Friday, October 31, 2014

Five Things Friday - October 31

In trying to decide how to encourage myself to blog more regularly, I thought about the kinds of posts that I wanted to write (I know, what a crazy concept! Please give me credit if you use it.). I always liked the weekly link-up type of posts. None of the ones I know of fall on a day I feel like I could regularly post on, so I thought Five Things Friday would perfect.

I often have quick little things I want to share, but I never quite knew how. I certainly didn't want to write a two paragraph post and call it good, so FTF seemed like a perfect fit. I'll try to keep most of these running-related, but sometimes a little randomness might sneak in. (And if nothing happens all week, I figure I can just share five photos of Faramir.)

1. Michael proved he is the sweetest by surprising me with the sweetest blanket. Major nerd alert! (Me, not him.)


Is that totally awesome, or what? And for all the concerned readers out there, Faramir claimed his birthright and now loves to lay on this. My office is very cold to the point that lots of women sit wrapped in a blanket all day, and I'm almost tempted to bundle up this and see what people say. That's how you make friends and influence people, right?

2. We have officially picked all 50 marathons! Check out my 50 States page to get a sneak peek of where we'll be headed over the next several years. Let me know what you think of our choices - good or bad. I tried to do plenty of research, including reading blog posts, but I'm always open to a heads up if I've gone astray. Certainly, if someone could've saved me from the awful race we did in Indiana, I would've paid them good money.

3. Runner's World posted an article this week on a running group that helps teens combat their depression through exercise. I've carefully avoided bringing up my struggles with depression here, but I decided I should just bite the bullet. I wish I had had some group like this available to me in high school, because running has made a huge difference for me now. (I can only assume that it would have made an even bigger difference when I was already having to deal with the normal turbulence of high school, too.)

I think it's very important to note that running is not the same as seeing a therapist, but it has so many benefits. Not only does running give me the physical boost of endorphins, it gives me an area of my life where I can set and achieve goals completely at my own discretion. I'm very OCD/Type A, so having a schedule and crossing my workouts off gives me an immense sense of satisfaction. When I feel emotionally overwhelmed by other things, sticking to my training still lets me feel accomplished.

4. I was also intrigued this week by this article over on Zelle about thin-shaming. (Side note - I still don't understand the point of Zelle...didn't it essentially just group women-related articles together? Seems like there are plenty of other ways to do that without creating a giant controversy, but I digress.)

While I typically detest the words fat-shaming and thin-shaming, I'm not really sure what to use instead. In any case, I do find it frustrating how there's a huge movement against fat-shaming, but thin-shaming is totally acceptable. Just take "All About That Bass." That song is my jam, but it does bother me when the lyrics make fun of "skinny bitches." Like, honestly, my day does not revolve around being skinny just to make heavier people feel bad. Ain't nobody got time for that.

Curvy women should totally feel confident too, I just don't know what's wrong with being slender. My own grandmother even makes comments about how I'm too skinny, even though I'm at a perfectly healthy weight. And usually when I see a new doctor, they sort of edge around asking if I'm anorexic; sometimes I'm tempted to bring a log of how much food I eat! (Other side, I do find it concerning how even medical professionals seem afraid to ask. I see how easy it could be to hide an eating disorder.)

The article goes more into discussing eating disorders, which I don't have any experience with, but it really hit home that other people feel the same way about their thinner bodies. I work damn hard to stay in shape, and I don't appreciate other people suggesting it's a bad thing!
There'd be a war if this was why is it okay the way it is?!
5. I want to wrap this post up with a question. When we ran the Stone Bridge Marathon in Illinois, Michael and I were about 45 minutes from where most of my extended family lives. (And not really that many miles, driving in Chicagoland just sucks balls.) They knew we were running the marathon, but they all got together to go see a movie instead. (Please note I had some expectations of reciprocation, because my family sometimes drove up to three hours to see cousins perform or compete when they were in Michigan.) I was obviously quite hurt by this, but Eager Feet Mom suggested that they just didn't realize families come to spectate races.

What's your experience with this? Did your non-running family (or friends) not realize coming to a race to provide support was a thing? I never knew anyone who ran a big race before I started running, so I can't speak from personal experience, but even before I ran, I knew a marathon was big deal and was so impressed by people who could run that far. 

I'm looking for honest opinions here. Maybe I'm just totally off base with how people outside the running community view races.

Because right now this is the scenario I'm imagining.
Well, that got sort of heavy sort of fast, so let's go for a bonus sixth item with a picture of Faramir!

It's hard work making sure I don't get up without permission!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Day in the Life: October 28, 2014

Something I've noticed popping up in the blog world is "Day in the Life" posts. I think they're a lot of fun because I'm a stalker they make me feel like I'm in middle school doing Xanga surveys again. Only instead of writing a bs answer for who my crush is (you know who you are ;)), I'm showing you pictures of my food. So pretty much the same thing.

I thought today would be a fun day to do a post, since it's my first day getting up early to run for this training cycle. I'm happy to report that, other than during the hours I normally would've been sleeping, I didn't feel tired or worn out. I'm sure it helps I actually set myself up for success by creating a morning and evening routine last week - and stuck to it - and that I made myself go to bed at 9:15 last night.

I'm looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow though, that's for sure!

5:45 AM: Alarm goes off. I'm a little confused why it's ringing so early, but after checking my texts and emails, I roll out of bed.

5:55 AM: Wash my face, brush my teeth, and get dressed for my run.

So selfie, much awkward.
6:08 AM: Out the door to run. I'm a few minutes behind my schedule, but I needed that time to get my tummy good to go. I'm slated to do a mile WU, three mile repeats with 400 jogs, and a mile CD.

7:17 AM: Return home from run. Not fueling or hydrating before heading out was a huge mistake, so after nearly vomiting following the first repeat, I just aimed to get in the mileage at an easy pace, so the run took a few minutes longer than planned. You would never know because it's still pitch black out. I drink a glass of chocolate milk and go through my stretching routine.

7:45 AM: Hop in the shower and get myself presentable for work. Call my hair good when it's about 80% dry.

8:12 AM: I corral Faramir after he sneaks out the door with me, and I'm off to work.

8:30 AM: Per the usual, I get stuck behind someone who thinks driving 35 in a 45 is acceptable. (This is a giant problem in my town, and it drives me bonkers!) Finally settle in to my desk for the day.

8:34 AM: Eat my overnight oats while checking my email. I'm sure productivity experts would say this is the worst, but I find it relaxing and it lets me get a handle on any additional tasks that need to get done that day.

10:08 AM: Get all my new emails dealt with and stop to snack on half a green pepper.

11:08 AM: The green peppers didn't really hit the spot after running, so I munch on two clementines.

Only got a picture of the remnants, I was so ravenous.
11:30 AM: I still feel ravenous, so I eat my sandwich early. It takes a little more work to cook my own buffalo chicken for lunch, rather than just buying something from the deli, but it's so much more delicious and filling!

12 PM: Leave work for the gym.

12:16 PM: Dressed and ready to go. Once again, the front desk person didn't put my wristband on tight enough, and it's flopping all over the place.

12:45 PM: Workout is finished. Towel off the bit of sweat and change back into my work clothes.

1:02 PM: Back at my desk. Enjoy some chocolate milk as a recovery drink. (My coworker assured me this was a delicious rather than dorky idea.)

2:50 PM: Crank through my to do list and stop to snack on some peanut butter crackers. They're whole wheat, so actually pretty filling.

4 PM: Join a group of my coworkers to work on crafting our Halloween costumes for the office-wide contest on Thursday. Two teams in my bay are combining: the bosses are being Pac-Man and Mrs. Pac-Man, while the rest of us are being ghosts or fruits. We make great progress and get the ghost bodies and eyes cut out. We have a really stressful few weeks coming up next month, so it was great to have a few moments to relax together.

5:12 PM: Jet out the door.

5:28 PM: Arrive home to my favorite kitty. Once again got stuck behind someone going 35 in the 45.

5:39 PM: Put my PJ's on (great benefit to working out in the morning!) and heat up dinner. Catch up on blogs while I eat.

6:08 PM: Do dishes, pack my lunch for tomorrow, and feed Faramir for tomorrow while listening to Freakonomics Radio. I've realized I avoid/hate these chores because I get bored. That podcast is really informative and engaging and makes the time fly by.

6:39 PM: Once my daily chores are done, I do some weekly cleaning. I keep Freakonomics Radio on and get the bathroom and kitchen clean, plus I sneak in dusting.

7:15 PM: Take my second shower of the day. It feels a little wasteful, but I think I would be far too gross at work if I only showered every two days.

7:35 PM: Draft up the majority of this post with ESPN on in the background. Ecstatic to see the Playoff Committee has put MSU at #8!

8:15 PM: Watch an episode of the Walking Dead. I started this show with all my extra time in the offseason, and I'm hooked. I despise the zombie craze (I just don't get it!), but TWD really focuses on the people and the survival, and it doesn't even use the z-word. A bonus is that it's not even too scary for me to watch alone.
Anyone know where I get the first few episodes of Season Five online? I didn't DVR it!
9 PM: Throw some background TV on and participate in my first Twitter chat! I've been wanting to take the plunge for awhile, and when I saw this morning that Mizuno was giving away free pairs of Wave Riders 18s via FitFluential, I knew this was the perfect moment. The chat was so much fun, and the hour flew by!

9:45 PM: I take a quick break to make a mug of tea. This is the only blend I could find at Meijer that was decaf and chamomile free.

10:15 PM: Brush my teeth and crawl into bed. I read a few pages of The Sports Gene, which Eager Feet Dad lent me. It's fascinating, and the writing is very engaging.

10:45 PM: Lights out. Faramir crawls up on my lap, and we're asleep in minutes.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Run Less, Run Faster Preview

Today is the big day - day one of the Run Less, Run Faster program. In a few short hours, I will be heading to the pool and swimming for the first time in months. What could go wrong?

I will normally be posting my weekly recaps on Monday mornings, so I thought I'd start out with an overview of what RLRF is.

After trying Hanson's Marathon Method this past summer and disliking it, I knew I wanted to try a more balanced plan. I missed swimming, and spending more than two hours running on weekdays didn't really work for me.

I did some searching and came across the RLRF plan, produced by the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (FIRST). I had seen this book before at the library, but for some reason I didn't realize it was a training plan, so I had never thumbed through it.

After a little bit of Internet research, I ordered up my very own copy. It's about as different from Hanson's as is physically possible, so I found it very interesting that their training was conceived using the same fundamental ideas. Their five main principles are: progressive overload, specificity, individual differences, law of diminishing returns, and reversibility.

Progressive overload means that training stress will increase gradually, so that the body adapts, rather than breaks. Specificity dictates that runs on the plan will be fast, just like the goal race should be fast. The authors also emphasize acknowledging your individual differences from other runners and adapting the plan as necessary, as each person needs something slightly different to succeed. They also promote the law of diminishing returns - at some point, running more miles will not result in a proportional gain. Finally, reversibility, meaning that training progress can be lost, led them to make only three days a week rung days, making it more likely that runners will take fewer hiatuses.

Like I mentioned above, RLRF is set up to have three runs every week, and each one is a different kind of key workout: first comes a track workout, followed by a tempo run, and finished off with a long run. This is supplemented with three cross-training days, two mandatory and one optional. (The book provides sample workouts for each week for swimming, cycling, and rowing.)

They also encourage strength-training, which I will be doing twice a week. This wasn't discussed very well in the book, but I found a Powerpoint online FIRST had produced on what exercises to do and when. (I'm only modifying the routine to include exercises to hit my low back and hip abductors, since those are my problem spots.)

I tried to find some blog reviews of RLRF to get an idea of what I was in for. I didn't find very many, but what I did find was a lot of vitriol for this plan, mostly from runners who've never tried it. I know RLRF seems radical on the surface, but once I realized the cross-training workouts replace easy runs, it seemed perfectly sensible to me - no one would argue with a plan with five days of running a week. It's also clear that FIRST has spent a lot of time doing scientific research on this plan, so it's not like they're snake oil salesmen or anything. I'm hoping that over the next 16 weeks I can provide a more unbiased opinion on what the plan is really like.

The authors are big believers in setting a realistic goal, so training times are calculated using a recent 5K or 10K time. I used my 10K time from the Scrumpy Skedaddle (57:40), which gives me a projected marathon time of 4:27:36. (Side note - as long as your 5K time is between 16:00 and 40:00, you can use the tables!) I'm a little scared, since this is a marathon pace of 10:12 min/miles, but I'm going to give it my best shot.

Now that I'm working full-time, I like having my long runs on Saturdays best, so I'm starting each training week on Monday. Mondays and Wednesdays I will be swimming at lunch, Tuesdays and Thursdays I will be running before work and lifting at lunch, Saturdays I'll do my long run, and Sundays will be for a yoga class.

I think this program is totally going to kick my butt, but I'm super excited for it. I struggled with Hanson's because it was go go go all the time, with no step back weeks or real rest. I know the RLRF runs are going to put me through the ringer, but I think my mental game will be much stronger knowing I have one day (at least) off from running in between each workout. I'll be back in a week to let you know how I'm too sore to move.

What's your favorite training plan?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

YMCA Stone Bridge Marathon Race Rating

Race: YMCA Stone Bridge Marathon
Date: October 11, 2014
Location: Belvidere, IL
Year Running: 4th
Registration: $80

stone bridge marathon header 
Race Information
Size: 46 full, 94 half, 57 5K
Course Limit: 6 hrs
Min. - Max. Elevation: They took away the whole website, so I can't grab exact numbers, but the course was very flat and near sea-level.
Min. - Max Temperature: 39-62
Charity Supported: Belvidere YMCA
Airports: We drove, but either Chicago airport would be a good choice.
Rental car: Likely needed. I believe there is a Metra stop in Roscoe, so I suppose it would be theoretically possible to fly in Chicago and then take the train, but that would be a lot of work.
Host hotel: None.

Communications: None. One of my complaints about this race was that there were no pre-race emails, nor did the race officials respond to questions on their Facebook page. Everything was clearly explained on the website, and the RD responded immediately when I emailed her a question, but I get a lot of comfort from an email confirming race day details, especially when a shuttle is involved.
Expo: None. We did race day packet pick-up, which was a great option, but I think otherwise we would've just stopped by the YMCA to get our packets.
Other Activities: None.

Race Day
Parking: Fine. There were plenty of spots around the park for marathoners, as the half didn't start until much later. I'm guessing a lot of people doing the half probably had to park on the streets in the surrounding subdivision, but we had no issues.
Shuttles: A bus took us from the finish to the start. There was also an option to ride back in the YMCA van following the race, if you parked at the start. (Only one person took this option, while quite a few of us took the bus before the race.)
Bathrooms: Plenty. We were able to wait inside the YMCA until right before the start, so there were lots of indoor bathrooms.
On Time: Exactly on time.
Corrals: None, but not needed. The field was very small, and there was almost no traffic that early on a Saturday.

Type: Point-to-point
Terrain: Concrete, asphalt, rock; country roads and bike paths
Bathrooms: Every few miles, and there was never a wait. 
Crowding: None
Highlights: Stone Bridge Trail, farmland

Course Support: Good. I think some of the volunteers needed a bit more coaching. Some of the water stops were manned by younger kids, and a few of them were just slumped at the table and didn't say anything. They also gave the course marshals flags, but most volunteers were just sort of waving them, rather than pointing. There was also one point some high school volunteers just stared at me and I had to ask which way to go. No one was rude (unlike in Indiana!), but they probably could've used a few pointers.
Spectators: Very few, but it's a hard course to spectate, since most of it is on bike paths. Plus, the map online was static and very zoomed out. I had no idea where we would be, so I doubt any potential spectators did either.
Local knowledge of race: Poor. This is hard to assess for this race, but I'm docking points because, even though there were mile markers all along the bike path, the other users didn't seem to really get that we were racing. A few signs announcing a race was in progress would've been nice.
Food: Bare minimum - I think there was only bananas and bagels. For the price we paid, I'd expect a few more options.
Atmosphere: Calm, but there was no one else really there. The DJ had a great playlist going, though.
Party: None.

Shirt: Short-sleeve technical T-shirt. It looks really cool and is a nice color. I'll definitely wear it.
Didn't realize it was almost the exact same color as my sheets until just now.

Medal: Not a fan. I don't mind simple, but it looks very cheap. I have all my medals hanging at work, and almost everyone has commented that it looks really out of place with the others.
Age Group Awards: Plain medal. I don't want to sound like a sore loser, but it'd be nice if the medal even had the race name or something on it. I'm probably going to label it so I can remember what it's for.

Final Thoughts
  • I'm surprised how much criticism I had for this race. I came away initially liking it, but I forgot just how much we paid for it. For that price, I expect a lot more. If the race had been $30-40 cheaper, I would've been more satisfied with what we got. The RD generally seemed interested in creating a great race, so I'm not sure where the disconnect is coming from.
  • They're strongly considering making the course an out-and-back on the bike paths next year. I would give this a big thumbs-down. I do a lot of my runs as out-and-backs on a bike path, and it is mind-numbingly boring. (Point-to-point is still a bit tedious, but at least you're not repeating anything.) Very little traffic control was required on the roads, so I'm not sure what the benefit to making this change would be.
  • I think the race is a good representation of Illinois - farmland, but also some forest. While obviously not my favorite, I think it gives you the "Illinois experience."
  • There is nothing on the course except water and Gatorade. I appreciate having fruit at at least one stop. For the price, I think they should definitely offer something "extra" at one or two stops.
  • We chose this race because the registration fee didn't go up until almost before the race weekend, so it was a good way to hedge our bets while I figured out my work schedule. It is very convenient in that aspect. I suppose if there's some crazy cancellation next year in the fall, this could be a good gap-filler for someone.
  • 50 Staters: Eh...if you want to avoid Chicago like me, I'd say this is an adequate race. I don't remember any other small Illinois races really sticking out. I don't think you can go wrong with this race, but you could probably do better.
  • Non 50 Staters: I wouldn't travel specifically for this race, but if you go to Chicago to spectate, this could be a fun activity for the day before (there's also the half and 5K options). Otherwise, unless you're local enough to not need a hotel, give it a pass.

Monday, October 20, 2014

YMCA Stone Bridge Marathon Recap

Normally I do a travel post and a race post for each state, but all our non-race activities for Illinois involved visiting my grandparents. Since I figured no one would be that interested in hearing about our adventures in installing closet lights and looking for random items at Jewel, I'll only be writing up the marathon. Try to contain your disappointment.

For Stone Bridge, we had the option of staying in either Beloit, WI, or Rockford, IL. Both were about the same distance from where we would catch the shuttle to the start, but Beloit was significantly cheaper, so we drove a little extra Friday night. There was a pub connected to the hotel with some shady characters, but our room was on the opposite side, so it wasn't too scary. (Though, once again, I didn't get asked for ID. As someone regularly mistaken for a high schooler, this completely baffles me!)

The race offered a shuttle from the finish to the start either before or after the race, but after our debacle at MDI, we always opt to have our vehicle at the finish, if possible. We arrived at Leland Park around 5:45 and picked up our packets from the RD herself. The swag bag actually had a few good items, like gum and men's deodorant. (Don't worry, I'm giving that last one away.)

There was some kind of mix-up with the shuttle, so we had a little bit of time to kill in the car. I still don't know what happened, but Google Maps suggested a different park when you search for Leland Park, so I expect our driver went there on accident. He seemed pretty clueless (had the radio on blasting volume with only static, dropped us in the street instead of the parking lot at the start, etc.), so I doubt he double-checked his directions.

The RD hopped on to go over what would happen once we got to the start, and then we followed her personal vehicle to the Belvidere YMCA. While this sounds like a lame place to start, it was actually pretty awesome. We were all able to wait inside, and there were multiple bathrooms available. Having a full indoor bathroom to myself to deal with some tummy trouble pre-race is a luxury I'm not used to at all. (Hey, at Fargo, I had to use some bushes exposed to the street!)

Bag drop ended up being a cardboard box to be transported to the finish by the RD. This might seem unsecure to some, but the race had such a down-home, Midwestern feel that it didn't even faze me. Michael carried the car keys, per the usual, but I wouldn't have felt uncomfortable checking them.

The race started promptly at 7 AM, right after sunrise. We lined up right outside the Y, and they made several announcements for anyone going for a BQ to line up at the front, since it was a gun start. I really appreciated this touch, as it demonstrated the race officials really understood what's important to runners.

Stone Bridge Marathon
Stole this from last year's race, as I forgot to take my own.
The first 10 miles or so on were on country roads through farm fields. It was in the mid-30s when we started, and it was gorgeous! Everything had frosted overnight, and the sun was rising behind some trees, creating a wonderful glow over the corn.

I so artsy!
The only thing I didn't like about the beginning was having a support vehicle follow us. The race is extremely small, and I was near the back. I was certainly running well ahead of the rolling cut-off, and I wanted to focus on running my own race, but it was stressful to have the bus bearing down on me.

After these first miles, we moved onto the bike path portion. I was a little nervous at first, as the trail is much narrower than the one I regularly run on, but there were few enough runners that it was not an issue. They had advertised that the trails would be closed, and although they weren't, I think we only saw a handful of other users. I'm sure it helped it was still very early on a chilly Saturday morning - hardly ideal cycling weather - and I think every runner besides us was off in Chicago.

There was a short out-and-back section (three miles total), and it came at the perfect place for me mentally. Three miles sounds completely doable at that point in the race, and once you pop back out, you're already at mile 14. Isn't marathon math a fun, messed-up game to play?

Aid stations were plentiful along this stretch, and police were directing traffic at all major crossings. I was definitely towards the back, so a lot of them were relaxing in their cars, but I appreciated that they popped out as soon as they saw me and didn't seemed annoyed at how far back I was. They always made sure to give me the right of way, too.

Though we had to deal with these very dangerous crossings on our own. Only in Illinois.
I had popped on a Tolkien Professor podcast I had been hoarding at mile 8, and it was long enough to get me to mile 20. Paired with the perfect weather (I didn't take my jacket off until mile 16!) and the funny podcast, the marathon was a great way to unwind after a stressful week at work and to wrap up my marathon season.

This time I caught Michael around mile 20, and he said his calves were bothering him and he would see me at the finish. At this point, we also transitioned on the actual Stone Bridge Trail. And it was brutal. I had some flashbacks to the dirt road at Monument, to be honest.

Race's namesake, I presume.

There was a comfortable track to run on, but most of the gravel and dirt was gone, so two or three of the final miles were run on hard rock. My low back was already bothering me a bit at this point, so it was quite painful and required me to really dig deep. It was also here that I heard someone screaming up on me. To my surprise, Michael had caught up to me! We spent the last few miles leapfrogging one another.

Before the race, I had been torn on how fast to run. I had gone for a five hour race in Nebraska and been brutally destroyed by the heat and elevation. I knew my legs were tired, especially after racing a 10K hard the weekend before, but I felt surprisingly good and amped up. I decided to go for five hours again and see what happened.

I really made myself focus on each four mile block, and, for the first time in a marathon, everything finally clicked. I didn't end up meeting my goal, but my splits only dropped in the last 10K once when I stopped to stretch and the last mile when I was a little confused on where to go. Considering when I set my PR at my first marathon I felt absolutely destroyed, I'm incredibly pleased with how this race went! I think I finally know how to get my head on straight and how much fuel to take in (about three times higher than what I had been trying!). I'm also finally comfortable with how much I will suffer if I go out too fast, so it's less scary to try - the consequence isn't exactly fun, but I know I can tolerate that level of hurt.

Towards the end of the race, the only thing I wanted was to get off the damn bike path. I also almost took out a biker when he rolled by at mile 24 and commented that it was "a nice day for a jog." I just about rolled him down the hill, except I only had the energy to sort of huff at him. I'm 99% sure he was only trying to be friendly, but the j-word inspires irrational levels of hatred within me.

Show me a jogger that can get to 25 miles, and I will show you a liar.
We were finally directed off the path with about a half mile to go. The race finished down a hill, so we couldn't see the finish line until we were just about on top of it. There was no 13 mile sign and no volunteers after the final turn, so I was a little nervous we were off course, but it was a simple straight shot.

Finish Time: 5:07:32

The finish line was pretty empty (and the volunteer simply handed us our medals, a huge pet peeve of mine!), but the DJ had a great playlist going. The food options were limited, but adequate, considering the cost of the race. The RD took a picture of Michael and I together, so I forgot to get one on my own camera and can't find hers anywhere, so you'll just have to imagine one.

Look at my sweet medal instead!
After some stretching and relaxing, we headed back to the YMCA to use their showers for free. PSA, they are open-style, but one was hidden behind a wall and no one else came in, so I was able to enjoy a relaxing shower anyways. I really appreciated having this option, since we were switching hotels that night. (And I'm sure my nana appreciated us not being gross during dinner.)

We swung by a BWW for lunch to catch part of the MSU game, and we even got it on the big screen. It was a great way to chill after the race.

I know a lot of people will probably question why we picked this race for Illinois (instead of Chicago), but I have no interest in gigantic, expensive races, and this race did a great job showcasing Illinois. While there were a few hiccups, it's obvious the RD and her staff are knowledgeable about running and want everyone to enjoy their race. I highly recommend this as an alternative to Chicago and as a BQ course.

And this just looks disgusting.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Monument Marathon Race Rating

Race: Monument Marathon
Date: September 27, 2014
Location: Gering, NE
Year Running: 3rd
Registration: $75 

Race Information
Size: 102 full, 315 half
Course Limit: 6 hrs
Min. - Max. Elevation: 3500 ft - 4800 ft
Min. - Max Temperature: 45-78
Charity Supported: Western Nebraska Community College
Airports: Denver is the nearest major airport with reasonably priced flights. Cheyenne is closer, but seemed to be much more expensive without saving that much drive time. Scottsbluff does have an airport with connections from Denver, but I think I heard these connecting flights are sort of iffy and caused people to miss the race last year.
Rental car: Required. Even if you got a flight into Scottsbluff, you need to be able to get around both Scottsbluff and Gering.
Host hotel: Hampton Inn & Suites Scottsbluff. We stayed at the Super 8 because it was incredibly cheap and crazy nice for a Super 8. Most runners are local anyway, so I don't feel like we missed out on interacting with a bunch of other runners by staying somewhere other than the host hotel.
Communications: Good. My only complaint is sometimes the emails had minor discrepancies between themselves and the website. We ended up getting to the race super early because we weren't exactly sure when the shuttles to the start would leave. (I think the difference was only about 30 minutes, but every minute of sleep counts!)
Expo: At the community college. They had a good spread of vendors and freebies for a race this size. The volunteers were efficient, and everyone seemed very excited we had come to their race. I also thought have everyone mark their hometowns on a map.

They even added a little map of Europe for the two races from the Netherlands.
Other Activities: Pasta dinner. It was reasonably priced and run by a local business, but we had our hearts set on runzas, so we didn't go.

Race Day
Parking: Fine. We were some of the first people there, so I don't know what the situation was when all the halfers started arriving, but there were plenty of volunteers and cordons, so I imagine it went smoothly.
Shuttles: School buses took us from the finish at Five Rocks Amphitheater to the start at the Wildcat Hills Nature Center. The ride was pretty short, and a race official personally greeted us once we arrived.
Bathrooms: Few but adequate. There was an indoor bathroom plus a few port-a-potties outside. For the small number of people, it was just the right amount.
On Time: Exactly on time.
Corrals: None, but not needed. We had an entire lane plus a very generous shoulder at the start, so there was plenty of room to spread out. (This is pretty important, despite what the field size suggests, because the first few miles are so steeply downhill that it's hard to perfectly predict your pace.)

Type: Point-to-point
Terrain: Concrete and dirt/rock - highways, side roads, dirt trail, and a bike path
Bathrooms: Every few miles, and there was never a wait. (However, I didn't go until about an hour after I finished, so I might not remember this perfectly.)
Crowding: None
Highlights: Scottsbluff National Monument

Course Support: Great. The volunteers were very enthusiastic, and I never had a problem getting my bottles refilled during the second half. The dirt trail and bike path near the end aren't really passable to vehicles, but there was a constant bike patrol. There were enough cyclists when I got there that some struggling runners were escorted all the way to the finish. The local tribe (I believe the Lakota?) also came to drum and sing in the final mile, which was really motivating.
Spectators: Few, but much of the course isn't conducive to spectating, plus the day was incredibly hot. The volunteers were all incredibly enthusiastic.
Local knowledge of race: Fair. A lot of the race is away from the main parts of the town, and Scottsbluff is apparently one of the most obese cities in the US, so I'm not surprised more people didn't know. I think the race is focusing its energies on advertising the race to runners rather than locals at this point, which is fair.

Food: Lots of options, I liked having multiple choices for salty and sweet. My stomach was feeling really icky from the heat and elevation, so I only managed chips and water, but there were lots more things to choose from.
Atmosphere: Calm, but that was fine. It was very hot, and all I wanted was to sit in the shade, which was possible, so I can't complain. The announcer was very enthusiastic, and the race officials made sure that a woman finishing the 50 States got congratulated by everyone in the finish area. (They also got the announcer to re-announce me after he first said I was from Mississippi!)
Party: Not really one, but the weather wasn't very conducive. There were food trucks setting up in the morning, so perhaps there was a more popping atmosphere when the halfers were finishing.

Shirt: Short-sleeve technical T-shirt. I was excited to get a woman's cut, but the shirts are very "boxy," and it seems like the woman's version is just less boxy, rather than actually shaped differently.
Kitty feet not included.
Medal: Really fun. I like how the logo and shape of the state were both incorporated.

Age Group Awards: Print of a local artist's watercolor of the bluffs. Really unique and fun to display.
The matting was fine, I'm not sure why this picture makes it look so askew.
Final Thoughts
  • This race is pretty new, but don't let it scare you! No one seems that enthralled with Lincoln, and most people straight up say Omaha is awful, so this is a great Nebraska alternative. Plus, the bluffs are amazing and keep this from being a race with nothing but corn for scenery.
  • The RDs genuinely want everyone to love their race. They were present at the expo and the start line and made sure special finishers were recognized at the finish. Additionally, I forgot to pick up my gear check bag, but they found it and mailed it back right away. I sent them a check for the shipping, but this wasn't even required. To me, that's really going the extra mile.
  • The one thing I don't understand is why the race starts so late! It was unseasonably warm, and the course is complete exposed. The race starts more than an hour after sunrise - even moving it back a half hour to hedge their bets against too cold and too hot would make a big difference.  (Though I still think it should start right after it gets light.)
  • My only other suggestions (which are pretty nitpicky) are to get the emails consistent (it's stressful to be given three different times for the shuttles to the start) and put gear check in a more prominent place. While I'm sure I mostly forgot my bag because I was pretty out of it, but I still have no idea where the bags were, even though we pretty much walked around the whole finish area.
  • 50 Staters: Yes. Nebraska doesn't have a lot of options, and this one is a ton of fun. Plus, being able to fly into Denver makes travel a lot easier.
  • Non 50 Staters: The race is really great, but not enough to travel significantly for on its own. However, if you're local or want to plan a trip to the Denver area or even South Dakota, incorporating this race would be fun.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Monument Marathon Recap

Race day dawned with a bit of a chill - we tried to enjoy while we could.

The Monument Marathon started at the Wildcat Hills Nature Center, a Nebraska state park, and finished at the Five Rocks Amphitheater in Gering. We stayed in Scottsbluff, and it was an easy 15 minute drive to Five Rocks, from where we would get a shuttle. We got there around 6:30 and were able to park in the second row. We were gone by the time the halfers started arriving, but they appeared to have plenty of spots and a solid number of volunteers directing traffic.

We boarded the first bus and departed at 6:45, when the bus was full. Everyone was very upbeat and friendly on the bus, and it was a lot of fun listening to the chatter around us. The ride lasted about 20 minutes, and the Nature Center was open for us when we arrived. The receptionist/clerk seemed very excited for us to race and not at all annoyed she had to get there extra early (I assume) to open the building for us.

There was an attached patio with picnic tables, so Michael and I relaxed out there and visited with some other Maniacs and 50 Staters. It was a wonderful, low-key way to kick off the day. I didn't have any time to get nervous, because I was too busy getting recommendations for future races!

We also got to see some wild turkeys pilfering the bird feeders. I was surprised how few people could actually identify them as turkeys (lots of people thought they might be vultures). Wild turkeys are super common in Michigan, and we even have a flock that regularly terrorizes people at work. Maybe they're a cooler bird than I thought.
I'm a sparrow, I swear.
Bathrooms were open in the Nature Center, plus a few port-a-potties, so I had no issue going twice right before the race. They had a huge truck for bag drop, so it was really fast and easy to put our bag in the truck ourselves (Apparently it's a lot less easy to remember to get said bag at the end of the race. Ahem.) A marathon participant sang the National Anthem, which I thought was a nice touch, and we were off right on time!

The first five miles of the race are all downhill, and I knew from reading past reports that it would be very easy to trash my quads at this point, especially because there are no hills in Michigan for me to practice on, either up or down! I held back as much as I could, though I still went a bit too fast. Although this section was along a main road - we had a whole lane coned off for us - it was still early enough that there was little traffic, and it was quite peaceful.

I really liked this section of the course a lot, and not just because it was fast. It made me feel like a pioneer, running towards the bluffs in the distance. (Okay, I think we might have been going the wrong way for that metaphor to really work, but work with me here.)

I settled into a surprisingly comfortable rhythm once I hit the flats. It didn't feel like a total walk in the park, but my breathing was easy and light, so I stuck to the plan. Between mile five and the halfway point, we ran away from the bluffs and made a "u" through some farmland. I liked this section too - it was the Nebraska experience most people thought I would be having (corn, corn, and more corn), and the corn was tall and vibrant, much better than the dead fields in Indiana this past spring!

This section was also home to one of the best aid stations. It was put on by a trucking company, and their volunteers were incredibly enthusiastic. They also had tons of "trucking lingo" signs up before and after their station.

Asking for a friend - what's the opposite of this?
After we came out of the cornfields, we ran through Gering and entered Scottsbluff National Monument. Right before this, we passed the turn-off for the race finish. It was still quite a distance from the finish, so you couldn't see it, but I was incredibly jealous of all the halfers heading in for the home stretch. I was impressed with how well marked this area was. Even without all the volunteers telling you where to go, it would've been almost impossible to get mixed up.

The volunteer in particular who told me where to go said I was going to run the "pretty part now." The first half was wonderful, but I have to agree with his assessment.

This also brought the first major climb of the race, up through Mitchell Pass. I had already mentally prepared myself to take the hills in this section easy, and I was happy that I had the energy to power-walk up them, rather than just meander along. Plus, I had plenty to look at one the way up!

I have to give all the volunteers in the second half of the race a ton of credit. They had been out in the full sun for just as long as us, and they were still brimming with energy. One biker in particular planted himself at the top of the pass and cheered each of us on as if we were about to win the Olympics.

I took this after I went by, I'm not that much of a creeper.
So far the altitude hadn't been bothersome, but I really felt it after Mitchell Pass and the next few hills. The awesome volunteers at the mile 16 aid station refilled my bottles with ice water, and I took a separate cup of ice as well. As I slowed to walk through the station, I suddenly felt dizzy and just sort of bad, so I decided to take some time to regroup.

I think I walked about half a mile and got the whole cup of ice down before I ran again, and it made a big difference. Normally altitude just gives me a mild headache, but I think the heavy exertion at that elevation was making me more susceptible to its effects. I never felt truly awful or like it was dangerous to continue, I just had a nagging icky feeling that told me something was wrong.

I distracted myself again with the scenery. At this point we had started to loop back around the bluffs to head back to Gering. This part was also what I had been looking forward to - it was a part of the historic Oregon Trail! It's now paved, but it was cool to travel where the pioneers had once been.

Shortly after this, I saw Michael for the first time since the start. The course has no out-and-back sections, so I had had no idea how he was doing. I was concerned that I had caught up to him, as he can run quite a bit faster than me when we're well-trained. He was really struggling with the heat, but he encouraged me to go on, so off I went. I felt good for about another mile or two, and then my wheels came off too.

We moved to a dirt road through the other side of the monument. The tire tracks were free of rocks, so it was much easier to run in them, but it meant I wasn't running any of the tangents. The sun was also getting truly merciless, and I felt like I might be starting to burn, though somehow I escaped with only my part and a small patch of forehead getting crispy.

If that river had been full of water, I probably would've swum this section.
The aid stations were about two miles apart, but there were cyclists out patrolling this section, so I never felt unsafe. If I had somehow gotten to the point where I had needed water so badly I couldn't continue without it, I probably could've just sat down and waited a few minutes before someone would've found me and given me some. I'm not sure if the cyclists were only out because of the unseasonable heat, but it was great planning on the race's part. (And the cyclists were awesome, they even biked a few people in who were really struggling!)

We finally left this road of death, and the next section was on a paved multi-use path. Thankfully this was concrete, so the heat radiating up wasn't as bad. I have to say, although this was my hottest race yet, I felt much hotter at the end of Hatfield McCoy, just because the black asphalt had absorbed so much heat before I got there.

This modern art is "acceptable" on the Eager Feet Dad scale, since you can at least tell what it is!
Once off the path, we wound through some neighborhoods (which sounds boring, but the bluffs were basically right next to the houses) and finally got back to the turn-off point. I think I was more excited for the shade than for being so close to the end! I almost got hit by some clueless old guy driving through, despite the volunteers' best efforts, but it was what it was.

Glorious, glorious shade.
I was surprised how quickly (relatively) the last 1.2 miles went by. I was hot and tired and wanted to be done, but I never felt defeated or like I had come close to hitting The Wall. I definitely modified the Hansons plan a lot towards the end and hadn't run further than 13.1 miles in training, but the cumulative fatigue worked perfectly, and I felt like I was perfectly prepared to run the distance. I had just - once again - started out too fast. I wasn't very sore after the race, so I think the heat and altitude got to me more than I realized.

I was able to pass a few people in this section, and I think I was only passed when I stopped to stretch, so I at least did a good job pacing myself relative to other racers running similar times. In the unforgiving marathon, I'll count that as a win. 

Mile 25 also had one of the biggest highlights of the race - some native drummers. I could hear the drums almost from the mile marker, and there were a few of us in the same general area, so they started singing again when we got closer. It was the perfect pick me up and very beautiful. I give them tons of credit being out there - I can't imagine drumming and singing for hours in that weather!

Before I knew it, we were at the finish line. I liked being able to see it a bit ahead of time, as I feel like our last few races keep it hidden until the last .1 or .2, which is a huge mental battle. The finish is uphill on gravel, so I wasn't able to really kick. (That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.)

Okay, that's Michael, not me. Pretend with me.
 Finish Time: 5:29:33

When I finished, they first announced I was from Mississippi, not Michigan. Luckily, they made an announcement to correct this right as I sat down in the food tent and someone wanted to ask me about how much I liked my "home" state.

The finisher's tent had tons of food options, but my stomach didn't feel interested in anything, and the funny feeling from the altitude intensified, so I just tried to force down some chips and water. After sitting for a few minutes, I felt a very strong desire to puke, which I had been expecting, so I did my best to breathe through it and managed to keep everything down. I hadn't used the bathroom the whole race and still didn't feel a need to, so I was really focused on not dehydrating myself any further.

They also announced updated age group results at this point, and I found out I had won mine! I had stalked the participant list and knew one girl in my age group was super speedy and the other was an unknown, so I assumed I would just default into third. Winning was an awesome surprise, especially when someone else finished in my age group, so I hadn't just won by default! (No disrespect to her at all, it's just more fun to be 1/2, instead of 1/1.)

I got a little nervous at this point that Michael hadn't finished yet, so I asked some recent finishers if they had seen him, and they confirmed they passed him on the bike path, so I felt better knowing he was pretty close and not in distress. We hauled some chairs outside of the tent into the small patch of shade to watch for missing party members, and Michael eventually appeared!

Michael grabbed some food and we picked up our age group awards - really cool prints from a local artist!


I felt okay, but now I realize how out of it I was. It wasn't until we were at the car that I realized we hadn't gotten a finishers picture together. Luckily, a passing volunteer was more than happy to take one for us.

Overall, this was an amazing race! Other than having it start earlier to avoid as much time in the sun, there's very little criticism I can offer. The organization was superb, the volunteers were amazing, and the course was stunning. I'm still not sure about the whole state, but this race was definitely The Good Life.