State # 24: Iowa – a Marathon of Firsts

This weekend marks the start of my Triple Crown of Insanity: I have a 50k, a 12-hour endurance race, and a marathon all within 14 days. I’m sure some race recaps are coming for those, but I need to go back a few weeks to review my most recent marathon accomplishment, which is my 24th full marathon state: Iowa.

Chris and I LOVE the Midwest. So many people ask “Why the hell go to Iowa?” and we say “”Why NOT?” It’s beautiful, full of a lot of very awesome, down-to-earth people, great bars and eateries, and is just the kind of place we could see ourselves settling down if the weather wasn’t worse in the winter than it is back home.

So September 12 I ran the Wabash Trace Nature Trail Marathon, which was fantastic. Very small race, awesome people, beautiful course, and cornfields as far as the eye could see. It started in a small town about 2 hours west of Des Moines called Malvern, and finished in Shenendoah. The Wabash Trace Nature trail is a 63 mile rail trail, surrounded by trees on a nicely packed dirt and fine gravel trail; it was much like some of the trails I run back home, so it was perfect for my needs.

I won’t spend too much time talking about the race, only because it seriously felt like one straight line start to finish, a small section the the course was on paved road, but most was on the nature trail. I’ll let some of the pics do the talking for me. This was one of the first races where I brought a Camelbak so I could take pictures along the way, and I’m so glad I did. I definitely wasted a lot of time stopping and taking pictures for sure!

Here are some views of the race, and these are only a few pics that I took along the way, but as you can see, it was rural, quiet and ABSOLUTELY beautiful.

090 094

Some shaky cam pics.

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LOTS of beautiful bridges during this race!

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One of my favorite shots, this REALLY captured the spirit of the race I think!

102

If I wasn’t seeing cornfields, I was seeing silos.

 

 

 

106 108 101

 

093 092 097All I kept thinking (in the tempo of Cha Cha Slide): COoooorn to the LEFT! Cooooorn to the RIGHT!

I know I mentioned this was a marathon of firsts, well here’s the first one: The course was very well-manned with awesome support stations from start to finish. I brought my Camelbak only to load it with food and kept the water bladder empty because there were WAY too many water stops. But Mile 20 had, wait for it:

107A BACON STOP! I was so excited. I wasted WAY too much time at this stop, but probably had three pieces of crispy, awesome bacon. Never in my life did I have bacon during a race, but it was good practice for a race to come (which I will get into in another entry!).

I felt like I ran a LOT of this race alone. I made a couple buddies along the way and ran with them for several miles, but I know when I approached the support stops I felt like I was totally alone, and felt like I was in last place, which was definitely not the case, but it can FEEL that way when you run a small race.

109By this point I was READY to see that finish line.

So after a LOT of picture taking and time wasted at the bacon stops (sigh), I finished my race in 4:11, and TRUST ME, I know I probably could have run a sub-4 that day because it really was a great course. But get this, it was surprisingly hilly! Check this out!

Image courtesy of Race Navigator.com

So I mentioned that this was a race of firsts. Well here is my SECOND first: Despite my time I won FIRST in my age group! WHUT?

parks and recreation animated GIF Image courtesy of giphy.com

Granted, it was a small race, there were only FIVE in my age group, but whatevs, I got first place and it was so exciting! I was also 8th overall female. Hey, and this is without even TRYING, so I was really stoked. I won a gift certificate that could be used at any store in Shenendoah, so what did we do with it? Bought beer of course! In hindsight I probably could have been a little smarter with my winnings, but at the time it seemed right.

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What other souvenir can one take from Iowa but a stuffed corn cob?

So that was my marathon adventure in Iowa, and I really loved it. We can’t wait to return to the Midwest, and I think we are definitely heading to Minnesota next year, as well as the Dakotas, so I’m sure I will have plenty more awesome pics to share with you!

My 50k is tomorrow and thank God Hurricane Joachin decided to piss off and help things dry out a little for my event. It will undoubtedly be a complete and total mudfest, but I am DETERMINED to earn the title of ultra runner, even if it takes me a LOT longer than planned due to the course. Wish me luck, and take care!

 

 

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Two Marathons in One Week? Check.

Hell yeah it can be done. Here’s how I pulled it off.

I realize I am a lousy blogger, I can’t seem to keep up at all with race recaps, but wanted to get this posted even though it’s a month late!

I decided that the first step toward running an ultra was to tackle two marathons within a one week time-frame. By Maniac standards, this is still pretty tame, but to me I thought it was a pretty good challenge, and would serve as one of many for the year. In the weeks leading up to Marathon #1, I made sure to put in some high mileage weeks and back-to-back long runs on weekends. My maximum mileage for the week was 70, and it wasn’t easy getting in those double-digit runs on a weekday, but nonetheless I was dedicated to the training and made sure to stick to my self-made training plan as much as I could.

I also had traveled and taken a couple weeks off from serious training in April (it was totally worth it too), so I had SOME concerns about being able to pull this off successfully. I never managed a 20 mile training run during this time, but I personally think 18 is all one needs to run a marathon after they have several under their belt already. Sometimes between fulls the most I can do is maybe 14 miles…but trust me, the body remembers (or was it Pepperidge Farm?).

So enough jibber-jabber, here we go…

Marathon 1: Delaware Marathon (Marathon #26)


I went into this race telling myself over and over, I am only doing this as a training run, this is going to be a “fun run”, and take it slow and easy; besides, the medal and swag were pretty damned sweet (thus a huge incentive…what else is there I ask ya?).

And it’s exactly what I did. It was a very humid day, 100% humidity for the duration of the race, but luckily it stayed overcast and 60 degrees for the morning. It was a double loop course, something I swore I would never do years ago, but since a lot of ultras are on loop courses like this, I figured it would be good practice. And in the end, it was not nearly as bad as I expected, it was actually kind of nice! Plus you pass the finish line area where the halfers split off, and the crowd support was pretty great. There were a LOT of halfers and relay runners, and only around 400 or so marathoners, so I have to admit it felt a little badass to tough out the entire 26.2 when everyone else was running 4, 8.5(ish) or 13.1 miles.  I had to control the urge not to shove someone out of the way as they pranced by clean, fresh-faced and full of purpose at Mile .01 and I was at Mile 22. DON’T demoralize me.

My body felt great for the duration of the race; I only had some issues that had nothing to do with running: basically I was undergoing severe GI distress and had to stop several times during the race. I was seriously in pain, it was like my Anne Arbor Marathon all over again. I had pain, cramping, and even chills. Ugh. It sucked. A lot. But after the final PortaJon stop with only 5 or 6 miles left, I finally felt a little better and was able to pick it up. I also had some chafing from the humidity, but had put a portable sunscreen stick in my Spi-Belt and it worked well as pseudo-Bodyglide. In fact, it saved me I think.

Considering all the starting and stopping I had to do, plus a short walk break or two, I finished in 4:16, and looking back feel that it was a pretty respectable time. I kept my pace VERY conversational and comfortable throughout, and my pace never really changed throughout the morning. There is a decent hill section at Mile 5.5 and 18.5, and that second loop almost made me hit the wall, but I managed to push through. All in all it was actually a pretty enjoyable race, and the sun came out just as I hit Mile 26. Thank GAWD. If I had to run in full sun with that humidity it would have been horrific.

The finish line had plenty of food, but one of the BEST things was a beer and champagne garden, and you were free to enjoy your beer anywhere in the finish area, not just a designated beer tent.I had brought a couple cold ciders and even had a couple cold mimosas. Food? Eventually I had real food, but was content with a bag of Old Bay Kettle Chips. In fact, I am discovering that kettle chips are turning into my favorite junk food, and some ultra-runners swear by them as fuel! That’s giving me some ideas for my ultras this year!

DE Marathon Pros:

  • A lot of Maniacs and 50-Staters run this one, as DE is a state with few marathons.
  • Tons of parking and easy race day logistics
  • Course was actually quite scenic for the most part
  • Very good course support and finish line spread
  • Swag was fantastic – a pint glass, hat, gender-specific shirt, and a really nice quality medal
  • Finish line was really great, good spectator support at certain points
  • Packet pick-up available on race day without a fee
  • Beer AND champagne garden, and you could sit anywhere in the grass to enjoy, not just a roped off area/beer tent
  • Early morning start to avoid the heat

Cons

  • Double-loop course (you can take this as you will, I prefer point to point, but didn’t mind this so much)
  • This time of year is hit or miss for weather, and it can be very warm and humid in May
  • Some sections of the course are slightly ugly in terms of scenery, but nothing super industrial (Harrisburg Marathon, I’m looking at you)
  • A bit pricy but the cost doesn’t change, $100 without a running club discount, which for a small marathon is pretty expensive

The Week Between Two Fulls

The Sugarloaf Marathon in Maine was exactly a week after the DE marathon. For the Monday after the race, I rested. Completely. And I actually felt pretty good, I was hardly at all sore…it honestly felt like I had completed a long run that Sunday, but regardless I didn’t jump into a high mileage week at all. I made sure I rested, took naps, and ate carbs – mainly simple carbs like rice or toast with breakfast.

But I digress, Tuesday and Wednesday I did walk/run intervals for 4 miles, Thursday I only had time for 2 miles. That’s it. Just maintenance and shaking out the soreness. Nothing more.

Friday and Saturday involved the drive to Maine and relaxing at the Sugarloaf Hotel. The day before a race I tend to do absolutely nothing. I like to stay off my feet, eat a little more, drink a little cider, play Final Fantasy: Crisis Core on my PSP (in the words of Patton Oswalt: My geekiness is getting in the way of my nerdiness.)…and just have the laziest day I can possibly imagine before hitting the racecourse again.

Marathon 2: Sugarloaf, Maine : Marathon 27, State 23


Race morning I had to take a shuttle to the start at 5:45 AM. In all honesty, I felt pretty good, no leftover soreness, no phantom joint or tendon pain, everything felt good and I felt ready to go. I had NO idea how I would fare, but this race was known as the fastest race in Maine and was a great Boston qualifier and PR course. Precipitation-wise, we lucked out with the weather too, as it had threatened to rain off and on in the forecast…and on race day, the rain was definitely no longer in the forecast. So I had a feeling I would do well, but the idea of a ridiculous PR sounded way too good to be true.

It was.

The problem with Sugarloaf is it’s on roads that aren’t shaded, so even if you’re running at a good clip, having to run in full sun on a warmer day (to me, warm is anything above 70 degrees) can devastate you in the second half. I don’t do well at all in full sun, and really felt like I was starting to fall apart in the final ten miles.

All I could keep thinking was:

I actually WALKED at mile 25 (I NEVER EVER WALK AT MILE 25!!!) and that is usually when I really push myself to the finish.  Instead I felt as if I was just done…I had to REALLY dig deep mentally to finish. I felt pretty defeated in those final miles.

The first 5 miles were great, it was a nice easy morning, still felt a tad cool outside, rolling hills and beautiful scenery. Miles 5-10 were slowly uphill, and while nothing ever brought me to a walk, they were fairly long hills and a decent climb. At this point the sun was also starting to beat down on me just a little. Once we got to the top of the hill section, the last sixteen miles were either downhill, flat or slightly uphill. The main problem, again, was sun.  I felt like I could never get any shade, and it was draining me fast.

I also decided after this race to never bother with another energy gel AGAIN. I’d rather starve and rely on my own body fat. Bottom line, they’re gross, and during the Sugarloaf marathon I had a very hard time using them. I actually was gagging trying to get them down. From now on it’s real food or nothing, the way ultra-runners do it, I’m DONE with them! Bam!

Here was another issue: the race wasn’t closed to traffic, and there were cars and exhaust almost constantly during the second half. A lot of the family and spectators were driving along the course (sometimes I saw the same cluster of people four or five times, it was great because they were SO encouraging) and heading toward the finish line. But this is where it got complicated. The final half mile was just bottle-necked with cars, and I actually had to SQUEEZE past traffic to continue on the course into what felt like a cattle chute to the finish line. It actually was VERY anti-climactic, and also annoying. I wasn’t the only one who was very disappointed by this. Your final .5 miles should be victorious, and instead I felt as if we were elbowing our way through a traffic jam!  I was literally inches from brushing up against a hot car waiting in traffic!

I’m sorry if I sound like a Little Miss Complainy Complainerson, but the last thing I will say about Sugarloaf, is while I loved the shirts, the medals were the same ones that the 15k runners got, and even said “Marathon and  15k” on the medal. I shouldn’t care about the medals, but I feel like I worked pretty hard and deserved one that proved I ran a marathon. I could easily have just run the 15k, got the same medal, and no one would be the wiser. But cheating is NOT my way! Nor should it be ANY respectable runner’s way (you know who you are!), but that’s…another story (cue Limahl and the Neverending Story theme music!)

In the end, I finished in 4:06, and was VERY disappointed with my time. I felt like the race just flat-out sucked, and was really bummed I couldn’t even manage a sub-4 when in the past few marathons they came so easily. In hindsight, I feel like I did pretty well for two marathons in one week, and I know now that I can do this again, no problem. I just really struggle with weather conditions, and there’s no controlling that.

Sugarloaf Marathon Pros

  • Small race field, great for 50 Staters and Maniacs (and everyone was super friendly)
  • PR course WHEN CONDITIONS ALLOW, like Wineglass there’s a lot of downhill, which helps to make up for any of the uphill in the early stages of the race
  • Great tech shirt, long-sleeved (my favorite for maximum ink protection! Gotta protect that investment!) for the marathoners
  • Lovely host hotel with good transportation to and from the race, and the rates were also very reasonable
  • Beautiful scenery through a point-to-point course, some of the prettier scenery I’ve seen during a race
  • Good support stations and volunteers, and there seemed to be a lot more in the second half (which was needed, as it got pretty warm)

Cons

  • HARDLY ANY SHADE. Obviously nothing can be done about this, but it really sucked. A LOT.
  • Roads open to traffic, and in the final miles I felt like I was really sucking down a lot of exhaust
  • Roads were pitted and cambered, and that was pretty tough at times
  • Sorry, I’m still a tiny bit annoyed about the medal. I would have liked something to mark the year or race to separate me from the 15k, but trust me, I’ve gotten MUCH worse medals. Ones that can’t even spell marathon right. At least the design itself was very nice and really captured what the Sugarloaf Marathon was about.
  • The finish line bottle-neck was very frustrating, as we really had to squeeze past traffic to get to the finish.
  • Not really much in terms of finish line food for this celiac…but I didn’t even care. I was too wiped out to care.

One thing I took away from all this: I bought a CamelBak Marathoner in order to keep myself well-hydrated during long, warm races. Sometimes smaller marathons don’t have enough support to keep you well-hydrated, unless you’re a totally kickass marathon like Hatfield McCoy and have one EVERY FREAKIN’ MILE. So in smaller races, especially with trail sections, it’s nice to be able to just hydrate when you feel the need, bypass the support stops and not contribute to wasting plastic/paper cups. PLUS the CamelBak holds all I need in terms of fuel, tissues, and anything else I’d need; it’s come in so handy on training runs this time of year, and I absolutely love it!

Final note: I will say when I researched the CamelBak online I saw a lot of message forums where people asked about them, and some runners just ripped into them for “not being a real runner if you need one” or “you’re obviously a slow runner if you are on the course long enough to need one”. Way to be supportive and informative while sounding like a total dickbag.

It’s runners like you that I hope I never have the pleasure to meet. Obviously you’ve never run trail races where support is minimal or you’d never be so dismissive. I’d love to see you during an ultra someday, especially one in August.

Have a nice day and keep up the good work by supporting the running community.

State # 22: South Carolina

Every winter I find I need to get out of PA and somewhere warm, and a run-cation is a perfect way to get in a mini-vacation as well as knock a state off my list. Last year after we went to Massachusetts, my friend TG and I discussed the possibility of flying to Myrtle Beach for race weekend, she would tackle the half, I would run the full. As the weeks passed, we finally decided to commit over the summer, and I helped outline a training plan for her.

One of the only downsides to training for a February race was that winter had been cruel, and it was really tough to get in much outdoor training after I ran Memphis. I’m not kidding when I say this, but I think I managed three outdoor runs. Any time I did attempt an outdoor run I was met with sheets of ice and treacherous terrain, as my trails are left unmaintained in winter (and I won’t share the road with cars). So I ended up doing a LOT of indoor training, with 16, 18 and 20 milers on the treadmill. Was it maddening? Actually it wasn’t bad, I would just find DVDs or shows to stream and find myself entertained as I ran. Considering Myrtle Beach’s marathon was flat as a board, treadmill training served its purpose. I didn’t need to worry about hill training this time around. I seriously just learned to love and appreciate my treadmill. I also managed a 75 mile week, which was a big accomplishment for me and I think it really helped boost my endurance.

The other downside? Pretty much the entire East Coast was in a state of deep freeze, and Myrtle Beach was going through the same unseasonably cold temperatures. When we arrived that Thursday, it was a high of 66, the warmest day we experienced that week.

IMG_2369                           It’s just another day for you and me, in Paradise…para…paradise

After being in below freezing temps for weeks, it felt like absolute paradise to sit outside at LandShark drinking a sweet tea margarita (don’t knock it till you try it!) in the sun, but that was short-lived as the temperatures dipped back down to freezing and the winds kicked up again to make it JUST like home. Good things aren’t always meant to last I guess!

Expo and Race Swag

The Expo was held right where we were staying, at the Sheraton Convention Center, so it made it very convenient for us to get out number and swag the first day of the expo, which was Thursday evening. It had been a while since I had been to a big race expo (besides Memphis) and TG and I both needed some running supplies (Gu, socks, sunglasses, etc.) so it was the perfect opportunity to get what we needed and kill two birds with one stone.
We got a REALLY nice reusable bag, probably the nicest I’ve ever gotten, and the shirts were red, long sleeved, and gender specific. Sure, they were loaded with sponsor logos on the back, but otherwise really nice shirts! The best part of the expo was, by far, the PUPPIES!

IMG_2379                                      And they called it Puppy Love…

I got to play with Molly, an 8-week old golden retriever puppy, as there was a booth set up by an animal shelter trying to find good homes for their puppies. There was another booth set up with maybe 12 dogs that were in training to be service animals. Not only were they trained to help others, but they were ALSO trained to take a dollar bill if you held it out to them!

Another best part was the free beer truck that had maybe six different free beers, and one was ANGRY ORCHARD!

Photo: Angry Orchard

They said the beer was free and they would be back and at the finish line for us. This. Was. Huge. I have run a LOT of marathons, and never, ever have I been able to enjoy a beer at the finish line since my celiac diagnosis. I almost cried with happiness, the very IDEA of getting a beer at the finish from the actual race organizers (and not my husband) sounded too good to be true!

The expo was full of great vendors and we managed to get all we need (finally got a new pair of running sunglasses, LONG overdue) plus some free swag from booths that were advertising races. Marine Corps marathon, I’m looking at you! I got a nice bag and bottle opener just for talking to the guy.

Pre-race dinner
I’ll say first off that my modified-paleo diet was disregarded while on this trip. When I am running races closer to home I think I am going to give the strict paleo a try. But I was pretty shameless with the food I was eating. That afternoon we dug into the Volcano Nachos at Margaritaville, barely making a dent in them, and had an Angry Orchard. I will be the first to say I LOVE LOVE LOVE Margaritaville. You can say it’s hokey or lame, or not like Jimmy Buffet’s music, but they REALLY take good care of their gluten-free patrons. The chef came to the table to talk with us, and they constantly made sure that all of our needs were met 100%. Thanks a million to our server Tim and Chef Sam for an awesome “lunch” that Friday.

We decided that the best place to carb-load that night while in Myrtle Beach was the Mellow Mushroom, a really great pizza joint with a fantastic gluten-free menu. I was really tired and decided to opt for take-out while TG went out with her sister and sis’ boyfriend; I was very sleep-deprived on this trip and decided I needed to just relax in the room than go out. But in the end, it turned out to be absolutely perfect! I got a gluten-free pizza loaded with veggies, a small chef’s salad, and a SIX PACK of Angry Orchard (they know me all too well!). I saved some of the pizza for breakfast (it worked VERY well when I ran Wineglass) and only managed one and a half ciders before finally passing out from exhaustion with maybe 5.5 hours of sleep before I had to get up for the race.

Race Start

The race started at 6:30 AM, well before sunrise. Bottom line: it was cold, unseasonably cold for the area. I have run colder races (MD was a 21 degree start and a 32 degree finish) and being from PA I didn’t even really mind it much. I was pretty well-dressed for the race, but looking at everyone else I probably looked WAY underdressed! I was in shorts, calf sleeves, arm warmers, double-gloves and a knit hatband. I was cold but not freezing. A lot of people were in much warmer running gear, most were in throwaway clothes (including bathrobes!), and some were even dressed with thick running jackets, heavy pants and balaclavas like we were running in the Antarctic. Look, it was 30 degrees and the sun wasn’t up yet, but I don’t know if it was cold enough to dress like Randy from A Christmas Story. Also, I’m from a part of the country where it’s just the norm to be that cold in Feb, so 30 degrees was actually almost comfortable. The sight of me in shorts must have garnered some pity, as one woman passed and handed me a metallic sheet from the Chicago Marathon and told me she had a spare. I was grateful for it in the end, but would have survived. Still, runners are an awfully kind and generous bunch!
We didn’t have to wait long once the bus got us to the start; we both hugged goodbye, wished eachother luck, and got into our respective corrals. The National Anthem was sung, the crank chair division started around 6:25 AM, and before we knew it, we were on our way!

Course

The course was pancake flat, and overall fairly scenic. We went through quite a few touristy areas loaded with restaurants and gift shops, but my favorite thing was DEFINITELY seeing palm trees!

IMG_2357                                  Best. Gift Shop. EVER.

Sure it was cold, but it was very nice to see run through a beachy, tropical atmosphere. I will admit that the cold made me want to run fast, and I felt like my first mile I was flying…until I look at my watch and saw 8:25 for the first mile. OK then, not nearly the 7-minute mile I envisioned my legs running, but it certainly FELT like I was running faster. I decided to run a conversational pace and just enjoy myself.

IMG_2413                                   Go pink lightning, you’re burning up the quarter mile…

The first 8 or so miles were pretty quiet and low key. Then suddenly I had a runner come up alongside me and start a conversation. While that might bother some runners, I certainly never mind that, especially when I had no intention to PR. When I run races now I NEVER try to set myself up for disappointment, I don’t like to say “I have a X:XX finish time goal”, instead I just say “Hey, I’ll run based on how I feel and go from there, if I do well, awesome, if I don’t, I still earned my finish and that’s all that matters.” So having a running buddy come out of nowhere was pleasant.Here’s the amazing thing. We talked for a bit, swapping stories. He was also a Marathon Maniac and working on his 50 states goal, and at some point we ended up talking about Hatfield McCoy Reunion Marathon from 2014. It dawned on me suddenly that I met this guy before!!! We ran together for maybe 2 miles right before Blackberry Mountain before we lost one another (I was struggling with pain issues and he trucked right up the hill…singing). It was pretty funny! Only because he was telling me about the horrible time he had travelling to HM’s marathon, and I realized I had heard this story before! So, Seth Cramer, from South Florida, it was really great to see you again, and thank you for helping those miles fly by. I hope we meet again soon! I know you have yet to earn PA and DE.

We ran and chatted and laughed for MILES. I’m SURE plenty of runners found us obnoxious and annoying because we were a bit raucous, but we were there to have fun and it wasn’t a death march, so we might as well joke around, have fun, and swap race stories. We ended up running with another guy for quite a few miles, but eventually lost him. We kept a good and consistent pace throughout, and it was awesome to get to run so close to the beach! It was absolutely beautiful with the sun out and just a few clouds. Sure, it was chilly, but with the sun up and my body finally warmed up, it was actually pretty nice for a marathon! Ten miles later though, I realized I needed a portajon stop, and it wasn’t going to be pleasant…I had to stop, there was no way I could keep going. So Seth and I parted ways.

Interestingly enough, we found each other again as I managed to somehow catch up. Guess I was having a pretty good and consistent day with my pace. I was feeling conversational, in a good mood, and never once hit the wall. The only problem I encountered was after the first half, the wind really started kicking in (10-18 mph, so not brutal but enough to slow you down a little) and made it just a little bit tougher. Any time we could detour off the main road was a blessing, to get the wind out of our face.

Water stops

Myrtle Beach’s marathon was very well-stocked with volunteers and more than enough water stops, one every 2 miles from what I could gauge. There was no fuel until Mile 16, so I made sure to carry two Gu gels with me for Mile 6 and 12 (I just stuffed one into the cuff of each arm warmer, easy peasy!). But the volunteers were very helpful and friendly, and I really appreciated them standing out in the cold for us. They had another Gu stop at Mile 22…and I managed to snag one more for the road. I am trying to be better about fueling myself evenly and not waiting until I feel like I’m going to crash, so it was just right. While I adore the salted caramel Gu, I will say that the salted watermelon flavor was a genius idea!

Finish

I never really hit a wall, but I definitely had some unpleasantness on the course. I could feel blisters forming in their usual places (never bothered with Vaseline or moleskin, which was a big mistake), and actually felt them BURST in my shoes. It was slightly nauseating. One toe I swear I could feel the fluid sloshing around in the blister before it burst like a water balloon. Painful but I just did my best to ignore it. I was way too close to the prize now.
Looking at my watch I could easily see I would manage another sub-4. Talk about a wonderful moment! I had managed three sub-4 marathons out of the last four that I ran, and I was so thrilled to see it was getting “easier” for me to keep a consistent and even pace throughout. In the past I know I always had problems starting off way too fast and then would crash and burn in the second half. Now I was staying evenly paced and not allowing myself to run faster than I could comfortably handle.

I was thrilled, too, to see TG and her sister waiting at the finish line with a camera in hand, and she had her medal hanging proudly around her neck. Yay! That was one of the best moments of the morning. I know that last .2 I just ran as fast as I could without bowling anyone over; I wasn’t trying to showboat, I just wanted to be finished.

IMG_2409Getting to see friends at the finish line is my ultimate reward!!!

 Place/Medal

My finish time was 3:52:20, a minute off my PR in Wineglass. If ONLY I didn’t need that restroom stop, I would have been RIGHT THERE! But I digress, my splits were almost identical, with my first half at 1:54, my second at 1:58…with a restroom stop and winds to push me back, I think my pace was almost perfectly consistent the entire race.  I used to run with 15-25 minute positive splits, but I was finally getting better at properly pacing myself.

I will say, too, I had several runners congratulate me at the finish line, pretty much the general message from all of them was “Strong finish, I was trying to keep up with you”, which was a REALLY nice thing to hear. Gotta say that runners are a pretty amazing group of people, sure you compete a little, but if you run faster than someone else, they aren’t sour grapes about it, but congratulatory and happy for you!

The medal was nice, a heavy metal set of flip-flops on a tropical lanyard. Part of me wished they could have incorporated the palm tree and moon from the state flag into the medal, but it was still a nice reward.

IMG_2407

Dreaming of the day I can start Lazing on a sunny afternoon…
and ditch the PowerPuff Girls hatband!

 

Overall Finish 407 / 1478
Gender Finish 99 / 623
Age Group Finish 20 / 121

Post-race spread and celebratory meal

While it was sunny out, it was COLD… and while we would have LOVED to stand around and enjoy the post-race festivities a little more, the wind was just making it a little unbearable. The finish tent food was actually pretty good, lots of fresh fruit to choose, muffins, granola bars and other gluten-filled carbs, but all I wanted (as I usually do after a race) was fluids, so I grabbed a Powerade and bottle of water. We did finally manage a toast at the beer tent, Angry Orchard and microbrew in hand, and while the beer was apparently as much as you could carry (gasp!), it was just too chilly to stand around in sweaty clothes and drink cold beer. Trust me, it was a real shame. 10 degrees warmer and no wind chill I would have easily enjoyed the sunshine and celebrated a little more heartily.

My post-race meal was, of course, at Margaritaville. I’m SO lucky to be able to travel with friends that are easy-going about meal planning and having to choose restaurants with GF options. I think some people might not be so generous about it and get a little resentful about it. But so far, in life, my friends and family care more about my health and well-being than their own needs, and that really makes me feel blessed.

I had a chicken sandwich (with bacon…OMG) with fries (double OMG) and their amazing (and enormous) brownie sundae. I barely put a dent in the sundae but had to make an effort! It was the perfect way to end the day before having to fly home to a wintery hell.

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Now that South Carolina is done, what is next? Well, I was SUPPOSED to run the Naked Bavarian Marathon this weekend but it got postponed due to inclement weather conditions. THEN I was SUPPOSED to run the Garden Spot Village Marathon in April and THAT got deferred because my parents treated us to a family weekend vacation that very same weekend, luckily the race organizers were VERY understanding! So life can definitely throw some curveballs, good and bad!

So, just maintenance for now, and it’s fine…a lot less pressure on myself. It’s good because I really am busy with upcoming vacations, social plans, and plus I got sick with a cold when I got home, so it’s just been slow recovery!

This May I’ll be running the Sugarloaf Marathon in Maine, and surrounding it with some smaller, local races as well. By the end of the year I will almost be halfway done my goal of 50 states and DC, but I also have a goal of running 100 marathons, which I think can easily be done if I include ultras in the mix.

It’s going to be a fun and exciting year, and I can’t wait to share it with you!

State Recaps Lite and 2015 Goals!

So much has happened in the past few months, and I really wouldn’t mind getting back into the blogging just a tad. But I find race recaps to be very time consuming, and honestly, it can be tough to just say “mile after mile passed” with very little in between. I find it difficult to recall a lot of what happened during a race well after the fact, especially when smaller races tend to have mile after mile that just sort of blur together! But with the new year coming I wouldn’t mind getting back into the swing of things. I actually have a lot of goals and milestones I want to reach next year, so here is a quick recap of the states I finished up in 2014 before I get into my 2015 aspirations:

I ran five new states since my Memorial Day race in Massachusetts: two were slightly disastrous and painful, one was a brand new PR, one was a TON of fun, even if it was my slowest full, and the last one was probably one of my very favorite marathon memories:

IMG_2306I returned to run the Hatfield McCoy Reunion Marathon which spanned Kentucky and West Virginia; it was a great weekend but I was running on Asics well past their prime and suffered a calf strain that lasted 2 weeks. I finished, but it was a painful recovery! It was great running one of my favorite courses again, and seeing my name on a sign welcoming me back! There was a huge Marathon Maniac presence and I think this race is only going to grow in popularity! If you ever have any doubts about Hatfield-McCoy, drop them, this is seriously one of my favorite marathons!
Finish Time: 4:28

 

IMG_2076I ran one of the most difficult and hilly marathons of my life, the Heart of America Marathon in Columbia, Missouri. Easley Hill is notorious and very few people successfully run up it without walking. The course was VERY difficult indeed and I couldn’t even believe I finished in less than 5 hours. I had some pretty bad hip tendon pain due to a slipped heel lift in my orthotics, and I had a very painful time. It was also my very first marathon running in Hokas, and I wasn’t sure how that was going to go. Ultimately this was a finisher medal and a new state in my pocket, no fanfare or anything to note except that I finished. I will also say that this officially wins for the most roadkill on any course, putting Ann Arbor in second place!
Finish Time: 4:52

 

IMG_2303
Wineglass Marathon in Corning, New York was by far my fastest marathon, and it was fantastic! I absolutely loved this race, even though it was cold and a little windy, but the autumn splendor made it entirely enjoyable.  Getting to finally beat my PR from Harrisburg in 2011 was one of the best running moments of the year for me! I would highly recommend this one if you’re looking for a PR or Boston qualify! The swag was also quite memorable, as you get a wineglass, small bottle of champagne, and a beautiful glass medal.
Finish Time: 3:51

IMG_2305
The Manchester City Marathon was one I ran with a friend, and I promised that I had no intention of running for a fast time, I just wanted to earn the state. We had a BLAST and took our time, and I had by far the slowest finish time of any of my races, but damn was it a fun time! Granted it was cold, damp and windy, and I think I may have suffered slight hypothermia by the race’s end, but I will also say that it was great to enjoy real food and beverages on the course rather than Gu and Gatorade. It was truly one for the record books on many levels!
Finish Time: 6:08

 

IMG_2304The St. Jude Marathon in Memphis was probably my very favorite event next to my first time ever running Disney, all because it was for a good cause and the awesome crowd support, not to mention running through the St. Jude campus TWICE, was incredible. I had a fantastic time running as a St. Jude Hero, having exceeded my fundraising goal by almost double, plus I ran another sub-4 (my fourth out of 24 marathons) without even trying too hard, so that was very exciting! I had the absolute best time and must have high-fived over 150 people! I don’t think I’ve ever run a race with better spectator presence, and that really made a difference. I will also say getting to visit Graceland and Sun Studio was just the very best way to reward myself the next day. I swear that visiting Graceland was life-changing for me! It was a fantastic trip.
Finish Time: 3:58

Two half marathons for fun: I ran two local half marathons this past fall, and they were both with friends. I have to say they were fantastic, weather was great for both, and we did pretty well with our pacing and times. One of the halfs I even won an age group award, which really was a nice surprise!

IMG_2307Finish Time: 1:52 (3rd place age group award…lost by .3 seconds for 2nd place…yes…POINT THREE)

IMG_2308Finish Time: 2:05

So what does this bring me up to?
21 states out of 50 states plus DC
24 full marathons
4 sub-4 hr marathons

My 50 states goal thus far (and as you can see, New England will be coming to a close soon!):

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I have to say too, after all of these races I will say this: I am officially a Hoka One One believer.

I have ONE new pair of Asics Gel Nimbus yet to be worn that I will use for shorter mileage training, but I am DONE with running in anything else but Hokas. I love them so much, and since Running Warehouse has been running an amazing sale on Hokas for quite some time, I am also turning into a Hoka hoarder. Hell, if I can get them cheap I’m stocking up, especially since I have some high mileage goals for 2015. I will say this: with Hokas my marathon recovery time has been AMAZINGLY fast. I felt almost fully recovered from my PR in Winegless in maybe 48 hours. This is what makes me come to realize that I can exceed marathon distances as long as I have the right shoe support. Hoka One One is IT. So this brings me to my next point, which are the goals I have for 2015.

So what will 2015 bring? This is the year I am damned and determined to reach the running goals I have wanted to reach for YEARS. I can’t say for sure if I will achieve them all, as they are lofty as usual, but I will list them regardless as a reminder to myself. I definitely still have my health struggles…fatigue, arthritis and other issues related to my celiac disease and Sjogrens syndrome have been plaguing me quite a bit, but at the same time I refuse to surrender myself to these damned auto-immune diseases. As I have said many times before, I just need to fight a little harder to prove myself and accomplish my dreams.  Some people may just allow these diseases to keep them from living, but I use these diseases as a way to prove my strength (body and mind), if that makes ANY sense.

While I am still wanting to work toward my 50-state goal, I have a big interest in trail running and doing more events closer to home, so I may only get 4 or 5 new states for 2015, which is absolutely fine by me, only because I want to work on prepping myself for a pretty decent 2016 goal.

Goal # 1: Birthday run: I am very, very inspired by the ultrarunner Catra Corbett in this regard, but I want to do a very long run on my birthday, and the final talley will be my age in miles. I will say this much, it’s higher than a 50k and lower than 50 miles, heh heh. But I would love to tackle this. I don’t think I would run it all in one shot, but break it up into 2-3 runs for the day. I don’t think I am quite ready to handle that amount of mileage in one shot just yet.

Goal # 2: 100 miles in one week. I say this EVERY year and I still have yet to accomplish this. I’d like to attempt this, and so far my training calendar has me going for this goal in August (which is convenient because the days are longer, but not so much because training in PA in August can be brutal), all to prepare for…

Goal 3: First official ultra race (one by hour and one by distance): I am going to register for two ultra races next fall: a 12-hour endurance race and my first official 50k. I don’t really have a goal in mind for the 12-hour ultra, but I would really love to see what my body can handle. Plus I love the idea of running, eating, resting, repeat…in 12 hours. I think much can be accomplished if I don’t take myself too seriously! I would love to see 50 miles but we’ll see how much my feet can handle that, as blisters are my downfall.

All of these goals will eventually bring me to January 2016, where I want to run the Back 2 Back Challenge in the South: 2 full marathons in 2 days in 2 different states: the Mississippi Blues Marathon in Jackson, MS and the First Light Marathon in Mobile, AL. I have never run more miles in one weekend than the Goofy Challenge in 2011, but I think with solid training (I do plan on running a half and full in one weekend of June, and then some 20+ back to back long runs later that summer) I can easily accomplish this. The Back2Back challenge is something that needs to be approached sensibly, and each race has a 7 hr limit, so I can easily take my time with both. It’s all about earning the state, plus getting Iridium Level Maniac status is a very nice bonus. I think this is why I don’t mind having less states on my race calendar for 2015, as I will be earning two states in one weekend in January 2016 if all goes according to plan.

So let’s end this post on a high note. As I lift my glass of Cabernet in a toast to saying goodbye to 2014, I lift it even higher for a prosperous, exciting and eventful 2015 full of milestones! Cheers!

State # 16: Massachusetts: The Toughest Marathon in the East (?)

OK, it’s time I stopped hibernating and caught up on race recaps. These are MONTHS late but I’m feeling a little more motivated to get back on track. SO let’s put a quarter in the time machine and go back to…spring!
Again, I apologize in advance that this entry comes several months late. I began thinking about the fact that I’ll likely be running a marathon a month for six months and NEED to get used to writing these race recaps again. So there are several coming and I WILL get caught up!

Memorial Day weekend oftentimes means travel for me, simply due to the fact that my birthday always falls on the same weekend (and sometimes my birthday actually falls ON Memorial Day) and I have a little extra time off. What better way to celebrate my birthday, AND commemorate Memorial Day, than by running the Memorial Day Marathon in Lennox, MA? The race actually benefited a veterans charitiy: The Red White and Blue Foundation. I couldn’t think of a better cause to run for that weekend.
The race boasted that it was the “toughest marathon in the East” (hey, it was even on the shirt) and for some reason I found that a little hard to swallow. The elevation chart wasn’t extraordinarily intimidating, so I take these claims with a grain of salt. I knew I wasn’t running to PR that day, so I would just finish and do my best. It definitely got a lot of positive reviews, mainly touting the natural beauty of the course, but gave plenty of fair warning that it was a tough race with plenty of hills.
My good friend TG was my partner in crime for a girl’s weekend, and what made it extra special is that she was participating in the Tanglewood 10k, her first 10k ever! I was actually more excited for her than myself, as I find milestones to be very important, and a 10k is a pretty impressive distance.

We arrived at Tanglewood, a fairground where the packet pick up and start line were located, the afternoon before the race, and it was pouring buckets to the point where we waited in the car for it to die down just a little before we bee lined it to the tables. There were very few people on site, the vendors had more or less packed it up by the time we arrived, so it was very low key. I was excited to see that Hoka One One was sponsoring the race in part, as they are a shoe I am starting to run in more and more thanks to recommendations from my sports medicine doctor.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing at the hotel, it was pretty tough to explore and do too much outdoor stuff when thunderstorms loomed off and on all afternoon. But it was certainly a fine way to prepare for the race, it’s best not to do too much exploring on foot and let your legs rest.  I brought food from home for my pre-race meal, and enjoyed a Strongbow (or two) and some GF treats as well. I felt fairly well-carbed and ready to go the next day.

Race morning was sunny and cool and we had to be at the race start bright and early for a 7:00 AM start. The 10k didn’t start for an hour and a half, so TG had some time to wait  but was happy to see me off. It was wonderful getting to hear the charity representatives speak at the podium as well as the Star Spangled Banner. Although pretty much every race I have ever run has started with it, I found it much more poignant that morning.
The race was interesting, because like most smaller races, it was hard to even tell where the starting line was, but that wasn’t anything I wasn’t used to. After all, I thrive on the smaller events, I just think it was funny that many of us just couldn’t figure out for the life of us where the starting line was without some help from the race directors. Once we found our place, the race started without a hitch and we were on our way.

Maximum Elevation: 1117 FEET      Minimum Elevation: 697 FEET
Course chart from Find My Marathon.com

The first half really had me puzzled. I found it to be…easy. Sure there were some rolling hills, but nothing brutal, and inwardly I was starting to scoff a little at this being the toughest marathon in the East. I didn’t think I was in top racing condition but those early miles flew by with no problems or even the threat of needing a walk break. I chatted with a few fellow marathoners here and there, but since this was a pretty small field, I found myself running many miles alone. The course was green, scenic and beautiful. It really reminded me a lot of Pennsylvania! I could only imagine what the autumn months were like here, I imagine they just explode in color.

The second half is where I suddenly started to eat my words, and thank goodness I wasn’t ball-busting the course aloud to other runners or I would have felt foolish. I read from more than one reviewer that this course looks like it was mapped out by cyclists. I totally understood that. Suddenly it wasn’t just gentle rolling hills, but constant hills, most of them up.  This wasn’t a simple Hatfield McCoy Blackberry Mountain hill that lasts maybe a mile and then it’s easy going from there. The second half was brutal, and I suddenly found myself walking…a lot.

I think, with Two Bear Marathon aside, I walked more during this marathon than any other. At least it felt like it. Honestly, with the sun out and the temperatures rising, it was pretty miserable at times. There was ONE part of the course though, Mile 21, where a family was sitting along a stone wall handing out ice cold towels. I couldn’t even express my gratitude in words, it was the most wonderful (and necessary) thing I could ever ask for at that moment. The husband explained that his wife had run races like this in the past and couldn’t remember anything better BUT the ice cold towels someone handed her at one point, and they felt the need to pay it forward.

Approaching the finish line, I saw my friend waiting with a huge smile, camera in hand and I was elated to finally be finished. There was a runner who was in front of me for several miles keeping the same sluggish pace, and as we both finished I said happily, “Dude, we did it!”, to which he grabbed my hand in congratulations and grinned wearily. It felt SO good to finally be done.

And my time? After all that walking? I couldn’t even believe it, but 4:17:58, a 9:51 pace. I even placed third in my age group, but they only handed out awards for 30-39 instead of 35-39, I guess the field wasn’t large enough for age group awards broken down by five years. Guess all those early (easier) miles really helped me bank some time, something I NEVER recommend, by the way!

The medals were unique and wonderful: personalized dog tags with my name, town, and race stamped on them. While some people like heavy medal, I tend to like things with a more personal and unique touch, and this was the perfect medal for a race on Memorial Day weekend.

medalMy friend finished her 10k and was thrilled too. She had a congratulatory beer and we were ready to get cleaned up and start feasting in celebration!  Of course when Five Guys is within a 15 mile radius it’s always where I want to go, so a double bacon burger and fries was in order. I was shameless too, finishing the whole thing and even having room for dinner that night at a place in town that had a great gluten free menu, the Jade Dragon.  It was a great weekend!

The best part of this entire experience was seeing a good friend hit such an important milestone, and be inspired to do the distance again. She will be going with me when I run Myrtle Beach, SC in February 2015 to tackle the Dasani Half marathon, and has been dedicated and tirelessly training to increase her mileage safely to earn that medal. I couldn’t be more proud and excited for her, and can’t wait to celebrate with her, medals proudly around our necks, as we shuffle towards Margaritaville for a celebratory meal. Victory will never be so sweet!

15 states down (16 including DC!)
States Visited Map

NJ Marathon Eats: Gluten-Free Pre- , During- and Post-Race Fare

Getting to run a race so close to home means I have plenty of opportunities to carb-load MY way with very little fear of cross-contamination or going against the norm in terms of my usual fare, so it made for a very seamless and incident-free weekend!

Pre-Race Dinner

The night before the race I was fortunate enough to carb-load on my usual pre-race dinner of pizza and French fries. I made dough in advance using my favorite Bob’s Red Mill gluten free pizza crust, and loaded it with marinara, spinach, Portobello mushrooms and zucchini. There was a Five Guys less than 5 miles from the hotel, so an order of small Cajun fries was MINE, all MINE! And a small order of fries from Five Guys is usually, oh,  3 – 5 servings’ worth of small fries, depending on the generosity of the establishment. They won’t only fill the cup, but they’ll dump in a ton of extra fries into the bottom of the bag, which I dub “the bag o’ grease”.  I assure you I had plenty, and the massive salt overload is perfect for water retention to avoid dehydration and cramping on race morning. Oh, and I had two Strongbows…that counts as carb-loading in my mind.

Pre-race Breakfast

Race morning I was a little against the grain. I had my usual coffee and Silk creamer, but also had leftover pancakes from the morning before and brought a couple with me. I made them using Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free pancake mix, bananas, pecans, cinnamon and cooked quinoa. They are easy enough to make vegan with a flaxseed meal “egg” (1 TB flaxseed meal and 3 TB water, mix and let sit for a couple minutes so it congeals) as well as almond milk and a little oil. I smothered one with some Peanut Butter and Company Mighty Maple and had some unsweetened applesauce on the side. The part of me that obsesses about balancing my meals insists on having fruit or a vegetable with every meal or snack!  One pancake ended up being plenty for me, and definitely carried me though the morning until I could start fueling with gels.

Race Course Support

Atlantic City’s marathon has a lot of out and back sections to the course, so there really never seemed to be any lack of support whatsoever. They provided Gatorade and water at every stop, and lots of tables after Mile 9 had Powerbar Energy Gels and Powerbars. I obviously avoided the Powerbars (the idea of stomaching a whole Powerbar, even without having celiac, seemed ludicrous), and snagged three gels, the first being chocolate (blech) and the second two were Wild Berry. I’m not a Power Gel fan usually but it did the trick when I needed a quick energy burst.

Finish Line Fare

In true Jersey Shore style, the AC Marathon really delivered! Besides the usual water, Gatorade, orange slices and banana halves, they also had soft pretzels and rolls, hot seafood chowder, beer, caramel popcorn, and my favorite treat: Rita’s lemon water ice! I pounced on that like Mojo with one of his toy mice. And it was SO worth it. I ended up getting a second one because the first was so incredibly refreshing. So yes, quite a few strike outs in terms of food I could eat, but the water ice was perfect for what my body craved…all I wanted was fluids, fluids and more fluids.

Post Race Meal

I got to try a brand new establishment on my way home; a friend who wanted to spectate but was unable to make it really wanted to celebrate my finish, and kept telling me about a great place in Collingswood, NJ, called The Tortilla Press. This place really did a great job  great job accommodating all of my needs, and I definitely can’t wait to go back. They truly knew about cross-contamination and gluten free food preparation, which is not something I can say about many establishments. They made me a freshly-baked basket of corn chips and freshly prepped guacamole and salsa that was separate from the other chips and salsa that they bring for the table, not to mention a pitcher of virgin margaritas which we could de-virginize with our own tequila. I assure you that we did so with gusto! They also made me a special gluten-free veggie taco platter filled with seasonal veggies as well as a side of beans and rice. It was all so good I thought I would cry, and I actually had ample leftovers since I had loaded up so substantially on fluids. I was so content and happy to be relaxing with good food, drink and friends…I don’t think it could have gotten any better, but there was even a sweet reward on the radar as well.

My friend told me she scoped out the local cupcake place a block over called My Little Kupcake, and they had gluten-free cupcakes! So yup, you can bet we stopped in! I grabbed a gluten-free pumpkin cupcake in honor of the season (Chris got his favorite, coconut) and I enjoyed half of it later that evening. It was so incredibly delicious it took a LOT of willpower to avoid eating the entire thing in one bite.

I made sure to drink no more alcohol for the rest of the day after my celebratory lunch to ensure I had little muscle soreness and that my muscles stayed well-hydrated. I’ll be honest, if every weekend could be as good as this one in terms of my food experiences, I can’t wait to run my next race simply for all the treats! It was definitely one of the best I had experienced for a long time!

State #14: New Jersey (where AC became The Windy City)

New Jersey was an easy state to snag since it was somewhat close to home; it’s an easy weekend getaway without too much fuss. The Atlantic City marathon took place four weeks after my disastrous Montana marathon, and while my recovery was slow at first (it took me several DAYS to finally walk down steps without pain), my last long run of 15 miles felt promising. I felt confident I would finish and hopefully wouldn’t have any mishaps. Things like muscles cramps and knee pain are very unpredictable for me and can vary from race to race.

The weather the week of the race was tricky, and the forecast was constantly changing. Tropical Storm Karen had hit the Gulf Coast and we ended up getting the remnants of it by the end of that week. After six weeks of gorgeous and perfect weather, we finally got our due (and honestly, we needed it…running past completely dry creek beds just made me a twinge of sadness) and it rained buckets for two days.

The weekend forecast for Sunday’s race seemed iffy: there was a 30% chance of rain, and no doubt it would be windy since we would be running along the boardwalk. But for this weekend it definitely kicked up a notch and we definitely had some uphill battles to face on a “flat and fast course”. Chicago’s marathon was the same day as Atlantic City’s, and all I could think was that the Windy City would be HERE in New Jersey.

We managed to get to AC with 45 minutes to spare before packet pick-up at Caesar’s Casino closed  that Saturday (there was no race morning pick-up, so it was definitely a you-snooze-you-lose scenario). We lamented the $20.00 price tag to park, it was highly annoying to think we’d have to pay $20 to get in and out in less than a half hour. We scrambled to find the Ballroom where the expo was held and luckily found it with ease after traversing the smoke-filled casino. I barely had time to even check out the expo itself, I just wanted to get my number, shirt, and get out of there.

I was happy to see that at packet pick-up we received two vouchers for $5.00 parking at the casino for race weekend. Talk about relief! The shirt was also very good quality and fit perfectly. I always love when they make men’s and women’s sizes, makes the biggest difference when you get a small. Men’s small is still huge on me. Afterwards we explored what we could of the area, but it was pouring rain and we didn’t want to hit the boardwalk or explore any outdoor areas since we were completely without rain gear and umbrellas. We managed to get ourselves dinner and settled in fairly early, which is ideal to attempt a good night’s rest.

AC Skyline – Bob Krist

Race morning I woke up feeling completely overwhelmed. My stomach was a mess, as I had been having some pretty severe GI issues in the past week, and the forecast looked somewhat grim. While rain wasn’t a concern, the wind definitely was: wind speeds were 16-24 mph with gusts up to 35 mph until that afternoon. Ugh. I actually shed a few tears just wanting to drop out of the entire thing but Chris pulled me together; he said “You’ll do great, you always do! It’ll be an adventure! It might not be your best race, but you’ll have plenty of stories to tell when it’s over.” That Chris, seriously my biggest fan and motivator. Ever! He never, ever lets me down.

We accidentally ended up taking a different way from our hotel in Egg Harbor Township and were seriously hustling to get to the starting area. The road we took had a red light every 5 feet it seemed, and in the end he managed to drop me off with just a minute or two to jump into the starting area while he parked. I stood way in the back and had absolutely no idea when the race even began. In my haste I had completely forgotten to pack a watch, and it would be my first marathon I ran without one. Talk about a major rookie mistake! In part though, it kind of made me feel less pressure, and I didn’t even care when I finished. I just knew I needed to finish in one piece. Starting from the very back I had to slowly work my way towards a pace group I felt compatible with…while I never ran with a pace group and had no intention to start, it at least helped me gauge how I was doing since I didn’t have a watch. Chris said that is usually how he can tell when to start looking for me at the finish line. Once the 4 hour pace group goes through, I’m usually not too far behind. That’s why he was so panicked when I took so long to finish Montana’s marathon…finishing at 5:28 is unheard of for me, and I think he feared the worst had happened.

As the race began I was happy to see I felt pretty good. The weather was cool and overcast, and the wind was kicking up a little but a lot of it was at our backs in the early miles. The initial start on the boardwalk was very pleasant, I actually loved running on the boardwalk because it was a flat, softer surface with zero camber. This factor makes a huge difference from road races I think. I crossed the 5k point at 27 minutes and felt pretty good about my conservative, conversational pace. We hit a few overpasses in the beginning miles, so the hills were knocked out pretty early. I also found it fun to run through a long tunnel, though it felt maybe 15-20 degrees warmer!

I met several runners throughout the early miles, and everyone was super friendly, cheerful and chatty. We only got hit by a couple wind gusts and just laughed it off, as a lot of it was still helping push us forward. One guy I met was running his very first marathon and had a lot of questions, especially about hitting the wall. I discovered later the furthest distance he had ever run was 13.1 miles. Oh boy. Well, I guess he will just have to learn the hard way that the distance is one not to take lightly. I never got his name, but we were fast friends for at least half the race until I finally lost him around Mile 18. I wish I did get his name, I would have loved to see how he finished.

I met several Maniacs and a couple people who were running on their birthday. I absolutely love this! What a better way to spend a birthday than getting up and running a marathon, only to be amply rewarded with a medal and lots of finish line goodies? Yes, I realize only a crazy runner would think this!

We hit the boardwalk area around Mile 8 and noticed the wind was still strong, but pushing us forward gently. Chris was along the boardwalk taking pictures and waving and I felt a swell of happiness that I was able to assure him I still felt good. To top it off, I felt a definite burst of energy when I snagged a Power Gel at Mile 9.5…until then we couldn’t find Gels if our lives depended on it (it was getting to the point where some of us were getting cranky), and I usually try to take in my first gel around mile 6 or 7. The course description made it seem like there would be more water stops and gel stops then we knew how to handle, so I never bothered to pack any gels or bring my Nathan. Since quite a bit of the course involved out and backs, we passed the same tables.

Once the halfers turned around to go back to the finish line at Bally’s, we ran along the windy boardwalk and noticed the crowds had thinned substantially, the sun was out, and the winds were fiercely kicking sand into our faces. But it was still not too fierce, it was more shoving us to the side. We turned right off the boardwalk and this is when things really started to get dicey and more difficult.

There was a lot of out and back on this course. What made it hard, for one, is that there was really no etiquette as to people coming back, the road wasn’t divided into two lanes for the faster runners to pass the slow, so we pretty much did our best to keep on the proper sides…but it could definitely cause a little backup and confusion at water stops, not to mention mile markers! I saw Mile 16 before Mile 15 and thought, blessedly, I passed 15 without noticing it, but nope, it was simply further out because there was a turnaround. Also, the wind was definitely gusting hard and taking its toll on the runners. It never ceased, and there was no refuge from it whatsoever. If you were heading west, it helped to nudge you along or maybe pushed you to the side, but if you were running east, it was like trying to push through a brick wall at times. The gusts got up to 35 mph and there were times where I felt as if I was running in place on a treadmill. Never had I run in windy conditions like this for such a long distance. I was used to maybe 15-20 mph winds during training runs, but oftentimes you could be somewhat shielded by the hills and trees along the trails. In this race you were simply out in the open with little to help soften the blow. Sometimes it even seemed as if the wind couldn’t even make up its mind, and I was pushed back, to the side, and then forward in a matter of a few seconds, like I was caught in a mini tornado. I laughed incredulously when this happened, it was almost too ridiculous to be true.

My one thing I was very, very proud of was that I never walked (unless it was through water stops). All the people who passed me in the beginning miles were suddenly starting to walk. People that passed me miles ago and were nowhere to be seen ahead were trudged along angrily as I passed. I think the wind really did a lot of people in during the final 5-6 miles along the boardwalk. By that point the wind was fierce and relentless, sand was getting whipped into my face and even in my eyes. I simply turned up my headphones, searched for an ass-kicking sing (like Foo Fighters’ White Limo) and mentally pushed…hard. I didn’t quit, instead I grit my teeth and soldiered on.

I knew the finish line was at Bally’s casino, and it could be seen like a shining oasis in the distance. The visibility made it VERY deceiving though…while it looked like the finish was in sight by a mere mile or so, I still had several miles to go. The boardwalk was also open to the public, so we had to navigate around the sightseers, walkers, gamblers and tourists as we headed east toward the finish. I honestly don’t even think that most people realized there was a race going on that day!

I realized as I ran toward the finish that I actually felt GOOD. No knee pain, no muscle cramps, just a little hip flexor soreness and some soreness in my feet and toes, but otherwise I felt strong and was so relieved to see that the end was in sight. All I could keep my sights focused on was Bally’s and Trump Tower, and KNEW the finish was within reach. As we pushed against the strong wind gusts the crowds started to thicken with spectators and encouraging cheers. All I could do was smile, wave and thank everyone. Ordinarily I would cheerlead for other runners as I passed, but I was too exhausted to do much else. Chris stood waiting just before Mile 26 and I could tell he was SO proud. I think I surprised myself even that I didn’t totally give up!

The finish line seemed so far away even at Mile 26, but all I could think to myself was one step more, another step, another….I just had to keep moving, keep pushing. I never did a full on sprint as I sometimes had seen others do in a final surge of energy. I didn’t need to finish ahead of anyone else. I simply wanted to finish, and that was my ultimate reward. Once I crossed the finish I staggered to a volunteer to get my medal, and slowly kept moving.

The medal has a real blinking light in the lighthouse! Not to mention a bottle opener! Perfect for all occasions.

I remember in the final couple miles there was a girl in pink that was loping ahead of me, then I would pass her, and we sort of played an unspoken game of Catch Me if You Can. In the end, she finished ahead of me by less than a minute, but enthusiastically said to me “Great race!” with a grin. All I could think to myself was “I was really never racing anyone”, but honestly, maybe for some reason it helped push her to have someone to focus on defeating. It was fine by me, as I had never had any expectations anyway. We chatted for a minute while loading up on fluids, both in agreement that the wind really killed any time expectations, but it kept my spirits soaring. I had done it, and couldn’t be prouder that I finished in 4:12, a 9:37 minute-mile.

After a long and tough race, I was amply rewarded with more fluids than I could consume, and grabbed a couple Rita’s water ices at the finish tent.  I cannot even describe how good that water ice tasted. I needed nothing more than that to get me through that very moment. The sun was shining, the day wasn’t even halfway over yet, and all felt so RIGHT in that very moment in time. I won’t say it was my favorite marathon or my best finish time, but I will say it was definitely a successful one. I am very proud of my accomplishment that day, and hopefully can have an even stronger finish at my next race.

My Race Results

  • Finish Time: 4:12 (9:37 minute mile)
  • Race Place: 300/825
  • Gender Place: 102/369
  • Age Place:33/119

What I learned

NEVER EVER doubt yourself! I was literally in tears race morning thinking there was no way I would ever finish, and in the end I did better than I expected. I stayed steady, made sure I had plenty of fuel in the tank, and had FUN. It was a great time!

So here are my states conquered so far. Slowly but surely you can see I am making progress, and soon will have to head west a LOT more!

14 states