs are 5k, 10k, 10 mile, and half marathon.  I'll of course add full marathon as soon as the Marine Corps Marathon is complete at the end of October, but we'll handle that when the time comes.  I don't even see 10 mile as a tracked PR for most other runners I know!  We all know our PRs at every distance (and probably most of our training runs too) but I definitely don't see too many people posting photos of their PR boards that include random distances.

We all know Tommy was the best.

Now I certainly feel that everyone should be proud of all of their accomplishments, whether it's a one-second PR in a 5k, or a 10 minute PR in a 10-miler, or even simply crossing the finish line in an excruciatingly difficult race.  I also love the unique feel of a race that breaks the popular distance race molds, and have had great experiences at some very odd distances.  I just feel weird writing my PR for a distance I'll probably never race again!

What do YOU think?  Do you track PRs for every race distance, no matter how common?  How do you feel about races that have interesting distances?  What's your favorite odd-distance race?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Rock Hall Half Marathon Race Recap

Six half marathons in six months is a big goal.  It's been especially tough trying to find accessible races that fit my very busy schedule; throw in the six months I've picked to attempt it (all summer months) and it's becoming a pretty difficult task!  But last Sunday, I successfully completed my August half, bringing me to five half marathons in five months.  And boy did I suffer to make it happen.

My very first half marathon took place in August, and after that experience, you'd think I would have learned my lesson.  Running long races in mid-summer heat is AWFUL, especially when the humidity is through the roof.  Alas, my goal stretches through the hottest months of the year and I have been determined to persevere.  So I signed up for a pretty cool-looking August race at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame right here in Cleveland, and I prayed for good weather.

Those prayers were almost answered.  After weeks of 80+ days with way more 90+ days than Cleveland is used to, heading into the weekend we had nothing but rain in the forecast.  Torrential downpours threatened to not only cool temperatures but make running a very wet endeavour.  After experiencing every type of precipitation known to man at the Rite Aid half back in May, the rain wasn't going to bother me too much - I just wanted desperately to avoid the heat.  So when race day dawned cloudy and cool, with minimal sun OR rain in the forecast and highs only in the 70s, I thought I had dodged a big weathery bullet.

NOT SO.  See, there's this little thing called humidity that barely creeps into the forecast (if it makes it in at all) but can make or break your outdoor experience.  Most of this race was run in 90% humidity.  Don't know what that translates to in real-feel?  I met up with my boyfriend after the race and his first reaction was "Oh no!  Looks like it POURED on you guys, how much of the race was in the rain??"  I was soaked head to toe and looked like I had gone for a swim, but not a single drop of rain had fallen anywhere along my 13.1 mile journey.  GROSS,

Fortunately it was only the humidity; the sun stayed behind the clouds and we even had some nice breezy stretches along the course.  I started the race near the back of the pack with a girl who was running her very first half marathon.  Her goal time was 2:30 just like mine, and she'd done some actual training, so we figured my experience and her preparedness would make for a good pairing.  We took off close to the pacer for our goal time, Our first couple miles were right on track, maybe even a tiny bit fast, but her strength gave out quickly in the oppressive humidity.  By mile four, we were at about 15 minute miles, and as much as I wanted to stay with her to help her get through it, I was still feeling well enough to go much faster.  We parted, and I started gaining lost ground.

The next two miles breezed by!  But as the day got a little warmer, that humitity only increased, and with aid stations spread out every two miles, I wasn't quite hydrating enough for the conditions.  It didn't help that I had forgotten to grab the smoothie I had set aside for breakfast and was running on an empty stomach (though the energy gels provided on the course gave me a surprising and delicious boost).  Soon I knew I had to find another pacer or running buddy to get through the next few miles, maybe even the rest of the race.

As luck would have it, a woman in a Half Fanatics jersey and another woman nearby were already talking about hooking up for some run-walk intervals together, and I was able to just join them.  We had a timer going for 3 minutes of running, 2 minutes of walking, and agreed that we didn't have to stay religious about the walking periods if we were feeling up to a prolonged run segment.  Although we lost the Half Fanatic about a mile later to some GI issues, the other woman and I ended up sticking together through the entire rest of the course.  Honestly, some parts of this run got so hard that I worry I might not have finished if I hadn't established a partnership with her, and there were times I think she felt the same way.

Somewhere around mile nine, my knee gave out randomly as I put my weight on it for a normal stride.  My hamstring had been pulling a little, and with the big downhills in the later portions of the course I had probably over strained my knee joint.  It hurt for most of the rest of the race, but I hadn't gone that far just to tap out over a tweaked knee.  The old competitive spirit that kept me playing through concussions and other semi-serious injuries back in my college days, combined with the drive, determination, and encouragement of my running buddy kept me moving constantly forward.  We still took our walk breaks, but we never skipped or shortened our run intervals, and when the finish line came in sight, we ran hard and finished strong.

The clock showed me my worst half marathon time ever, but I grabbed my (absolutely incredible) medal with just as much pride as if I had PRed this race.  Tough conditions are a totally different kind of challenge.  I know I can run a half marathon in cold, dry weather.  I know I can run it in snow/hail/rain mix.  I know I can run it in mid-summer heat.  And know I know I can, essentially, swim it when the humidity maxes out.  Someone on Instagram said they weren't really that proud of their finish, but I believe everyone who crossed that line should be VERY proud: it takes an incredible amount of guts and willpower to push through adversity of any kind.  Every step forward is a million times better than standing still!

Despite the challenge of the race, I seemed to recover pretty quickly as I milled around the post-race festivities at the Rock Hall.  The race provided tons of food afterwards, including popsicles that basically made my day, chocolate milk, bananas, watermellon, fresh pizza, and buy-one-get-one Chipotle cards for later in the day.  School of Rock was on site...  I don't know if you've heard of this program, but it basically takes mind-blowingly talented kids and teaches them how to be rock stars.  And it's AWESOME.  These kids surprise me every time; they definitely fit right in at THIS venue!  There were massotherapists, but the line was kinda long so my strained hammie had to wait until I got home to my foam roller.  The plaza was big enough to accommodate all the runners, but small enough that it was easy to find all the women I'd run with for a while and anyone else I hadn't seen on the course but knew would be there, so I checked in with all my buddies to make sure everyone had made it to the end and was doing well before I finally headed for home.  Exhausted and sore, but also proud and feeling surprisingly upbeat, I wrapped up my race day with a looooooong nap and a little Netflix!

Rock Hall Half Breakdown

Organization: This was the second race I've done from this organization, and though it's a competitor company for my job, I have to admit I enjoy their events.  There's always an early packet pickup (even though I've never gone), but race morning pickup was quick and efficient for this race, just as it was for the last.  Races start on time, communication is clear, and the post-race party is always solid.  Going to a race should be fun, and I shouldn't have to be any more stressed than 13.1 miles usually makes me; when race companies can run a smooth program, I don't have to worry about my experience.  This one was all smooth, no worry - at least, no worry over anything but the weather!

The Course: Minimal big turns, but a lot of little curvy bits and a couple hills, made for a simple but interesting course through Cleveland.  Heading out on Carnegie was a little scary: even though there were TONS of police officers, on alert, people at the wheel of big vehicles still like to think they have the right of way, even if there are a dozen runners in front of them.  A few intersections felt like they might be my last, but the police force responded quickly to block the path of errant vehicles, and soon I was on Martin Luther King Jr Drive.  I don't think I've ever been down that way before, but the course took us through all the cultural gardens and under some very pretty bridges.  Definitely my favorite part of the course, and the long downhill definitely helped!  We finished along the breezy marginal to finish in front of the Rock Hall.  GREAT course, tons of volunteer support, but not nearly enough water stations.  Only every other mile did we get water, and in 90% humidity that's not enough for many runners.  Any August half should probably plan for 10+ aid stations...

The Swag: Last month, I received the most underwhelming half marathon medal I can possibly imagine.  On Sunday, my bling MORE than made up for that last one!  Just like the Hill Yeah! half, the Rock Hall's medal is big, vibrant, and unique.  I love that the little guitar pick slides up and down the neck!  Another Brooks shirt for the collection, too, though honestly I feel like the color combination could have been a little more interesting.  The photo above had to be tweaked a bit so you could see the writing on the shirt, since the green gets lost in the blue in most lighting.  I mentioned before all the crazy post-race food and the Huma chia seed energy gels, all of which were very appreciated additions to the overall race experience.  Though I registered a little late, I still only paid $60 for this race and definitely believe it's a great price for the experience I had.

The Bottom Line: VERY cool race, and one I'll be keeping on my radar for next year.  As I get busier and busier on the weekends, I have to be pretty selective about which races I make time for, and this is one that would get more than a passing glance when the 2017 schedule goes around.  I'd almost consider it a definite, if it weren't for the lack of aid stations in the middle of August!  But for anyone looking for a solid summer half in Cleveland (or for a good destination race), the Rock Hall Half should certainly be high on your list!

How do you handle adverse weather conditions on race day?  How often do you run in intense humidity?  What's your favorite race medal?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


I'm working on my race recap from Sunday's Rock Hall Half Marathon, but the weather knocked me out a bit and I'm taking my time with finishing that post - which left me an open slot to check out what today's Tuesday on the Run linkup topic is.  It just so happens that the prompt for this week is "race photobombs", and until Sunday I wouldn't have had anything to share!

I met up with one of my runner friends after the race, and after the first couple photos we were about to get back to our much-needed relaxing, but our friend holding the camera said "no wait, just ooooone more..."  Sure enough, later that day when she posted the race photos on Facebook, we found out why that last photo was taken!  Y'know what, though?  I don't even mind - these guys are part of the reason I love the running community so much!  It's always fun and games, even after an atrociously humid race that tested everyone who stepped onto the course.  And honestly, despite that humidity and the 13.1 mile run preceeding this picture, I actually loko pretty good... ;)

Tuesdays on the Run

Tuesdays on the Run are brought to you by My No-Guilt Life, Marcia's Healthy Slice, and MCM Mama Runs!  Click the linkup icon above to check out what other bloggers have to say about the costs of destination racing, and be sure to share YOUR views in the comments below!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Presque Isle Half Marathon Race Recap

In June, my third half marathon in three months qualified me for the Half Fanatics and got me even more addicted to the half distance.  So much that I've already started eyeing down the next-level qualifier for the Half Fanatics: six half marathons in six calendar months.  If it sounds crazy, that's because it is crazy - but the Fanatics don't call it the "Asylum" for no reason!  And before you ask, there's no real incentive for moving up in "levels" other than bragging rights, but if you know me, you know that's probably all the incentive I really need...

Another goal I'm loosely aiming for over the long-term is to run a half in every state.  I needed a July race for the HF goal, so I looked to see if there were any in the easily accessible neighboring states of Pennsylvania and Michigan.  As luck would have it, the Erie Runners Club was hosting a half marathon at the stunning Presque Isle State Park, on a Sunday for which I had no work scheduled.  Boom - done.  Signed up for a very modest fee, and started planning my schedule for getting out to Erie early on a Sunday morning.  It's about an hour and a half drive, doable the day-of if I wake up early (and go to bed early the night before), but far enough that a cheap hotel along the way isn't a horrible idea.

Unfortunately, my weekend unfolded very differently than I expected at the time I picked my July race!  Turns out, that same day was going to be our bi-annual family reunion, for which I was on the planning team.  It would be late enough in the afternoon that I'd have no problem making it in time after the race (and was actually on the way home from Presque Isle), but it would be a looooong day outside and mostly on my feet when I'd likely be ready to collapse.  Because of the reunion, my brother and his wife would be in town, too, and of course I'd want to spend time with them on Saturday.  We ended up going to Party in the Park, a weekend-long live music festival event that was awesome and full of junky fair foods that were delicious (deep fried pierogies mmmmm).  Afterwards, we did what we always do: we gamed.  All night.

So long into the night, that at one point I finally said we need a little break while I go prep my car to leave in 4 hours for the race.  I laid out my clothes, threw together everything else I'd need, and dumped it all in the car.  Including my keys.  And I always lock my car doors.  Closing that door happened in such slow motion I thought I'd actually be able to get in there in time!  Alas, I did not.  So at midnight I'm calling AAA to get my car unlocked (yup, we only have one key for that car) while we're trying to finish a game and there's a race in just a few hours...  I know, I know, my choice to game instead of sleep, but I get to see my brother so rarely!  Eventually I got my keys and got to bed, woke up with a lot of grogginess but no problem getting in the car and on the road in time, and actually had a fun, music-jamming car ride that landed me at Presque Isle just as packet pickup opened.

One of the big draws to this race (besides crossing off another state) was the early 6:30 start time that had originally been advertised.  After registering, I found an FAQ page that said the race actually starts at 6:45 but that the online system wouldn't let them post it at quarter-hour intervals.  I shrugged it off because it's only 15 minutes and that meant I could sleep in just that much longer.  When I arrived, however, it quickly became clear that the 6:45 start time would be difficult to achieve for the vast majority of participants.  There was only ONE line for packet pickup, and while it did move relatively smoothly, there were 1300+ participants in the race and one line was NOT going to cut it.  They also offered race-day registration, and both pickup and registration started at 5:45.  The lines got longer and longer, until an announcement was made at 6:30 that the race start would be delayed to 7am instead.  Meh, I was starting to lose the "early start means cooler weather" advantage for which I'd been planning.

With all the extra time to wait, I hopped in the 20-minute port-o-potty line just in case and because I had time.  It moved very slowly and I ended up catching a few Pokemon while waiting and watching the check-in line grow and grow.  Around 7 I made my way over to the starting line, which was narrow enough to mean us mid-packers would have a ways to go just to reach the start.  Finally it was almost time.  They played the Canadian national anthem, then ours, and the airhorn went off - just as someone yelled "WAIT, STOP!  MEDIC!"  We waited.  And waited.  And waited.  It was unclear what was happening and if the person needed an ambulance, there was no way one could get through the crowd if we're all standing there waiting.  Finally, at about 7:15, the race actually started.  I crossed the starting line about five minutes later, officially starting the race 50 minutes late.  NOT HAPPY.

Fortunately, the intense beauty of the course made the run a lot better than I expected it to be, even though the entire park had gotten much warmer in the long delay.  We loop fully around the penninsula, spending the first half of the run skirting the very sunny inner bay and the second half enjoying the shady side in the trees.  This was probably the most scenic course I've run yet!  And the course support along the way was easily the best I've experienced.  Not only were the (large) volunteer groups vocal and encouraging, but people visiting the park on family trips or personal biking outings supported the runners throughout the entire route.  Some families even took to driving around the penninsula slowly (only one lane closed for runners) with windows open and radio on to give us mobile DJs of a sort.  One car had a different motivational sign hanging out the window every time they passed!  Course support like this makes cover 13 miles so much more fun, even if it is sweltering and I haven't trained in weeks!

I did struggle with the running part, though.  That "not-training" thing wasn't a joke, I really hadn't run more than a mile or two since the Towpath Ten-Ten a full month prior.  Only a couple miles in, I found myself walking.  Over and over again.  My rule was that I could only walk in contiguous shade, to keep my time in the sun to a minimum, but even with that rule I was doing a LOT of walking.  The heat was a big limiting factor too.  I found it a little easier to move once I hit the shade for a while on the return trip, but by mile 10ish I was hurting.  I made a new running buddy (don't I always?) who was running her very first half, and we finished the course together with a mix of walking and running.

We were obviously pretty excited to have finished!  I was even more excited when my time was 2:30 - exactly on par with my "goal time" for a race like this, in which I know I won't have much chance of a PR but don't want to totally bomb.  My excitement, however, was short-lived, as I soon received my finisher medal - and almost handed it right back.  I don't run races FOR the medals anymore (mostly, though it can help me choose between two big races on the same day) but when I run 13.1 miles, I expect a little more than the cheapest generic medal you can find online with a sticker on the back that doesn't even say the name of the race!  I can't imagine how I would feel if this was my first half marathon and all I got was a crap medal that looks like I bought it at a thrift store and printed my own sticker for it...  I know what it costs to make a decent finisher medal, and it's not nearly as cost-prohibitive as people would think, especially when ordering 1300+, so I was supremely disappointed that this race couldn't provide something a little more unique to a race that could have something really spectacular, considering the location they're using.

They DID provide box lunches from Bob Evans at the finish line, which I thought was really cool until I opened mine and found that it was a premade sandwich with all the dressings on it that I don't eat.  There were no options as far as anyone could tell (including no veggie option, just turkey) so I nibbled at the fruit cup and some of the dry bread before heading back to the car and racing home for the reunion.  I made it on time, but only barely, instead of having the small amount of time to relax a bit as I'd planned thanks to the excessively delayed start of the race.  I made it through the reunion, exhausted but feeling accomplished, and definitely got a good night's sleep afterwards!

Presque Isle Half Marathon Breakdown

Organization: I don't usually give grades in this section but I think I'm going to start today.  Organization gets a big D.  Maybe a D minus.  Late starts are AWFUL, especially in the middle of summer when it gets hotter by the minute, and extra-especially when you have a race to which many people travel.  Aid stations advertized "Gatorade" but really it was "Gu Brew" and they didn't have the concentrate mixed properly, so some stations were almost straight lemon-lime electrolyte concentrate that burned the inside of my mouth, and others were just water with the barest hint of citrus from the single drop of concentrate that found its way in.  Long lines at registration and not enough bathrooms, a chaotic start protocol, shoe-tag timing not reading at the split markers and making me worry I wouldn't even get an official time, and of course medals that look like they'd been forgotten until the day prior, all made for a very negative impression of the event.  Not something I'd like to repeat, but they DID actually manage to get all their runners through a half marathon, so I can't give it a totally failing grade...

The Course: Gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous, and full of support.  An A minus here, only low because the first couple miles were incredibly congested thanks in large part to a lack of pace groups or corrals.  In a narrow bottleneck start, there has to be a better way of spreading out runners appropriately, especially when there's no room to pass due to running on a still-active and popular road.  Volunteers were everywhere, providing clearly-communicated water stop choices and even cool wet towels towards the end of the race.  If the organization wasn't so piss-poor, this could be an amazing race.

The Swag: Cost for this race is between $40 and $50 depending when you register, which is admittedly pretty cost-effective for a half marathon - but that doesn't justify skimping on focal-point swag!  The race shirts were tech material tank tops that had the weirdest women's cut I've ever seen; I actually traded mine in after the race for a men's small (since no women's smalls were available and apparently I need giant wide armpits and huge gazongas to fit into the medium) just to have a prayer of ever wearing mine.  If a race is going to cut costs somewhere, I'd rather have it be on the shirts than on the medals, but that's a preference thing I suppose.  Not everyone has a thousand race shirts.  But I do strongly feel the medal is an important part of a half marathon, specifically because so many people doing their first half really deserve to have something amazing to show for it, and this little thing is NOT going on anyone's cubicle wall.  The lunch was a nice addition but without options to accommodate the vastly different tastes of many runners, it's almost a waste of money that could have gone to other parts of the experience.  Swag gets a C for tech material and lunch, but also for crappy medals, ill-fitting tops, and lack of variety.

The Bottom Line: I wish I could say I'd like to run this one again, but I just can't say that.  Despite the incredible course, there's no way I'm trusting this group to put on a solid race event again in the future.  It's too far a drive for such a late start and such a disappointing takeaway.  I got my fourth month of half marathoning checked off, I added PA to the state list, I'm done with Presque Isle for the forseeable future.  Tough cookies, but it is what it is.

What was the most disappointing race you've run?  Have you ever participated in a race that had such horrible swag you'd almost rather have gone without?  What's your favorite scenic course?

Friday, August 12, 2016

Podium Etiquette and a Gymnast

First of all, I get it.  It's the Olympics, one of the most popular ways to celebrate national pride and the abilities of each generation's best athletes.  For those athletes who are wearing their country's colors on a global stage, there's a lot of pressure.  A LOT.  And it's more than just the pressure to perform in their specific events: the eyes of the entire world are on these young people, and their every move is highly scrutinized, even if it's completely unrelated to their performance in their sport.

Gabby Douglas, one of the Team USA gymnasts who received overwhelming attention four years ago for her amazing performances and personality throughout the London games, has been coming under fire for her behavior on the podium after Team USA won the women's all-around the other night.  And honestly, I can't stand it.

This post is a response to a controversy summarized in this article from the LA Times.  All opinions expressed in my post are my own.  Photo sourced from the same article.

So the debate here is, what is proper podium behavior?  Gabby didn't have her hand over her heart during the anthem.  She didn't cry or smile or even laugh like Michael Phelps did (but that was okay because his teammates were making him do it, right).  She stood there solemnly with her hands clasped in front of her.  THE HORROR!

As a multi-sport athlete, I have stood for the anthem many, many, many times throughout my career.  Hundreds of anthems, maybe even a thousand.  Sometimes it was just instrumental, a recording; other times, it was a live, unaccompanied singer.  Every time, it was the same anthem, and it meant the same thing to me every time - regardless of how I was standing during it.  My body language changed day to day, because life is different day to day.  You can bet that before a particularly big game, I was practically chomping at the bit during that anthem, bouncing as much as I could get away with, keeping my energy up so I could tear out of the gate the moment I was able.  But there were other days when, for a wide variety of reasons, I just stood there.  Solemnly, hands clasped in front of me.  Just like Gabby.

And you know what?  It's completely okay to stand for the anthem that way, if that's how you're feeling.  Winning a gold medal at the Olympics frequently makes athletes act with more emotion while their anthem plays, but there's more to a human being than any one particular moment.  Gabby was denied a chance to compete for another event for which she was the third-highest qualifier because of a silly rule.  Don't you think maybe that might have been on her mind a bit?  "Oh hey, I could be maybe doing this again in a couple days, but even though I've earned my chance, I'm not allowed because my teammates are also awesome."  How would you feel?

Photo source: TeamUSA.org

Maybe that wasn't part of it, though apparently the media wants to say Gabby was "pouting" on the podium and if that's what you want to call it, I'd say her exclusion from the individual all-around is probably a fair reason for her to be a little more subdued despite the team excitement.  Or maybe instead she's exhausted and overwhelmed - y'know, like she literally said she was.  It's the Olympics, man!  The culmination of some of the most rigourous training programs in existence!  Weeks of tension, excitement, disappointment, emotion, travel, everything that can overwhelm and exhaust a person.  Even the gold medal high can only take someone so far.  After all, no matter how amazing these athletes are, they're still only human.

Bottom line: lay off Gabby Douglas.  Maybe she had an off day.  Maybe her heart really DID fully appreciate the "weight of their [the words of the national anthem] meaning" but her body simply couldn't convey it in a certain way.  Can we please stop beating up on Gabby and accept that she is a human being who is going through an absolutely insane time in her life (AGAIN) and that maybe it's not only possible but acceptable for a person to still be reverent without putting their hand on their heart?  Let's just get over it and put our support behind ALL of our athletes - Gabby still has more competition ahead of her, and she needs her country on her side, not adding to her stress and breaking her concentration.  In the end, that's probably all this was anyway: an athlete who still has major events pending and didn't get caught up in the celebration too early.

Get it, Gabby.  USA, ALL THE WAY!

UPDATES - I am going to be updating this post as I get feedback from readers, as I think some of what has been said to me about this issue is very interesting and informative.

1. There IS an official Flag Code that dictates all non-military personnel place their hand over their heart while the anthem is playing.  I knew there were flag codes for the military but did not know there was an official United States code that applies to everyone.  Perhaps it would be relevant to include this information in an Olympic participant's pre-Games preparation?  Maybe have a Team USA meeting or email or something so everyone is on the same page?  There are many times when Olympians don't have their hand over their heart during the anthem, but if that's the actual official way to respect the anthem, let's make sure everyone knows!

2. On the other hand, let's look at American professional sports world.  Take, for instance, the championship Cavs team pictured above.  Only one of them has their hand over their heart - the rest are standing much like Gabby (and like myself at most events, with hands clasped behind the back).  I don't think I've ever seen a full team with hand-to-heart for an anthem, not in baseball nor basketball nor football, nor any other sport I've seen televised.  We don't tell these athletes they are being disrespectful, or smear their names or give them any other kind of grief over the way they stand.  No one is doing anything intentionally disrespectful, no one is causing a ruckus or trying to steal the attention away from the flag or anthem.  They probably don't know about Flag Code either!  We can't hold our Olympic athletes to a different standard than our paid professionals when it comes to this kind of thing, can we?

So let's hear your side - do you think Gabby's solemnity was inappropriate?  What IS appropriate behavior during one of your young life's most emotional and defining moments?  Do you think that someone who has already been through the excitment and emotion might have a different response the next time around?

Friday, August 5, 2016

Towpath Ten-Ten 2016 Race Recap

Oh yeah, it's Towpath time again!  I won't take too much time to reiterate my love of the Towpath races, since I've already posted about it several times back in April and will probably end up posting about it again in October as the Towpath Marathon approaches (I'm registered for the October half, too, to complete the trilogy), but I WILL say once again that I'm always honored to be sharing the Towpath courses with the runners who support one of Ohio's best and most beautiful landmarks.

Last year's Ten-Ten was my first race upon coming back home to Cleveland.  This year, the race became my first-ever repeat race!  I loved the course last year, running in the valley under some historic railway bridges and through some of the gorgeous parkways that line the 100 mile stretch of the Ohio Canal, but last year's race had been overshadowed by the beginnings of my divorce and my (then unwanted) move from Illinois to Ohio.  This year, though, I approached this race with exactly the opposite life situation.  The weather matched: instead of last year's dreary rain and gross humidity, 2016 brought nothing but sunshine for race day.

My Gypsy Runner shorts have joined my favorite Hylete
tank as go-to race gear.

I actually arrived very early to the race, to assist my fellow race manager with data entry for race day registrations.  I'd also worked the packet pickup at Quaker Steak and Lube the day prior - anything to stay involved with my favorite race team!  After spending the early hours inputting runners for the timing equipment, I hustled over to the starting line to hand off the race files before lining up to run.  I know so many more people in the local running community now, I'm almost never without friends at a race, and I was able to squeeze in with some of my race acquaintances while we waited for the starting bell.  Suddenly we were moving - races always start so suddenly, it seems - and I had 10 miles of Towpath between me and my next medal.

Since my half marathon PR pace is roughly 10:15/mile, I was aiming to do about that for this race, only two weeks after the Hill Yeah! half marathon I'd run (though that had not been at my PR pace).  I don't run by my watch, I run by feel, so I set off at what I thought was a moderately brisk pace.  The advice is usually to run negative splits (to make your later miles faster than your early ones) but I knew how quickly the valley would heat up, and wanted to get the quicker miles behind me before the heat became more intense.  Still, I was very surprised to hear my GPS click through one mile with a time of almost 9 minute even!  Apparently I was feeling pretty good and started off even quicker than anticipated.  I tried to slow just a bit, but my next few miles were all about a full minute faster than my goal pace - and my legs didn't seem to want to let up!

Lush green vegetation, beautiful rippling water, and
oh-so-much sun.  Perfect day.

The heat started to set in.  I wasn't running with anyone, but many of the 10k participants and the lead 10 milers were starting to pass me on the way back to the finish line, so I started cheering for everyone who passed.  One of the things I've noticed about my racing is that, on courses that loop back and allow runners to pass in both directions, cheering on my fellow racers actually keeps me moving faster and feeling stronger.  When I take the focus away from how I feel and just try to have fun and encourage people, I guess I ignore the part where my legs are tired and it's getting warm!  I carried my 9-ish minute pace through about seven of the ten miles this way.

Finally, midway through mile seven, I started feeling a little twinge in my hamstring, which grew into a more hampering pain over the next mile or so.  I had to walk a little and stretched out my stride to help ease the tension.  With the heat rising by the minute, though, I instituted a little rule that I've used in several long runs since: I can only walk in the shade, never in the sun.  So I walked under the last bridge, and once again under some trees, but I pushed myself to keep moving and keep the legs turning over.  Before long, the finish line was in sight, and though I was starting to struggle, I knew I could make it.  My final time was 1:37:47 - a 10 mile PR for me by almost 10 minutes!  Even after walking and slowing considerably at the end of the race, I had gotten the legwork (pun intended) done early and learned that a sub-10 pace was totally do-able over this kind of distance.  I snagged my well-earned medal, stopped by the massage therapy tent to have my hamstring tended (by a former teammate from an old soccer team, ironically - I know people everywhere it seems!), then booked it over to Quaker Steak for the brunch buffet before heading home for some even more well-earned rest!

Towpath Ten-Ten Breakdown

Organization: Do I have to say it again?  Canalway Partners runs some of the best races around, and truly some of the best races I've run across several Midwestern states.  Throw in the partnership with my own beloved Hermes for top-notch timing and management, and you've got a sure recipe for success.  Packet pickups are smooth and the staff knowledgeable (okay, so in this case the staff was ME but that just makes it even more accurate, eh), race day moves efficiently even with the starting line a bit of a hike from available parking, post-race food is always filling and delicious, and every face is friendly, from the ample awesome volunteers (okay, so in this case most of the volunteers are good friends of mine but again, that doesn't make it less true) to the regular staff that works year-round to support the Towpath and the Trilogy.

The Course: Always beautiful and sometimes surprisingly secluded, running on the Towpath feels like I'm hundreds of miles away from civilization.  Only a small stretch of the course runs along buildings and businesses, and though we cross under a handful of bridges, so much of the trail is surrounded only by the canal on one side and trees on the other.  It's quiet, peaceful, and in the morning hours, a showcase of sunrise in the valley.  Miles are marked for both the 10k and 10 mile races, and though the path is not incredibly wide, there always seems to be plenty of space for two-way traffic.  Great course, fun to run, perfect for getting a little lost in your tunes or your thoughts for a while, and definitely one I'll do every chance I get.

That's a heck of a medal - if you can see it with such
a crazy bright shirt next to it!

The Swag: Towpath races are usually a little pricey if you don't register pretty early, but this is one organization that definitely uses the money for their cause.  In the past year, Canalway Partners has broken ground on two amazing new parks, hosted repeated graffiti and trail cleanups, and extended the trail restoration project to give us even more exquisite trail.  Plus, racers always get a tech shirt and the 10 milers receive a very cool medal, which this year was almost twice the size of last year's.  Oh, and let's not forget the all-you-can-eat brunch buffet at Quaker Steak afterwards!  It's a race that gives generously to participants but even more generously to the community, and to me, that's always money well spent.

The Bottom Line: Can you guess what I'm gonna say here?  RUN TOWPATH RACES!  They're awesome!  If you need more convincing, shoot me an email and I'll give you the best word vomit you've ever seen about every incredible detail.  Try me.  Or don't and just trust me - and come run with me in October!

Do you have a favorite race you run every year?  What makes your favorite repeats so special?  What is your favorite cause to run for?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

School's out for... I'm not quite sure...

For the past few years, I've been teaching group exercises classes.  From ZUMBA to Pound, step to boot camp, and even yoga at times, my teaching schedule has been a staple of my fitness lifestyle for so long now that even missing one class night on a holiday feels a little strange.  I cut back from multiple nights per week not long after accepting my full time race manager position, but as of last week I have actually stepped down from my classes entirely.  It's the first time I've chosen to stop teaching since I started years ago.

A lot of factors went into the decision to no longer pursue classes for a while, but one of the major reasons I'm not teaching anymore is the amount of time it takes to BE an instructor, especially compared to the typical paycheck received for the amount of work.  It's not just the hour of class time, and I think a lot of participants don't realize how much goes into the classes they take.  For a class like ZUMBA, prepping new songs takes me hours, even for simple choreography.  I try to introduce new routines regularly, but sometimes it's just so hard to finalize a routine when you're working a (more than) full time schedule.  Sometimes it's the song - I love it at first, but after listening to it enough times to have my routine read, I'm completely sick of it!  Other times, it's the choreography simply refusing to click.  And other times, it's just plain exhaustion.  When you're teaching multiple choreography-based formats regularly, it becomes exponentially harder to provide your students with new material, especially when very few gyms are able to offer wages that can take those extra hours into consideration.  It's not the gym's fault most of the time, either, it's just difficult to make enough money off of classes to be able to spin that back to the instructors, especially at small local gyms.

When you're struggling to keep your classes current, but are finding yourself struggling, it takes away from your energy levels in class too.  It gets harder to be as enthusiastic about your routines when you know they're getting a little stale.  Add the stress of trying to get something together but having trouble working the time into your schedule, and suddenly every class becomes a burden.  Group ex classes should never, ever be a burden to someone like me.  I should thrive on every hour I spend in a studio - and when that's no longer the case, it's time to back off for a while.

But even when you know it's needed, recharging is hard.  It's been two weeks without classes and though I have a little more personal time now and am definitely less stressed, I miss the fabulous women who make teaching classes one of the best jobs in the world.  Whenever a song I used to teach comes on the radio or at a race or other event, I have to fight the urge to start dancing.  That's not exactly a new urge, but without my regular outlet to look forward to, it's getting harder to fight!  And a little selfishly, I miss knowing I will have a guaranteed workout on my schedule every week.  Now I have to work up the motivation for a self-starter workout more often, or risk getting further out of shape.  I know, it's horrible, especially when I'm trying so hard to get my marathon training back on track...

The big question on my mind at this point is: when should I think about getting back into it?  Some of my classes require licenses that cost money every month, but letting those lapse means having to take the basic training class all over again (which is even more expensive).  My race schedule will be intense for a couple more months, but then it'll be back to slow season for a while and I'll have more time, but does that mean I should expect to start teaching again then, or do I wait until I'm actually feeling ready to take on that responsibility again?  I've been telling a friend who is trying to make a difficult career change decision that she needs to "follow her heart."  That same advice is what got me into all of this fitness stuff in the first place; it's what got me teaching at all.  Sometimes, though, it's hard to know what your heart wants.  Hopefully, when the time is right, my heart will speak up again to let me know.  I've been doing a much better job of listening to what my heart is saying; as long as it keeps talking to me, I know I'll stay on the right track.

Have you found yourself having to take a break from something you loved?  How does following your heart help you navigate difficult decisions?  What's your favorite group ex class?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Pokemon GO and Fitness

Been a while since I tackled the Wednesday Word, but this week's captivate is just too perfect to pass up, especially considering the latest craze that has indeed captivated the nation: Pokemon GO.  Though it may be marketed as a video game, Pokemon GO is secretly (or perhaps not-so-secretly) one of the best things to hit the fitness scene in ages.  Sorry Michelle Obama, but GO has been more effective in a month than the Let's Move campaign has ever been, getting more Americans off the couch and out on the pavement than any other health initiative I've ever seen.

And I have to admit, even I have been captivated by this game.  Part of it comes from the nostalgia my generation has from growing up with the original game, but part of it is just that the game is really kinda, well, cool.  The augmented reality function may drain my phone's battery like crazy, but some of the little snaps I've grabbed while out on a short run or waiting in line for bathrooms at a race make me giggle.

Many people whine about the dangers of the game, and it's true that walking, biking, or even driving blindly while trying to play can be a major issue.  It's also true that there has been violence and theft associated with game play.  But at its core, the Pokemon GO craze has mostly been a positive force, encouraging more people to increase their activity.  Just like fancy pedometers like the FitBit or Jawbone UP encourage people to hit a target number of steps per day, Pokemon GO encourages activity by requiring distances from 2k to 10k be covered in order to hatch in-game eggs for a wider range of Pokemon.  Even if you're not playing to hatch eggs, there are only so many types of Pokemon you can catch from the couch.

It's not just physical activity that is heightened by playing the game.  Social interactions generated by game play has astonished me.  When I end up near a Poke-gym or a good location for Poke-stops, I often find myself meeting new people in my area.  Even if it's only for a few minutes, I'm connecting with people over a shared interest and getting face time with interesting personalities, where other games would have me interacting only with emotionless fonts and cartoonish avatars.  One night at a nearby Poke-nexus, we ended up with a huge impromptu gathering with dozens of players, covering all ages from young child to grandparent, all hanging out and chatting while we took turns dropping lures, catching Pokemon, and battling over the nearby gym.  To be completely honest, it was an absolute blast!

So from my perspective, I can't help but think it's actually okay for people to be so captivated by Pokemon GO.  I've had nothing but good experiences with the game, and everyone I know or have met who plays does so with common sense and caution.  Any experience can be dangerous if done irresponsibly, but when proper consideration is taken, many things that are labeled as "dangerous" or "disruptive" can truly be awesome.

Have you tried Pokemon GO?  Has your experience been a positive one?  What fads or crazes have you seen create a positive impact on society?  Tell me about it in the comments!  And as always, check out the Wednesday Word linkup to see how other bloggers create consistency!  Hosted as always by the wonderful Deb Runs, check back every week for another Wednesday Word and a new batch of great posts!

Deb Runs

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Hill Yeah! Half Marathon Race Recap

Early this year, I was introduced to a group called the Half Fanatics.  As the name implies, it's a running club full of people who love the half marathon distance.  Before this year I'd only run two half marathons, but for some reason 2016 came with an itch to get better acquainted with the distance.  Qualifying for the Half Fanatics became a loose goal as I started to consider my racing calendar: the entry-level requirement for HF is three half marathons in 90 days.  I knew I'd be running the Towpath Half in April, and when I noticed my work schedule had Cleveland Rite Aid Marathon weekend open, I knew I'd get at least two out of the three.  Finding an opportunity for the third, however, was uncertain.

Then, I saw my opening!  An early June half called "Hill Yeah!" was available with a course that ran through some of the beautiful Lake County parks, and after checking for a clear work schedule, I quickly registered.  I knew from the name that I was in for an interesting course and realized I have never actually trained for hills.  Well, I guess there's a first time for everything!  The elevation map intimidated me a little, but definitely didn't deter me from giving it a go.

I'm in the front on the left, hamming it up and showing off my guns with friends!

Race morning, however, I was suffering, badly, from "lady issues."  Sorry guys, it's a fact of life, and for some of us it's pretty debilitating.  Fortunately, I knew it was coming, and had spent the day or so beforehand chugging some extra hydration (with help from Hydrus) to ease the pain and cramping, as well as to balance out the fluid loss.  I was a little worried I'd still struggle with the combination of hills and bodily rebellion, plus I didn't think I'd actually know anyone at this race since I rarely run out that direction - and then, as I walked up to the pavilion to pick up my bib and shirt, some of the wonderful ladies I'd met at the Rite Aid marathon expo popped up!  Of course they'd be at the race, I met them when they were manning the booth for the racing company hosting Hill Yeah!  Immediately I felt more at ease and started working up the energy to tackle the race.

Though it was another rainy day, it was only rain (no hail or snow like the Rite Aid), and that kept the day cool.  I set off at a slow pace with one of my new running buddies, who was working back into the distance after an injury.  While I knew I could go faster, the pace didn't really bother me since I was battling the cramping and lack of training, and didn't really expect to do very well in this race.  All I had to do was cross the finish line to earn my bling AND hit my qualifier for Half Fanatics.  We took it easy, but after a few miles at a pace that continued to slow as my partner's injury started to flare back up, I realized I was feeling more than fine.  By mile 6, the 12 minute per mile pace was making me antsy, and I decided it was time to pick it up a bit.

Drenched, but smiling and still moving!

I flew through mile 7, passing probably 30 runners and several pace groups, including the 2:30 pacer (my goal is usually to finish in under 2:30).  Going from 12 minute miles to 9 minute miles is a HUGE change, and I knew would be unsustainable once I hit the big hills later in the course, but it felt so good to be moving quicker.  The damp air was making me more sore than usual, so once I opened up my stride a bit I started to both warm up and loosen up.  Of course, there was still that matter of elevation ahead...

Let's put it this way: the race is aptly named.  And many of us joined in solidarity as the BIG hill started to kick our butts.  I'd chat with a couple runners as we limped uphill, then would find a little energy for a short surge, until I got to the next couple runners and we shuffled onwards again as a unit.  I kept up the chat-surge-chat-repeat pattern for most of the rest of the race, but around mile 11 ended up catching up with my cousin and settled in with her for a little longer.  We've run a few races together, including the Rite Aid half just a couple weeks prior, and though she'd told me she'd be at this one, I had forgotten until I saw her come out of nowhere a little ways ahead of me.  She was dealing with a couple issues herself, so while we ran together for a bit, I later broke away from her for the last mile or so.

Despite the slow pace early on, I managed to slog through the rain and hills (and a course that seemed to never end) and crossed the finish line in 2:27:06, almost exactly the same time as my Towpath Half in April!  I couldn't believe I had managed to finish in my goal time.  My reward was one of the biggest pieces of race bling I've ever received, and a "walking taco" as post-race food!  The rain passed long before I finished, so many of the participants stuck around for the good eats, good music, and the awards.  After a quick refuel and some photos with the cuz, I actually headed back down the course a little and ran in with some of the girls I'd spent a lot of time with on the course.  Finally, the sun started to come out and the heat and humidity drove me back into the car to head home, but I was returning with more than just another race under my belt: I had finally qualified for the Half Fanatics!  I joined a couple days later, and am now officially Half Fanatic #15011!
Hill Yeah! Half Marathon Breakdown

Organization: Hill Yeah! is part of the Lake Health running series, managed by a local running company.  Though I was unable to make the early packet pickup, race day was a snap!  I walked right up to the pavilion to grab my bib and shirt, and minutes later I was prepped for the run.  Plenty of volunteers helped at the aid stations and along the route, plus there were tons of friendly faces at both registration and post-race pavilions.  While I would consider the race to be a "small" event, the people working definitely treated it like a big race, and I think that added to the overall feel.  Besides the half marathon, there was also a relay option, splitting the 13.1 miles into three uneven chunks of distance and allowing runners to team up with friends to complete the race in pieces.  There were "handoff zones" along the course, and though I can't speak from experience, it looked as though handoffs were operating smoothly with little confusion.

The Course: Well, as this entire recap implied, the course was a little bit hilly.  Scratch that - it was a LOT hilly, long, slow hills that challenged the legs, lungs, and heart.  But it was also beautiful: we ran through Chapin Reservation and Penitentiary Glen, both gorgeous woodsy parks, and the start/finish was at Lake Farmpark, a place I had visited many times as a kid and always loved.  Miles were clearly marked and aid stations were both ample and well-spaced, but my GPS ran pretty long and most of the runners I talked to agreed that the course seemed really long.  I agreed that it felt like it went on considerably longer than 13.1 but my finish time makes me rethink a little.  GPS can be off a little, and maybe it felt so awfully long because it was a bunch of HILLS and I was tired!

The Swag: I don't remember how early I actually put money down on this race, but I believe I was in the $50 price range.  For the money, I got a Brooks tech shirt (same style as the Rite Aid, and same drab gray color - the guys got a bright blue one and I'm a little jealous), a really cool course, incredible bling, and a cute little post-race party with unique food (I've never seen walking tacos as post-race refreshments).  That is definitely a pretty good deal for a half marathon!  It's probably the best balance between affordability and value I've ever seen in a race - then you add in the free photos (this post uses two, but there were about 20 good shots of me) and it's pretty much a slam dunk for the money!

The Bottom Line: Honestly, this might be the perfect race if you're after great swag and/or a small local event that makes you feel like a rockstar.  It's also excellent for a challenge since the course is anything but flat.  I'm not sure I'm looking forward to doing the hills again next year, but I've actually signed up for another half that is managed by the same company and takes place in about two weeks, so we'll see if the organization can stay consistent in an event that will be vastly different from the nature-based Hill Yeah when I take on the Rock Hall Half on August 14!

Are YOU a Half Fanatic?  What race-bling tops the charts for you?  Does your area provide hilly terrain for regular training runs?  Any advice for a hill novice?