Sometimes you just have to play it safe: My Keystone State Goofy Challenge

In order to prepare for ultra-running, I decided it was important to do back-to-back long runs and get myself used to the idea of running on tired legs. Recently  I was supposed to run a back-to-back race weekend: a full marathon on Saturday (the ½ Sauer ½ Kraut Marathon) and a half marathon (the ODDyssey Half Marathon) on Sunday. I was pretty excited, and felt ready. I wanted to take it super easy for the full, maybe a 5 to 5:30 finish in order to toe the start line on Sunday with somewhat fresh legs. But in the end, I had to change those plans in order to safely cross the finish line both days.

During the week before the race, I received an email informing me that they were going to cut the course time limit to 5 hours due to possible inclement weather and heat/humidity warnings. The course for ½ Sauer was a double-out and back course (kind of like a needle actually), so the full marathoners always had the option to cross the finish line early if they wanted to just end it at the halfway point. The medals and shirt are the same regardless of the event you decide to run. But with a five hour limit in place and heat warnings that would get us close to a 90 degree heat index by noon, I had a feeling there would be a lot of marathoners that were going to downgrade, or just completely DNF.

Rather than DNF (which is something I absolutely REFUSE to do), I decided to just flat-out downgrade. Why not? I know that I could easily run a sub-5, but had no idea how the heat might affect me during the second out-and-back, and God forbid I get stuck out on the racecourse past the 5 hour point because I’m suddenly falling apart from the heat. My intentions were to run an extremely slow full to begin with, but now I was just going to stress having to push myself more than I planned in order to finish under the cut-off time.
There were also two other factors that led me to easily come to this conclusion to downgrade:

1. This race was in PA, by no means a new state medal. I didn’t have to travel far for it and I had a few PA medals already.

2. I had a half marathon the next morning and needed to feel like my legs could handle it. If I pushed past what I planned, pace-wise, I might have suffered a little unnecessarily on Sunday.

So, all in all, easy decision, and I’m so glad I came to this conclusion! I had a fantastic weekend and a total blast both days! I even managed to run a decent half on Saturday, despite the heat!

Race 1: ½ Sauer ½ Kraut

This was a German-themed race that was to take place in Pennypack Park in Philadelphia, and the best part about it was that it was 95% shaded, and even had a fun trail section. It was an out-and-back course and had some fun water stops with people dressed in Leiderhosen, not to mention my very favorite aspect of all, the accordion music of UberHans, my temporary weekend crush. Sorry, I can’t help it, I’m a sucker for a guy with an accordion and leather shorts.

This was the first real race where I wore my CalmelBak, and I’m so glad I did. I managed to drink from it every mile and carry my own fuel, as well as my phone to take a few pics along the way. I was wondering if the CamelBak would slow me down? Not in the least, if anything, the extra hydration really helped push me to the finish.

The first few miles I definitely felt slow and sluggish, and a LOT of runners passed me. I didn’t even care, I really wanted to be conservative with the heat. It was actually a somewhat pleasant morning as long as there was a breeze and we stayed out of the sun. There were only a few small sections with full sun, and good LORD was it warm. If I had to run a race in full sun like this, I don’t think I would have done well at ALL.

Having the CamelBak allowed me to blaze through the water stops, and honestly I liked not contributing to the waste with cups (and being able to drink as much as I wanted rather than just a small cup). Being as warm as it was I definitely drank more than a water stop would be able to provide.

The best part of the course was definitely the trail section. What a blast! I’m really learning to love trails. Sure you run slower, and it can get a little dicey with the terrain, but they are SO much more fun than road. The ONLY thing about trails I get frustrated with is when I feel like someone is breathing down my neck and wants to pass on a single track. Luckily that doesn’t happen often, we all sort of respect each other’s pace and just run single file. And personally, I don’t mind applying the brakes if there is someone in front of me that’s slower…with trail you have to just take it a little more carefully and watch your step and respect your fellow runners.  It was fun to be able to run this part of the trail, as it will be part of an ultra course I will be running later this year.

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So heading back I was feeling good, and decided to pick up the pace a little. This is when I noticed that all the people that flew past me in the very early miles were suddenly running a lot slower, some walking, and I was passing THEM. I’ve learned from past mistakes, and know that starting off too fast sometimes equals a crash and burn later, especially if the temperatures are rising. So I’ve learned to slow my role a little.

Approaching the finish line I was happy to see I managed a 2:02 finish. It was funny, the race director was trying to direct me to the turn-around for the marathoners, but I just shook my head and finished the half with a smile. I was fine with that accomplishment for the day!

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Pros of 1/2Sauer ½ Kraut Marathon (and half)

  • Ample parking at a nearby German Club where you can be bussed to the start line (and there are actual bathrooms with soap and running water)
  • Packet pick-up the morning of the race! Always a plus for out of towners!
  • Nice race shirt and medal
  • Nice shaded course in a beautiful park setting with rolling hills and a mile or so of trail for some adventuring
  • Super easy bag drop and no lines to grab your stuff when you’re done
  • Waterstops manned by girls and gals alike in Lederhosen and German barmaid dresses
  • Amazing finish line spread! You get a little bit of food at the finish, which for me was just watermelon (but I love watermelon at a race so no complaints here!), but you also get two tickets to get a meal back at the German Club where you park…and they had a full spread, burgers, bratwurst and sauerkraut, sausage, soft pretzels, French fries, the list goes on. The other ticket is for a beer of your choice, though if you can’t have beer like me, they have a full bar to make one drink of your choice. Probably one of the best post-race spreads I could enjoy!
  • UBERHANS! He played before the race start, and also on the course, and it was: THE. BEST. I made sure to tell him so.
  • Small enough field to possibly earn an AG award, though I was 9th out of 44 or so for mine. Oh well!

Cons

  • The medal you earn is for the half AND full. I realize WHY they do this, because they won’t know how many people decide last minute to downgrade to the half. After all, this is something you can do as you’re approaching the finish line! So basically I didn’t miss out on anything swag-wise.
  • The race takes place in mid-June, so it’s a guarantee to be hot and have a risk of thunderstorms.
  • The course is mainly an out and back, try doing it twice for the marathon. Might not appeal to some.
  • Spectators are minimal, if any

Race # 2 The ODDyssey Half Marathon

So the next morning it was Round 2, the ODDyssey Half Marathon in Philadelphia. This one was going to be very conservative pace-wise, as I would be in costume (like a lot of the other runners, it’s part of the race’s charm) plus I already committed to sticking with my friend J as much as possible and keeping her pace.  My friend M decided to join us, and the three of us made sure to get there early in order to find street parking, and it was a piece of cake!

We all made sure to dress in costume, and I decided to dress as Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, a costume I have worn to several Halloween parties in years past. Chris even made me a mallet to carry, and considering we made it out of stuff we found around the house and didn’t have to spend a dime, I’d say he did a great job!

23352336This is about as legit as I could get to make it a running costume. No way I could run in my knee high Hot Topic combat boots.

Because of the heat warnings, it seemed like a lot of people bailed on wearing costumes, which was a huge disappointment; I was just really into it I guess! And, as expected, only a few people knew who I was dressed as, which was fine. I assumed only video game/comic book nerds would know who I was anyway. But the ones who did LOVED the costume and said it was definitely the best one they had ever seen, so that was nice to hear. I do like to go the extra mile when it comes to things like that, I’ve always been that way.

The race was fun, and went through areas I was familiar with from parts of the Philly Marathon and from Team in Training practices. The main issue was the heat, there wasn’t a lot of shade on the course, and it wasn’t especially breezy to help cool us off. But to help that, almost every water stop had a sprinkler to run through! Whoo hoo, it was awesome and very refreshing!

ODDyssey boasts games and obstacles along the course, but I saw very few. They had gigantic beer pong (basically throwing a volleyball in a bin), a ring toss, and throwing a softball at a milk bottle pyramid. I actually got the beer pong on the first try! But I was a little disappointed that the games weren’t better.

The water stops were also a problem. Because we were taking it a lot slower, one of the first stops already had run out of Gatorade. The stops were kind of disappointing as well. I found myself grabbing a lot of my own water. I left my CamelBak at home since I assumed there would be plenty of stops on the course, but the stops seemed to be sorely lacking in volunteers. They just couldn’t seem to keep up with the steady stream of thirsty runners. Though the ones they had were friendly and cheerful, on a whole.

I stuck with J until around mile 12.5. I did a lot of walking, and running intervals, and by the time we got to the last .7 miles, which was uphill in full sun, she told me to go on since she knew I wanted to finish. The sun was pretty brutal and I was glad to get this one over with!
It was great to approach the finish line; as I did there was a group in the stands that shouted “GO RAMONA!” and REALLY cheered me on…it was pretty awesome! I still managed to have my mallet on me the entire time, which got a lot of props from people. I didn’t strip a single part of my costume off, and trust me it was tempting, but it was also nice to keep my skin protected from the sun.

I finished in 2:53, and honestly, despite my finish time, I had a great time! Met a lot of nice people, even some really cool ultra runners, and was able to get some good insight and advice on training and events. I found the experience to be very laid back and fun.
Although the race definitely had some small cons, I still would to run it again another year. And BRING IT even harder, costume-wise! The wheels in my head have been turning (a dangerous pastime, I know!)

Pros of the ODDyssey Half Marathon

  • GREAT Swag! Nice shirts (you can choose from two different colors), a pint glass, and a medal that is also a bottle opener. Cool AND Functional!
  • Fun atmosphere! I loved seeing people run in costume, especially since it wasn’t just Disney costumes, as I am used to seeing when I ran my Disney races years ago. They even have a costume contest, but since it’s heavily swayed by Facebook, I am a huge loser in this regard because I am Facebook-less (and have no regrets) and can’t promote myself.
  • Flat course with very few hills (take this as you will, I like hills, but many people don’t)
    Games along the course, which I think were sorely disregarded by many runners, which is a shame. Take 60 seconds to play a game and have some fun!
  • Sprinklers at every water stop, which REALLY comes in handy for June
  • KIND bars and fruit were available at the finish line! I was actually able to eat!

Cons

  • OK, this is a big one, but packet pick-up, rather than being the weekend of the event, is the weekend BEFORE. They may think this is doing us a favor, but a LOT of runners grumbled about it, and while they have limited pick up the Saturday before, they really only wanted out of town runners to be there. Morning  of race packet pick-up? Only in VERY EXTREME circumstances. On the flipside, if you don’t feel like dealing with it at ALL, just pay a small fee and have the bib shipped to your house, but I think that means no shirt.
  • Not a lot of shade on a hot course. You know my feelings on that. And really, for a city race not a lot can be done about that.
  • Stops seemed to run out of Gatorade early. It really seemed like it was mainly available for the faster runners, and trust me, the longer you are out there, the more crucial the electrolyte drinks will be!
  • No GF beer for this celiac, but who am I kidding? I only was given that golden opportunity ONCE at Myrtle Beach’s Marathon. But dammit, I am so tired of being promised free beer, and never a drop can I drink. That’s just my little gripe.
  • Spectators are sparse except at the start and finish line.
  • No fuel provided on the course, but I don’t know how common that is for a half marathon anyway. I could swear they usually have at least one.
    In the end, I had a great weekend with friends, and would love to run ODDyssey again!

So my next big thing will be my trail ultra in August, though who knows if it will even be a true ultra. It’s a 6 hour challenge on a 6.5 mile loop on trails. My goal is a 50k (which is 5 loops), but considering the terrain and the time of year (translation: heat) I just may NOT be able to pull it off. But I will do my very best to try!

Until next time!

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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.

https://i2.wp.com/vsm.defocus.net/img/vsm-c0f26cab5a93f1353991ac8abbaf4f8f.png

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!

Back to Basics: Adopting a Pseudo-Paleo Lifestyle that Suits a Gluten-Free Athlete

OK, the holidays were bad. Very indulgent. Lots of treats (yes, I bought the one- pound peanut butter cup over the holidays…), and I was buying Immaculate’s pre-made GF cookie dough at LEAST once a week to make a batch so I had a constant supply of fresh cookies. When I was training, I was eating things like marshmallows, GF cookies, chocolate and more GF cookies. My diet was full of bread, refined pasta and rice, and I was just feeling sort of bloated, tired and not very satisfied with myself.

I realize that if I want to be a decent marathoner, I need to treat my body right, and start fueling it properly. You don’t put 87 regular in a car that is supposed to run on premium. It’s worth making the switch to see if your body can positively respond, so I knew I REALLY needed to work on cleaning up my act. I had to stop acting like marathon training was a license to eat everything in sight.

I decided to research a diet that would benefit a gluten-free lifestyle that wasn’t loaded with empty and unsatisfying carbs and processed foods. I really wanted to put a muzzle on my sweet tooth. I also wanted to try to reign in my salt tooth (which is JUST as bad, if not worse, than my sweet tooth). I wasn’t interested in cutting calories, just cutting the ones that weren’t as beneficial to my training.

I found the concept of the Paleo diet intriguing. It’s naturally gluten-free and relies on whole foods for a bulk of the diet plan. I will admit though that I am not into super-strict dieting, and when I saw that Paleo involved avoiding dairy, peanuts, legumes and (God forbid) coffee and wine, I was a little hesitant. After all, I already have to eat a strict diet for medical reasons, so I didn’t want to cut gluten-free foods that were considered natural, whole foods.  I decided to look into a pseudo-paleo diet, which was basically a whole food diet but not nearly as restrictive…maybe more like a P90X Phase 1 diet plan.

So what sorts of changes have been made thus far?

Cauliflower Rice
Instead of incorporating rice and pasta into my meals, I am using riced cauliflower. It’s simple to make and actually somewhat satisfying as a substitute. Instructions on how to make it can be found here. I also attempted to make my first cauliflower crust pizza, and I will say it turned out very well! It’s definitely a trial and error process, but one I think I can easily stick to. Now a tub of cauliflower rice is always on hand in the fridge, and even though it has maybe a 5-day window for freshness, I can promise it NEVER lasts that long.

New Flours and Baking Adventures
I decided to see what I could do with low-carb, higher protein flours, like coconut flour, ground flax and almond meal, and it’s definitely been somewhat adventurous. Coconut flour is VERY different than anything I have ever baked with, as you don’t need much at all to make a recipe. Most recipes call for 1-3 TABLESPOONS instead of the usual 1-2 cups of flour simply because the flour absorbs liquid very easily. But on that same note, the recipes also call for eggs. Lots and lots of eggs! In fact, most recipes for something like a loaf of bread call for 4-5 eggs. Also, a lot of these recipes I’ve tried rely on nut butters as a binder, and may call for something like ½ CUP of almond butter, so I’m grateful I can stop by Trader Joe’s and load up on their organic nut butters!

Different, yes, but the results have been GREAT. I made this recipe not too long ago and the banana bread was a HUGE hit with Chris, he really loved it! Unlike a lot of gluten-free recipes, it turns out very dense but moist, unlike the usual dense and dry. Also, I swear that we are satisfied sharing one slice, mainly because it’s protein-rich so it’s also very filling. Also,HOORAY there’s natural FIBER in the recipes, something processed gluten-free foods sorely lack. Another fun thing about these recipes is they call for the use of parchment paper, and that makes clean up and getting the loaf from the baking pan an absolute BREEZE.I love to cook but hate to clean up afterward, so this is a win-win.

One of my favorite indulgences on weekends, especially when I have a long run, is pancakes. Fortunately I don’t have to go without them, as I’ve made pancakes with almond meal and also tried one with an almond meal/coconut flour combination and both turned out incredibly satisfying (and almost too filling). A lot of my GF pancake mixes had a lot of salt (600+ mg for a ¼ cup!!), not enough fiber, and a lot of calories…the almond meal ones are incredibly easy and very much satisfy that pancake craving I enjoy on weekends.

Snacking
I’m trying to rely much more on fruit, nuts and protein for my snacks. In the past it was easy to grab a cookie, tortilla chips or pretzels, so I had to adjust my snacking mentality.  It was a little tough at first, but now I find myself actually CRAVING something like an apple or a banana with almond or sunflower butter, or even something as simple as a hard-boiled egg. Salt cravings are put to ease with something as simple as a handful of pistachios or almonds, and if I have a sweeter and more indulgent craving…that banana bread is pretty damned good and all you need is half a slice.

So Long Bread and Tortillas, Hello Lettuce Wraps
I actually don’t mind lettuce wraps at all, if anything, GF bread rolls make me feel too full. I’m attempting to make tacos with lettuce wraps (not even close to being as fun, so perhaps I can find or make a flaxseed wrap of some kind) and they are actually not too bad either. It’s an easy enough switch and saves plenty of empty calories.

In the End…
Now will I have a cheat day once in a while? Sure, life’s too short.  I was actually treated to sushi the other day and wasn’t going to turn THAT down! But I definitely do like the idea of overhauling my diet and sticking with it to the best of my abilities. Sometimes it’s harder when traveling, but all it takes is proper planning. And I think on days I run a race…I should allow myself the extra indulgences…but who knows, I just might like sticking to healthy fare anyway.

I’ll be interested in seeing how I fare with my upcoming races on this diet. My training hasn’t suffered from “low-carb” living because I still eat plenty of fruit, at least 3-4 pieces a day and I haven’t felt my energy levels flagging any more than usual. So I will be sure to keep you posted once I cross the finish line! My first race will be on February 14, the Myrtle Beach Marathon. It will be my 22nd state and my 25th marathon and I am hoping to do well since it’s flat and the temps should be ideal for racing. I personally don’t like pancake flat courses, but considering I have been doing a LOT of treadmill training this winter, it might be for the best!

Have you tried a low carb or paleo diet? How has it worked for you?

A Necessary Evil: Rest Days are Important

After six days and 64 miles’ worth of training, today is finally being used as a day that actually makes me just a little bit cranky, but I feel that it is CRUCIAL to have them in a training plan. What do I speak of? The dreaded rest day.  A lot of runners seem to be against them, and with good reason. Running makes you feel good, it lifts your mood after an otherwise craptastic day, and it’s that something I actually look forward to after a long and stressful morning. So when a rest day finally rolls around I tend to feel cranky, edgy, and believe it or not, bored. This is especially true when I feel like I easily COULD run for a seventh day in a row, or even more than that. But I think it’s so important to take a rest day at least once a week, no matter how good you feel.

Sorry guys, I know that #runstreak is a huge thing that a lot of people are doing (let’s see how many consecutive days in a row you can run at least one mile, and from what I have seen on my Twitter feed, some are at 3+ years and keep going), but I am dead set against them. I think it’s just asking for trouble, especially if you are prone to injuries, aches and pains. To each their own, but it’s not my thing at all. I think I would lose my motivation and get completely burnt out.

I am not an injury-prone runner. If anything I think I am a fairly smart runner. I listen to my body, I take a rest day when I need one (once I had to take a rest week and then some), and have managed to run multiple marathons in a year, keep a high-mileage schedule on my training calendar year-round, and continue to run pain-free. I am at the point where I feel that I can confidently train for an ultra, which has been a dream I’ve had for years but was too afraid to pursue.  Sidenote: I will admit that having good running shoes are probably one of the reasons I have been doing so well in the past 5 or 6 months, as I have fully made the transition to running exclusively in Hoka One Ones, but that’s another issue. Your shoe doesn’t make you invincible, but the right ones can certainly make you feel that way! I think that’s why Hoka’s motto is “Time to Fly!”

But I digress: the reason for this entry is simply that I want to set a good example as a runner. I want to be someone that others feel they can come to with questions. And almost any professional running coach will also stress the importance of rest days; even high mileage plans like Pete Pfitzinger’s or words of advice from extreme ultrarunners like Dean Karnazes have rest days somewhere in their repertoire.  I am the first to admit I am extremely stubborn and hate the idea of resting  (especially when I don’t feel the need for one), but I also know that I love running so much that the idea of NOT running for 2 – 6 months because I pushed myself into an injury is enough to keep me grounded. I always have way too many events on my calendar, and I want to make sure I can run ALL of them unless something comes up that’s out of my control (like a wedding, family trip, inclement weather that prevents travel, etc.); I never want to miss a race because I’m sidelined due to my own stubborn folly. So rest I do, and my body just keeps on going strong.

I do sometimes practice what is called an “active rest day” because I really hate sitting around on a nice day. This may involve low-impact activities like yoga, stretching, cycling, light hiking, roller blading or even a long walk. I think these activities are just fine, as long as you aren’t putting too much stress on your body. Other times I literally do nothing and just take that time to run errands, work on food prep, and even things I always want to do but never seem to have the time to do: play a video game, watch TV, read a book, etc.

I just have to keep reminding myself: That one day will NOT kill you to sit on your ass. You won’t gain 5 pounds in a day. This is needed in order to accomplish your long-term goals.
Take that rest day, lose the mindset that they aren’t productive. Your body is healing, it’s preparing for another week of training, and I assure you it’ll be much happier. Trust me on this.

And #runstreak-ers, I do apologize, because if it works for you it works, and I applaud you for doing what you want to do. But I just have to allow myself that day to chill, and in the end it’s worked well for me. I encourage all of my fellow runners to do the same.

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!

Some Goals for 2014 (Notice I Didn’t Say Resolutions!)

I don’t like making New Year’s Resolutions. At all. Let’s face it, they usually don’t stick. But I DO like making goals for myself, and hopefully I can stick to them for 2014. I don’t think that my goals are ridiculous by any means (well, to some they just might be) but I find time and time again they simply aren’t reached. I realize that by spinning my wheels and not really applying myself, I will never reach these goals, but I need to dig deep in order to push myself harder and dedicate myself to accomplishing my ambitions.

With the holidays and a long, much needed vacation, I found I have missed workout days, gained a few pounds, and have totally fallen off the anti-nutrition wagon. I haven’t really shown very much self control, and one cookie more or less equals five within a minute. Obviously that needs to be put back into check. I recently was able to work on my training calendar for 2014 and start looking for races for the second half of the year (the first three are already registered and on my radar), and it got me excited, I started feeling that drive and passion that I used to have for what I do. Time to kick it up a notch!

1) Run a sub-4 marathon again. It’s been a year and a half since I have done this, and in part I definitely blame myself for simply not trying harder. I know it’s in me, I just haven’t tried. Also, in part, many of my races that I have run weren’t really sub-4 material for me…lots of hills and tricky terrain, or in the case of AC, horrible wind that slowed me down substantially. Then again, I ran a sub-4 at the Hatfield McCoy Reunion, so WHAT excuses do I have?!?! I just need to work on it again, I know I have it in me. I would love to win another finisher award when I return to run HM this year. That should be a goal in itself!

2) Run a 100-mile training week. I know, crazy right? But it’s been something I have been wanting to try for many years, and this spring I am going to attempt an 80-mile week and see how that goes. The highest mileage I ran in a week was 72. High mileage weeks have earned me better marathon times in the past, my best finish time was due, in part, to this. The more I am accustomed to mileage, the easier a marathon will be. So I will try for the 100 mile week most likely in the summer as long as I can remain injury-free.

3) Run a couple smaller races…and race them. I want to see just how well I can run a local 5 or 10-k, and maybe just throw in a half marathon for fun if I can. When you run a marathon you have to be a little more conservative with pace and really hold back or risk burn out. So I would like to look for some more local events and see just how well I can do. I am not fast by any means, but I also think I have it in me to do better than I think.

4) Run an ultra. I have been wanting to run an ultra for years, and I am NOT sure this goal will happen just yet, as my race calendar is more important and I need to make sure I can fit it into the schedule. I am looking at six marathons (meaning six new states) for 2014 and while I definitely have a couple months of just solid training time, there usually aren’t too many local ultras that fall into the down-time.

5) Focus more on solid nutrition.  I really want to focus more on whole foods and less on processed. I did pretty well with that for a while, and want to get back to that place. I am looking into a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) for my produce needs, and I am hoping I will be able to secure a membership. I want to snack more on whole foods like fruits, veggies, and nuts and less on things like GF cookies, chips and crackers. I have a real salt tooth and it’s pretty easy to dig into chips and hummus/salsa by the handful, so I need to get myself back into healthy portion control. I do have an app called “My Fitness Pal” that helps me track my calories and activity to ensure I am never under my calorie goals; I never want to under-eat, but I want to maintain a realistic goal for myself to get back to a healthy race weight. The only way to ensure that is by keeping track of it.

6) Drink less. Yup, I admit I enjoy alcohol. I wouldn’t say I am a total booze-hound, but I would like to cut back on the days a week that I enjoy a drink, as well as portion control in terms of servings. It’s pretty easy to misjudge pouring a glass of wine or shot of vodka for that cranberry juice and lime cocktail.

7) Focus on strength, especially core. I am terribly lazy about applying myself and my P90X abs that I once had have gone into serious hibernation mode. My friend J passed on a link to a few 30-Day Challenges that I want to try, one for Core and one for Butt, and many of them are moves based on ones that I did in my P90X and Jillian Michaels workout days. I just need to COMMIT the time, keep track of my progress, and hopefully the results will show!

Sure looks like a lot of goals, and I can’t say whether I will succeed or fail, but putting them down in this blog makes me feel like I now really have some work to do. I hope that I can reach these goals, and perhaps learn a few things along the way. I’m sure there will be a recap at this very time next year!

I wish you all luck as you pursue your own goals for 2014, and may you have a happy and healthy 2014!
Wish You a Happy New Year 2014 HD Wallpaper

State # 12: Michigan: Ann Arbor Lives Up to Its Name

Running a marathon in all 50 states and DC can be a very daunting task, and for the average Joe/Jane it takes quite a long time to accomplish from a training, time and financial standpoint. Depending on the state that you call home, it can be a little easier (or harder) for the aspiring 50-stater to meet their goal faster. Living in Pennsylvania allows me to get to over 20 states within a 12-hour driving time, though I have yet to drive further than 9 hours to reach a race state yet. I consider myself lucky that I live in an ideal location, for 4 states (as well as DC) alone can be reached within a 2-3 hour car ride for a quick weekend getaway to snag some new race bling. I always feel bad for those runners who live in a state in the mid-West who have to pay a lot of airfare just to fly to Delaware, but I am sure the same could be said for me when I have to fly to remote states on the other side of the country.

One of Michigan’s closer cities, Ann Arbor, appealed to me as a marathon destination. It was within driving distance, had more of a college town feel than a city, and had a little more green to it (thus the name).  I also appreciated that the marathon was on the small side, the bigger city marathons tend to stress me out. While I might be missing out on something by foregoing NYC or Chicago by avoiding the mega-races, I feel like I am giving my spot to another deserving runner, not to mention supporting the communities that host the small-town races. A race like Ann Arbor’s marathon, while not a rugged trail race that I’d prefer, still definitely gave off the vibe that it was a smaller race with great support.
There were some downsides to this race according to the reviews: a) it was in June and b) it was fairly hilly. Having run the Hatfield-McCoy Reunion marathon in one of my best times ever (the same exact weekend as Ann Arbor’s marathon actually!), I didn’t let these variables scare me. Whatever happened would happen: this was to be my race for Michigan.

Chris and I decided rather than drive all day, as we had for events past, we would leave in the middle of the night and arrive at a reasonable hour. It worked out in our favor surprisingly well, and we had a great drive with no mishaps. Traffic was light and the miles passed by quickly.

The first stop we made was the Briarwood Mall, not to shop, but for my packet pick-up! That was a first for me, packet pick-up in the middle of a shopping mall. But it was fairly quick and easy, no bells and whistles, grab your shirt and number and you’re on your way. Some expos force you to pass EVERY booth whether you like it or not (yeah Akron, I’m looking at you!), and in this case it was easy to bypass any extra tables if you were in a hurry.

By this time we were well ready for a bite to eat, and decided that Chipotle seemed a safe bet from a gluten-free and vegan standpoint. In the end, I think it ended up being a very poor decision on my part, but at the time it seemed right!

We spent the rest of the day relaxing at the hotel since the race started quite early the next morning, and most of my pre-race food was brought from home. I wasn’t feeling especially hungry or good by dinnertime, but I knew I needed calories. I couldn’t pinpoint the problem, but Chris had suffered from a nasty bug last weekend and I was hoping and praying I didn’t pick up remnants of it the day before my race.

Race morning I felt a strong sense of something being amiss. I couldn’t pinpoint it, but I definitely didn’t feel well, and was worried that something managed to get into my system. All I can say is that the race was one of the worst marathons I had ever experienced. Even after consulting the Magic 8 Ball, I never got an “All Signs Point to Yes” answer on whether or not it was gluten or Chris’ bug. All I can say is that a substantial amount of time was wasted during this race having to stop.

The start line of the race was at the Northwestern corner by Michigan stadium. It was odd, because it was very quiet walking to the start. Runners stood around ready to get the race started, but it was definitely a very low key atmosphere, maybe a step up from Colorado Springs or Hatfield-McCoy Reunion. While it was a warm morning, there was no chance of rain in the forecast and it didn’t look to get hotter than 75 degrees,  this was perfectly doable for a race in June!

The National Anthem was sung, and the race director enthusiastically let off an air horn to signal the race start. We were on our way.

I ran the race at a fairly relaxed pace to start, chatting with a couple Maniacs (Jen and Sean in the very early miles)…the race was definitely a very friendly and relaxed atmosphere, and quite green! There were lots of trees, rolling fields and hills, and it was far more scenic and less of a city atmosphere than Providence. Within 3 miles I started feeling nausea…within 4 miles I had to stop at a jon. Here was Round One. I won’t get into details, but I will say I wasted a good 1:30 minutes just waiting to get into one. Getting started again I did my best to sort of play catch up with my pace.

Things never improved. I stopped again. And again. And AGAIN. I honestly had no idea how my body had anything left to give. But it was horrible. I might as well have been running with the flu. In the 70+ degree temps I actually had chills, nausea, and horrible cramping. I started to worry about hydration and foolishly left my hand-held water bottle in the room, so I had to rely on the water stops. Fortunately there were plenty, and the volunteers were absolutely wonderful throughout.

A lot of this race in the middle miles were a blur. I remember seeing lots of trees and pretty areas, and also lots of roadkill. Very few spectators. In fact, I think the roadkill actually outnumbered the spectators! But those that WERE on the course were awesome. Many were students from the University of Michigan donned in blue and yellow, and they REALLY were cheering us all on! I found that when I had the energy to converse with other runners, they were amazingly friendly and encouraging. I met another Maniac, Roger, who helped me keep my mind off things for a few miles as we talked about our 50-states quest and how far we both had to go. While I lost many of these Maniacs during the race, I saw them time and again during out and back sections, and no matter WHAT, we shouted encouragement to one another.

Around mile 15 the course suddenly got very crowded, and I know I didn’t catch up to a group of runners in a pack, but it turned out that the half marathoners joined us and were with us until their final mile. I can’t say why, but running amongst the half marathoners made me feel a little better about myself. I had covered quite a bit more distance, I was still holding it together, and by this point I had yet to walk. It gave me a small confidence boost.
At this point too, we got a lovely surprise: some of the race went through the Arboretum, which boasted beautiful scenery, unpaved dirt trails, and some hills. By this point I was wiped out, and the steep hills were just too much for me to handle. I walked, and felt absolutely no shame in doing so…not after what I had gotten through so far. I gave myself maybe a minute or two to find my bearings, get a little strength back, and force myself to kick back into a run. It was tough, and it took a lot of determination, but I knew I had to keep going.

When we exited the woods, I saw Chris a little past Mile 18. He was so happy to see me, and thought I was right on pace and really happy for me. Upon seeing him I burst into tears and collapsed into his arms, sobbing that I couldn’t finish, I couldn’t do this. It seemed impossible. I was so humiliated at how sick I was feeling, and how my body was just rebelling against me any way it could. He calmly told me “You’re doing great! You’re right on pace! You look so strong!” Words of love and encouragement poured out of him and gave me a some much-needed strength. He insisted I keep going and wouldn’t let me waste any more time blubbering, so I kicked back into gear and gave it my all to finish those final miles.

When you can start counting marathon miles in the single digits, you know you’re going to finish. Only an hour and a half, only a 10k, only a 5k…it starts to seem a little easier with each mile marker. As you get closer to the prize you feel a tiny boost of energy and excitement. I started feeling those pangs of excitement. I was going to do this. It was a new state, my 15th marathon, and while I wouldn’t have the best time ever, I was STILL going to finish this thing no matter how hard it got.

Sure, seeing Chris gave me a nice push…but my body was still in angry mode. I had to stop not once, but two more times. Ugh. I think the last stop I must have wasted a good two to three minutes. It was horrible. But once I got back onto the course I felt like it was finally my last stop, and I only had maybe 4.5 miles to go. This final leg of the race was an out and back that looped around the Briarwood Mall, so I got to pass runners that were heading to the loop. I saw many Maniacs I had seen earlier in the race, including Jen, and she was marveling that she was going to PR today, on this monster of a course. In hindsight, she was right, it WAS a monster of a course! Much hiller than expected, but also what is nice about hills is that what goes up also goes down, so there was some downhill to give us a break!

Around Mile 23 I saw Chris again and he was again cheering enthusiastically…which helped keep my mind off the poor dead rabbit on the street. I swear I have NEVER seen more roadkill during a race, EVER. But at this point I knew I was gaining strength since I had around a 5k to go. We looped around a road to cross a bridge, and Chris popped out again after running to climb up the stairs by the bridge to surprise me. It truly made me burst out laughing when he cheerfully shouted “SURPRISE! Come on! You can DO this! Come on! Don’t forget, we’re going to go to HELL* after this!” I couldn’t stop laughing at that, I realized at that moment he was right, I WOULD do this! I was really close and gaining strength with this knowledge.

The final mile and a half we had to do a small out and back, and of COURSE it was a nasty uphill one way, why wouldn’t it be? Every runner I passed I made sure that I encouraged them. Many half marathoners and faster full marathoners, donning their medals, cheered us on from the sidewalks, and I think it made a world of difference to our morale. What a boost! I think part of marathoning is how it brings us all together, we all have our eyes on the same prize and we all have to go to the same lengths to earn it.
The finish line took place in a stadium, not THE University of Michigan stadium (but how cool would THAT be?), but the smaller Elbel Michigan Band Practice field. It felt SO wonderful to cross that finish line, even though there were a handful of spectators, I was just so happy to have finished in one piece. My finish time was 4:32, definitely not my best, but not entirely dismal either! The amount of time I spent walking, inside jons (which surprisingly were quite clean and not nearly as bad as most other events), waiting for jons…it was a pretty good effort on my part.

The medal was pretty standard fare, but I was disappointed that it didn’t have trees on it. For some reason, the tagline for the race was “Run the city.” But to me, Ann Arbor was so much more than a city, it had so much green, lots of wildlife, lots of trees, I just felt the medal could have been designed to reflect the green atmosphere of Ann Arbor.
I had absolutely zero appetite, and all I wanted was fluids. I figured I would see what they had and snag a couple things for Chris. After all, spectating is hungry work (and I know he spent a lot of time hoofing it to find me on the course)! As per usual, a lovely gluten-filled spread of pizza, muffins, cookies, and other treats. I managed a bottle of water and a Gatorade and was content with it for the time being while he enjoyed some pizza.

Back at the hotel I managed to get cleaned up and stomached some plain white rice. It was about all I felt like having at the time. I really, really had zero appetite for hours. Chris drove me to Hell, which was a fun little stop, and then decided he wanted to visit the Arboretum and Peony Garden. It was absolutely beautiful, and we even were on some sections of the trail that I ran on during the race. The Mile 17 marker was still in its spot. By around 7 PM I realized that WOW, I was hungry and ready to dig into some much needed fuel.

We got to try a brand new place that isn’t local to PA called Noodles and Company, and it was amazing! They really went the extra mile to explain how they prepare the rice noodles separately from regular, and were very good at advising me as to what dishes I could get that were definitely GF, so a pad thai with no eggs and meat was ultimately my choice. We even took a little side trip to Five Guys to grab an order of fries (yes, I was VERY hungry by this point!) It was absolutely wonderful and felt so good to eat again.

Looking back on the race, I had good memories of Ann Arbor. If I physically felt well, I would definitely give it two thumbs up as one of my better races. Great people, small, low-key, wonderful and friendly volunteers, great shirt (it FIT and I liked the logo design) and decent medal, nice scenery (such a shame I was too out of it to recognize that we ran THROUGH the Peony Garden!!!) and a challenging course…just a highly recommended smaller race for Michigan that I actually would return to if given the chance.

Race Results

Finish time: 4:32:26
Overall place: 261/402
Gender place: 78/141
Division place: 10/20

What I learned

  • I already blogged extensively about this, but I think I know now that I really need to be careful about pre-race meals. Chipotle was NOT a good idea and I need to probably stick to more bland fare that isn’t loaded with spices.
  • I also need to DO MY HOMEWORK and ask again and again about the status of prepared food being gluten free. My health depends on it!

*Believe it or not, there is a small town maybe 20 miles northwest of Ann Arbor called Hell that I was dying to visit for the kitsch factor. We did manage to visit, and mailed some postcards from Hell to ourselves and family. They burn the edges of the card before post-marking it as a nice touch.