' Adventures with FitNyx: October 2016

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Marathoners are a Nuisance!

This post was originally going to be a Friday Five a few months ago, but I put it in my back pocket for a while.  Suddenly, my last Wednesday before the Marine Corps Marathon, the Wednesday Word pops up as nuisance and it became the perfect time to post!  So here are the five people I have annoyed the most with almost a year's worth of blathering on about running my first marathon!

5. Puppy

Yes, my dog.  This poor pup has had two giant puppy earfuls of marathon talk almost every single day since last December when I decided I was probably going to try running one this year.  You might think the dog doesn't know what I'm saying, but my Kaalia is smart and I swear she understands every word I say.  That's why she tries to squirm away when I start telling her how nervous I am for my long run or how excited I am for the crowds or when I start tearing up while I'm scrolling through the MCM Facebook page at night.  She's probably even more annoyed when I pull her back into a tight "you're stuck listening to this" hug...

4. Dad

Originally I thought my dad would end up at the top of this list, but he's dodged a pretty big bullet by jumping into the deep end of going back to school.  If he weren't hiding in the library all the time, he'd probably be much higher.  On the other hand, prattling on about my training runs and shoving my Map My Run data in his face when he's trying to study probably could make up the difference...

3. Coworkers

This is probably 50-50, since my full time work as a race manager kinda means everyone should be used to race talk by now.  A couple of my fellow managers are runners as well, so they are a little more understanding of the whole mental and physical process and I try to keep my marathon talk limited to those people.  That still leaves about half the office of non-runners who are probably getting tired of hearing "oof, I have a long run this afternoon after we finish working" or "ugh I'm soooo sore from my 20 miler last night" both in the office or at our weekend events...

2. Boyfriend

Bless his heart; my boyfriend has dealt with my incessant marathon focus more than almost anyone.  Half of my training runs (including my first true long run) start and end at his place, so he gets the full brunt of my post-run crazy.  He's patient and encouraging, though, and helps me recover when I'm hurting (even if it means holding me down in the ice bath while I cry and scream about getting frostbite).  He's believed in me from the start, and while his constant harping on my admittedly pretty awful diet can sometimes get annoying, I guarantee I'm far more obnoxious about all this than he'll ever be.  Someone once told me "if you're still in a relationship at the end of marathon training, you're not training right", but I believe my boyfriend's infinite patience and support has pretty solidly stomped that to pieces...

1. Mom

My boyfriend gets a lot of marathon rambling, but no one gets more of it than my mom.  I talk incessantly about training when I'm home, AND I call her after races and training runs that aren't around the house, AND I call when I'm trying to figure out what I should do for different training problems.  She's been sick of marathon talk since probably, oh, April?  When I found out I got in to MCM?  But she's still driving me all the way out to DC, spending the whole weekend there supporting me, and doing her best to encourage me all along the way.  I can't really blame her for getting glassy-eyed when I launch into another analysis of my most recent run or a one-sided discussion about whether I should do my training run in the rain or wait until morning and hope it's drier.  Gonna have to find some way to make it up to her after the race, maybe moving out will be a nice little gift..?

"Oh no, she's gonna start talking about running again..."

As always, the Wednesday Word is hosted by Deb Runs!  Check out the linkup, visit some other bloggers to hear what they consider to be a nuisance, and share what annoys YOU in the comments below!  Thanks for stopping by!

Deb Runs

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tracking Training

Guess what - I'm writing about the Marine Corps Marathon again today!  No surprise, I should think, with my first marathon only days away and my whole being focused on the event...  Today it's "Tried It Tuesday" and I'd like to show you how I increased my accountability and data tracking for my marathon training plan.  Introducing: JournalMenu.

Many runners use GPS tracking that feeds data into apps like MapMyRun or even Nike training products, producing tons of raw running data.  I've used GPS throughout almost my entire running "career", and I've been able to see time and distance improvements when they happen.  What has been lacking for me, though, was figuring out why those improvements were happening, or why the improvements I expected didn't happen.  With raw data, it's difficult to make many connections between cause and effect.

To enhance my marathon training, I got my hands on a custom made JournalMenu planner.  Maybe it's because I've always loved hand-written notes and letters, but I have definitely found a huge benefit to using my planner throughout the past few months.  I take my raw data from MapMyRun (time, distance, average pace) for each day's run and transcribe it into the journal - but then I write notes on the full experience.  How did I feel on the run?  What did I eat throughout the day?  Did I refuel during my run?  What types of products did I use for pre-, mid-, and post-run?  By notating all the details of my runs, I have been able to make some connections that exposed opportunities for improvement.

I'm also able to record all of my cross training in the same pages, so of course I just had to color code all of my entries!  Run stats in pink, products used in red, experience notations in gold, yoga in blue, lifting in purple...  The more thorough I got, the easier it was to see the patterns of successes and opportunities.  Digital tracking gives us a lot of information, but it isn't always easy to decipher into something useful.  JournalMenu has helped me bridge the gap between information and knowledge, and it shows in my many training gains over the past six months.  I've cut almost 15 minutes off my half marathon since starting my journal tracking!  And there's that little matter of the marathon around the corner, which wouldn't have been possible without learning about my body's reactions to training, fueling, and resting during my training period.

Oh, and BONUS: JournalMenu actually allows you to FULLY customize your planner!  As you can see, my cover is obviously custom made, but the inside pages come in a wide variety of styles, such as weightlifting formats and two-day-per-page blanks.  There are supplemental materials for all manner of training, like pace charts and training plans for various race distances.  JournalMenu caters heavily to the CrossFit crowd, and even included pages of sample CrossFit WODs in my book for me to try!  No matter what your fitness goals or favorite activities, JournalMenu can make you a planner that will help you along your entire journey.

How do you track your progress when training for a goal?  How do you interpret the raw data you collect?  What's your next big goal?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Marathon Hype and the MCM

Lots of people say this is the best in the country.  It's definitely one of the biggest.  Now I'm starting to wonder if picking something a little more low-key might actually have been a GOOD idea - what if the next marathon I do (oh man did I really say that?) isn't as exciting and I don't like it as much?  What if MCM is going to set an unrealistic standard?  I picked it as my first because of all the hoopla, but will that ruin future races for me when they don't have all the pomp?

The number one thing I hear about the Marine Corps Marathon from others who have run it or been involved is that the course support is unparalleled in any other race they've run.  Just recently I ran the Towpath Marathon Half on my beloved Towpath Trail - but I had the option to make the full marathon distance in that race series my first full instead of running MCM.  When I thought about how few places there would be on the Towpath for spectators, and how much lovely-but-lonely distance there would be between those spots, I realized that no matter how much I enjoyed my Towpath races, that was not the right setting for my first attempt at 26.2 miles.  My realization was proven when I ran the half and only passed ONE spectator spot.  The full marathon had a few more places, but at no point are people actually able to, like, spread out along the course and cheer you through whole sections.

Marine Corps will be vastly different.  While there are some stretches that apparently have very few spectators, the majority of the course will be in a huge city with tons and tons of course support.  If it's not local spectators or runners' supporters, it's Marines there to cheer and encourage.  According to the MCM website, there will be live music along the course as well.  Almost every step of my marathon will be surrounded by people, as well as the sights and sounds of a famous big-city race.  It's exciting to think about - but a little worrisome.

I know I've told myself before that I'd just be "one-and-done" on long race distances.  For example, after my first half marathon waaaaaaay back, I said "that's it, no more!"  And yet, here I am, seven of twelve months down on my half-marathon-every-month goal, sooooo....  When I say this may be my only marathon, I'm not sure how set I really am on making that call.  In some ways it's very fitting for me to have my full in DC if that's my only full, since I'm trying to do a half marathon in every state (eventually), and I think it's almost poetic: fifty states at the half and the crowning DC jewel as a full.  On the other hand, I know what it's like to catch the bug, so to speak, and know there's a chance my competitive side will finish MCM and think golly jeepers, I can do better than THAT time!  It'll happen no matter how fast I cover my first marathon, and even my coworkers know it.

But what happens when I start looking at doing another marathon, get through all the training, show up on race day - and find that MCM was the biggest, bestest, most excitingest marathon EVER?  Between a combination of course support, monumental scenic setting, and the whole newness factor of a first marathon, there's a very real chance that no other marathon will live up to all of the hype and excitement that has been building for me since back in March when I first threw in my bid to join the 41st Marine Corps Marathon.  If my next attempt isn't as big of a deal, I'm actually a little worried I wouldn't even be able to make it through the course.  That would make me one sad panda.

Either way, for better or for worse or for ruining my idea of what running a marathon should feel like for years to come, MCM is less than a week away.  Taper has been interesting and a little worrisome, but the worst nerves are probably yet to come.  I'm leaving on Thursday morning for DC, hitting the Expo on Friday to get my bib, then planning on taking Saturday as easily as possible at my brother's house (this will probably involve a lot of board games and possibly some Disney sing-alongs).  Sunday is the big day........

Multi-marathoners, does your first full leave a big impact on your perception of marathon racing?  Have you ever run a race that you thought nothing could ever compare to afterwards?  What happened next time you ran?  I'm gonna survive this thing, right?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Beauty Sleep in a Bottle

I've addressed the benefits of a good probiotic in the past, and have had success with a probiotic-only supplement - but I've continued to struggle with getting a good night's sleep, even with the help of sleep-aid supplements.  Recently, IdealFit released a product in its IdealLean line designed to combine gut health with natural sleep aids into a nighttime probiotic, and I managed to snag a bottle to see if this dual-action supplement might be a good solution for me.

Disclaimer: I received IdealLean products to try and review.  I am under no obligation to promote the product, and all opinions expressed in this and any related posts are, as always, my own.  This post contains affiliate links.

On the probiotic side: as far as I can tell, it's doing what it's supposed to do.  I'm noticing the same gut-related effects, which is to say I poop noticeably more when I'm taking the supplement than when I'm not taking it.  Whereas my previous probiotic experience had my bowel movements landing early afternoon-ish after taking my supplement in the morning, the overnight probiotics have my bathroom scheduled shifted forward.  Morning bowel movements are more frequent and more, ah, substantial.  I actually like this better, because I feel like I'm starting my day by getting rid of a bunch of, well, crap, instead of running to the bathroom at the office and unloading mid-day.

On the sleep side: a blend of Valerian root and chamomile extract give this supplement a little extra nighttime boost, which does seem to be helping a little.  I don't quite have the timing down yet (and a couple unexpected middle-of-the-night phone calls haven't helped) but I have definitely noticed increased drowsiness after taking the supplement, and an easier time falling asleep on the nights when I am taking the probiotic.  Neither of the ingredients are "knock-out punches", so to speak, and they're not intended to be; rather, they supplement your natural sleep cycle to enhance your quality of sleep.

A surprising effect I've noticed actually comes from coupling the probiotic with another IdealLean product I've been trying, a pre-workout that (somewhat less surprisingly) contains caffeine.  With my sensitivity to stimulants like caffeine, I'm always nervous about the side effects of most pre-workouts, but after taking this one a few times I've noticed I do not have the same adverse reactions that most pre-workouts seem to give me.  A little investigation into my probiotic's ingredients found something called L-Theanine, a non-essential amino acid known for its relaxing properties - including mitigation of caffeine side effects!  I hadn't known these two products would go together so nicely when I started taking them, but I LOVE that I can get the benefits of both without the negatives I've seen in the past!

IdealLean's probiotic is just the beginning of a giant line of awesome products.  I've been using a bunch of their stuff lately, and I'm really diggin' it.  Stay tuned as I slowly revive Supplement Sunday by reviewing more great IdealLean products (and others) in the coming weeks!  Oh, and, it just so happens that for the next couple days IdealFit is having a buy-2-get-1-free on the pre-workout that goes so nicely with this new probiotic!  You can head over to stock up by clicking HERE!

Today's post is not only relaunching the Supplement Sunday series on my OWN blog, but is also the LAUNCH of my first-ever hosted linkup!  Share your supplement reviews all week long by adding your link below.  Be sure to grab the badge above and provide a link back to the host!

Friday, October 21, 2016

My MCM Recovery Toolkit

The Marine Corps Marathon is right around the corner.  My training mileage has been covered, my taper week starts Monday, and all too soon, I'll be at the starting line itching to get going.  And a few hours later, I'll be at the finish line (hopefully), dying for anything that will make my legs and body feel better!  Fortunately, this year has been a big one for recovery education, and I have pulled together a great kit for keeping my muscles in top shape no matter what distance my feet have just run.

5. Stretching Straps

When you're cursed with a limited range of motion (raises hand), even basic stretching can be very difficult.  Supplementing my reach and ability to hold a stretch for long enough has been crucial in achieving even the smallest gains in flexibility.  Fortunately, there are plenty of products for just such an occasion!  I've found the most success with my YogaEvo straps, which offer some elasticity and plenty of loops for holding on to the strap.  Though it's still a tough battle, I'm making some progress with flexibility, which is a big factor in injury prevention.

4. Calf Compression Sleeves

One of my most noticeable opportunities for better recovery has always been my calves.  The agony I suffered after anything longer than a few miles definitely needed to be addressed quickly, especially with distances increasing rapidly.  I started wearing compression sleeves after my runs to increase circulation and drainage, and immediately noticed results.  Couple the compression with some legs-up-the-wall and you'll be back on your feet and ready to run the very next day, even if you ran hard!

3. Foot Massagers

Do I even have to tell you that massage feels good?  We all know it, unfortunately we're not always able to pay for professional massage, or even convince a friend or SO to give us a quick foot rub after a race (mostly because, well, feet are icky, especially runner feet).  I solved this problem with a great Amazon find: a pair of small foot massagers that I can just plop on the floor and roll over whenever I need it.  Having two has been nice, because the bigger one is great for all-over relaxation, while the smaller knobby one has let me focus on the spots that need deeper attention.  After 20+ miles, my tootsies need some love!

2. Foam Rollers

If you're in the fitness industry, you've probably heard all about foam rolling by now.  Much like my little foot massagers, foam rollers are designed to help you give your tired aching muscles a little release without the scheduling and payment plans of visiting a masseuse.  There are dozens of roller styles on the market, and I've tried many of them.  I can't honestly say I have an overall favorite, as each style offers different hardnesses and benefits.  By keeping a diverse range on hand, I'm able to self-treat just about any muscle ache quickly and thoroughly.

1. Telic Recovery Footwear

Massage and stretching go a very long way in keeping me running, but the most beneficial product I've added to my toolkit this year has by far been the Telic footwear that has barely left my feet for months now.  Telics redistribute your weight across the soles of your feet, rather than leaving all the pressure on the same hotspots you're pounding into a pulp when you run.  Now that I have Telics in both flip-flop and closed-toed styles, I pretty much always have my feet relaxing in comfort and support rather than trying to stuff them into shoes that are not optimized for recovery.  I might go back to heeled booties or regular walking shoes eventually, but certainly not until I've completed my biggest running goals!

What's in your recovery toolkit?  What recovery strategies have kept you moving through marathon (or any race) training?  Have you ended up with recovery products that have become your every-day solutions?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Let's Talk Taper

Apparently, it is time for that marathon training segment that leaves a lot of runners baffled: tapering.  The last two or three weeks before the race, training focuses more on rest and maintenance rather than long runs or hard workouts, with the idea of keeping in your best shape without over-tiring.  I've heard a lot of horror stories about taper anxiety, weight gain, feeling lethargic, and then ruining taper by giving in to the gut instinct to go run more.

I was hoping the warnings would prepare me for what I would actually experience.

Already, though, it is clear that the only way to know what taper will actually be like is to DO it.  I'm hungry and exhausted all the time, I've seen the scale go the "wrong direction" a little more than I thought, and yup, I'm freaking out about training harder and not trusting that I've already done the legwork (so to speak).  Honestly?  I'm getting pretty down on myself.

Now to be fair to myself, there have been a few additional "circumstances" (I'm a Clevelander, so apparently that's the big excuse these days) contributing to the way I've felt this week.  For a few days I was a little under the weather, plus it's "that time of the month" again.  On the other hand, I've also been slipping on nutrition and hydration, which is a major setback after all the improvement I'd made over the past few months.  My run the other day was cut short because I felt awful; I've been putting off my next run for fear of feeling that badly again even though it's only three miles!

More important than anything at this point is staying focused despite these other factors.  Instead, I find myself becoming a taper opportunist - using taper as an excuse to be a little lazier and to gain a little weight even if it's from the wrong sources.  This is NOT good!  Marathon training plans, including the very important taper portion, are structured to make a huge physical undertaking possible.  I've impressed myself for months by actually sticking to a training plan for once, and MCM is far too close to fall off now!

I need some advice: what can I do to beat the taper blues and stay on track for my first marathon?  Tell me in the comments, shoot me an email (fitnyx@gmail.com), whatever it takes!  Help me stay on track and make this marathon an amazing experience in my life, not a flop that I ruined last minute!

Oh, and don't forget to check out today's Wednesday Word, which happens to be to "opportunist", over at host Deb Runs page!

Deb Runs

Friday, October 14, 2016

Gear Up! Tried and True Marathon Training Solutions

Anyone who has ever trained for a marathon can tell you there's way too much gear involved!  A pair of shoes and some comfy running clothes are just the beginning.  Fuel, hydration, tracking, ways to carry it all...  And let's not even get into recovery gear (yet - that's next week's post)!  It's been hit-or-miss all summer trying to find the right items to keep me moving, but I think I've finally found the best gear solutions for both training and race day!

running gear race racing fuel hydration fitness exercise run

5. RunLites Gloves

These have come in handy more recently as the days have gotten shorter.  Running in the dark is dangerous, especially on long runs when you're more likely to be less vigilant or running through less familiar areas.  My RunLites give me plenty of vision in the dark hours, without giving me a headache like my head lamp does.  And because they're fingerless, they're not overwhelmingly hot or sweaty on my hands.  Functional and comfortable, they're pretty much a necessity for dark runs!

running gear marathon training run race racing fitness

4. JournalMenu Planner

Tracking progress is so important for seeing results and weaknesses (and opportunities for improvement).  I've always used Map My Run for distance, time, and splits, but I don't really ever use the data in any way.  When I got my hands on a custom JournalMenu, though, I was finally able to connect my recorded data with other important observations and notes, which made both good and bad patterns much more noticeable.  By keeping a record of my runs, the gear I use on/around those runs, my cross training, and my nutrition (along with any unexpected side effects), I have been able to make some important tweaks and excel past my goals all along the way.

running gear race racing marathon training fitness notebook

3. Clif Shot Razz

For a long time, I preferred the Clif Shot Blok chewables as my running fuel, but somewhere along the marathon training line I found myself having difficulty chewing and swallowing them while out on the run.  Thankfully, the Shot gels are equally delicious and digestible, while also being easier for me to consume while I'm out on my route.  As a big raspberry fan, the Razz flavor is by far my favorite, and I have a huge stockpile of them ready for long runs and race day.

T1. Hydrus Performance Hydration Concentrate

There's no way I would have made it through my summer mileage without an effective hydration solution.  Though I've found several hydration options that more or less meet my needs, Hydrus has by far been the most effective for the vast majority of situations.  With the liquid-concentrate "bubble" technology, Hydrus works faster and more efficiently to bring much needed electrolytes into my body while also dragging an increased amount of water with it.  I am quite certain that without this Miracle Water, it would have been practically impossible for me to stick to my training.  You better believe it'll be with me for the final 26.2!

running gear racing race marathon training fitness

T1. Goldberg Gear Hydration Belt

Honestly, Hydrus probably should be #1, but I've ruled it a tie - because no matter how great Hydrus IS, it's totally ineffective if I don't HAVE it.  Without a comfortable hydration transportation system, many of those intensely hot summer runs couldn't have happened.  Filling the bottles with the right product was one hurdle, but finding a way to take the bottle with me was something that worried me.  I've tried a few different hydration belts, and considered handhelds or backpack options; however, the only real solution I found was my Goldberg Gear belt.  It sits properly, accommodates various sizes of bottle while keeping them easily accessible, has a decently spacious pouch for additional fuel, and features fully adjustable elastic around the band.  So it's a tie since these two products have worked so perfectly together!

Don't forget to stop by the Friday Five linkup hosted by the DC Trifecta!  What gear/fuel has helped you go further/faster/stronger?  Do you have go-to items for dealing with specific types of challenges such as intense heat or cold?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Towpath Marathon Half 2016 Race Recap

Towpath, Towpath, Towpath!  There's a very good reason you keep hearing this - and it's because the Towpath races are kind of my babies.  They brought me home to Cleveland on a positive note when everything seemed bleak, they helped launch my race management career, and this year, they've carried my training through the entire racing season to prepare for my first marathon.  I've made friends and connections on the Towpath that have made this year one of the most interesting, exciting, and positive years of my life.  And as of Sunday, I've completed the Towpath Trilogy race series for the first time in triumphant fashion!

half marathon race finish line running racing fitness

The Trilogy is comprised the April half marathon (with 5 mile and 3 mile options), the June Ten-Ten (10 miles or 10k), and the October marathon (with half and 10k options).  Any runner completing a race on each event day earns a special award after the final race.  Last year, I'd run in June and worked in October, but this year I was able to enter all three events.  Somehow I still managed to work on every race day, since of course my company times the event and I just can't stay away, but I just love being a part of every Towpath event I can get my hands on!

October in Cleveland can be a risky time for weather.  We lucked out on Towpath Marathon day last year, with perfectly clear skies and crisp fall morning temperatures - and thankfully, we had that same luck again this year!  It was a little chilly in the parking lot before the race, but I at least had some coworkers waiting to start the race with whom I could hang out and chat while we waited for the signal.  With three separate race distances, two separate starting lines, and a finish line nowhere near any of the starts, it's a bit of a logistical nightmare for race organizers to coordinate.  Our half marathon starting line had to wait for the full marathon to give us the go-ahead via phone before we could start.  We were just a couple minutes late, surprisingly close for how much of a margin for error and delays we have at a race event like this.

half marathon race running buddy post-race fitness

The half course starts with a nice long downhill as runners descend from the local Brandywine ski resort onto the Towpath in the valley below.  Unfortunately, it's at the start, which means there's too much congestion to really use the downhill to my advantage.  On the other hand, refusing to weave probably kept me at a more reasonable first mile pace so I could save the energy for later.  Even so, my first mile clocked in at 9:12, which is pretty fast for me even in shorter training runs!  I put on the brakes a little bit (not hard once we hit the barely six foot wide Towpath) for a slower second mile at 9:32.  Little did I know that second mile would be one of my slowest all day...

I have to say, I LOVE fall racing - and apparently so does my body.  I flew through this course.  Mile four was an 8:26, which used to be a fast 5k split for me!  I had multiple substantially sub-9s, felt like my fueling strategy was exactly on, and though the path was pretty narrow, found myself passing pretty consistently.  At one point shortly before the turnaround, I saw one of my social media running buddies crushing it at the front of the pack, and got an extra boost for my own legs.  I was on pace to not only PR, but to land my very first sub-2 hour half marathon, a goal I though was still considerably out of reach only a month ago when I booked my latest PR of 2:10:ish at the Boy Scout Half.  The entire course is almost completely flat; I had no obstructions ahead of me but my own endurance.

half marathon running buddies racing fitness

Well, everyone hits a wall somewhere, right?  My wall threatened around mile seven, shortly after the turnaround, when my legs started to feel a little sluggish and the rising sun started to activate a little humidity along the canal.  Fortunately I was not the only one who felt the specter looming!  A few other runners around me started banding together for some conversation and encouragement as they too started feeling the burn.  I latched onto them and held on for dear life over the next six miles!  Sometimes we talked, sometimes we cheered each other on, sometimes we got a little separated, and sometimes we just ran quietly together.  It was exactly what I needed to keep my feet moving.  I didn't walk once in this race (short of taking a few steps to drink at a couple aid stations) and though my mile 11 was my slowest, it was still only 9:36.  That's right: my slowest mile in this whole half marathon was still ten seconds faster than my average pace at my last PR race.

We got within sight of the finish area and suddenly I was way ahead of our little pack.  I felt like I was literally flying.  Though my GPS was telling me I had already passed 13.1 a while ago, it was also telling me that I was WAY ahead of my PR.  Though I had apparently already lost the opportunity to officially sub-2 (but would have if my GPS 13.1 had been the race finish), there was no reason to waste any more time in crossing that finish line.  I blew through the last stretch, pumping my arms to get the crowd cheering, and couldn't stop beaming when I saw 2:03:20 on the clock!  Almost eight minutes faster than last month's PR?  Yeah just TRY to get me to stop smiling!

half marathon race running racing medal bling fitness

Post-race felt incredible, almost like I hadn't actually just run 13+ miles.  I bounced around the finish area for just a bit, but headed quickly to the garage where my company had set up a live results station.  Since most of the staff had been on site since the wee small hours of the morning, I offered to take over their positions for the remainder of the race.  Very little of it was hard work; mostly I manned the results station, answered questions, and schmoozed with runners until the last marathoner finished and it was time to pack up.  There's not really any better way to spend a gorgeous October afternoon than helping at a favorite race, is there?

Towpath Marathon Half Breakdown

Organization: Yup, biased on this one, Hermes and Canalway Partners are always great.  I promise it's well-earned praise, though!  You could talk to just about anyone there and they'd agree.  Putting on a marathon is no small feat, and it's even harder to coordinate additional distances at the same time, and it's even harder to do it on a park path that is never wider than 12 feet or so.  The fact that we can consistently put on amazing, top ranked events (#2 most beautiful marathon in the country, thanks Runner's World!) with the small staff teams at both companies and the natural limitations of the venue proves that these organizations know what they are doing at the highest level.  Volunteer support was incredible and ample, directions and communications were very clear throughout, we started practically on time...  The only thing I can't really comment on firsthand is the expo, which I didn't attend because I grabbed my bib while I was prepping them at the office.  If I see someone else's notes or get some feedback, I'll be sure to update here.

The Course: The Towpath runs along the Ohio and Erie Canalways, covering over 100 miles between Cleveland and Akron - and every last inch is as gorgeous as you'd expect a national park to be!  There's a reason this is ranked one of the most beautiful courses in the country.  Though I know the full marathon course passes many more "landmarks", the half course still has some unique and interesting scenery, including several old locks and the ruins of an old paper mill.  The only real drawback to Towpath races is that the path is pretty narrow at some points, which makes a three-race, out-and-back course setup a little congested at times.  Waiting a few more steps to pass isn't the worst thing in the world, though!  I love the gorgeous run, many people do long training runs on the Towpath because of the absolute minimal motor traffic issues, and it's a great place to hold a race!

The Swag: Depending when you register, you might pay up to $90 to run this race, which is a little steep compared to some of the cheap-o half marathons I've run this year, but I almost never mind paying a little extra when I can clearly see where my money goes.  Early bird pricing gets you down to $60, which is more on-par with other races I've run recently.  Still, every penny is well-spent, whether it's on the super-soft tech shirts (short sleeve for the half, long sleeve for the full), the custom medals, the extremely appreciated ample aid stations, the great post-race food (subs of various sorts, lots of fruit, fancy electrolytes, etc), a free beer for finishers who drink, the extra award you receive if you complete the full Trilogy (that super classy glass beer mug in the photo)...  PLUS proceeds from the Towpath races go towards the maintenance and preservation of not only the trail itself, but all the parks, landmarks, and history it touches.  Money well spent, for sure.

half marathon race shirt medal bling bib running racing fitness

The Bottom Line: I was honored to have the chance to complete my first Towpath Trilogy, especially in such a glorious fashion!  These races will forever hold a place in my heart for the life-changing experiences I have had through them, and I will always be an advocate for this series.  If you're in the area for any of the races, please come join me and some of Cleveland's best race organizers for a few miles of American history!

What races hold a special place in your heart?  Have you had a life-changing experience thanks to specific details of an important race?  What are your favorite running conditions?

Friday, October 7, 2016

Friday Five: My MCM Running Outfit

There are four Fridays before I tackle my first full marathon - so every week, I'll be posting a Friday Five that is related to my final preparations for the Marine Corps Marathon.  This week, I'm putting together my race day outfit.  Because why even bother running if you're not gonna be comfortable and look goooooooood while you do it?!

5. Puma Performance Socks

Dirty runner confession: I only own two pairs of good running socks, so I don't really wash them after every run for fear that I'll lose one in the wash and be without my good socks.  I found my Puma socks at a TJ Maxx in Chicago for like $3 for two pairs, and I haven't looked back.  They fit great, they're moisture wicking, they don't slip down into the shoe - what more can I ask for?  I've run every mile in either the pink or green pair, and I can't imagine tackling MCM without them.  In fact, I might just wear one pink and one green so I have every step of experience with me on race day...

4. Saucony Shoes

These are still pretty new, and I'm not 100% sure they're quite right for me, but if I can survive my long runs in them, they're good enough for MCM.  With a good amount of cushion and my custom inserts (that surprisingly fit perfectly when I took them out of my old shoes), there's no reason not to wear them apart from a little extra knee soreness that is probably more likely due to the mileage increase and atmosphere pressure changes I've experienced in the past few weeks.  I'm confident these shoes will take me where I need to go.

3. Champion Racerback Sports Bra

Finding spaghetti strap, racerback-style sports bras is getting harder and harder, so fortunately my trust ol' Champion bras are still in top shape.  Though a little over a year ago I would have pegged a different bra as my go-to, the past few months have solidified the Champion style's place as my race day support option.  Comfortable, secure, breathable, and funky-fun in bright tie-dye colors, I'll be "strapped in" and stable the whole way.

2. Hylete Icon Tri-Blend Tank

My choice of a tank top for race day might necessitate a throwaway top layer, but I'm guessing a few miles in I'll be very happy in my decision.  I've actually PRed in this particular tank many times, including a 5k PR this year and not one but TWO half marathon PRs over the course of this year!  Yes, my first marathon will be an automatic PR, but that doesn't mean I can't wear the lucky top and get that first time down as far as possible, right?

1. Gypsy Runner Two-Pocket Shorts

After months of raving about how amazing these shorts are, it's finally time to use them for their true purpose: to keep me stocked and fueled through 26.2 miles through the heart of our nation's capital.  Not only are they cool, comfortable, and chafe-resistant - the two pocket design means I can maximize my fueling options without worrying about where to stuff all the gels and chews.  And the biggest benefit?  They look FANTASTIC, nabbing me dozens of mid-course compliments every time I race in them!  If that's not a great motivator to keep going on race day, I don't know what is!

And of course, the post-race outfit is going to look something like this with my MCM shirt - and the not-yet-pictured FINISHER MEDAL I plan to earn:

What does your go-to race day outfit look like?  Do you have certain pieces of gear you'll never run without?  How about "lucky" items?