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!

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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!