Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Austin Half Marathon Jumps Onto the Race Calendar

What's this? A private message notification appeared on my Facebook late last month. I opened it to find a running friend from NYC asking me if I would be running the Austin Marathon in February. Well, I hadn't planned on it, but since you brought it up....

My dilemma was this: I wanted my 100th half marathon to be the Go! St. Louis half marathon in April. Another running friend would be completing her 100th at this race event and it sure would be nice if I could finish mine at the same race. The Fifty States Half Marathon Club criteria for completing 100 halves precludes any distance that is not exactly 13.1 miles. I have completed two 25k races and one 30k race, so these don't count for 50 States Club award. It should be noted here that I also belong to another club - 100 Half Marathons Club - and those alternate distance races will count and I will be completing that 100 Halves challenge later in February.

So when I withdrew from the Galveston Santa Hustle race in December and then had the Mississippi Blues race cancelled on me, I was in a bind. I already had one extra race on the calendar as insurance against just such a thing, but I didn't have two extra "insurance" races. Now I needed to add one to the calendar to be safe. The Austin race would be a good decision.

I got onto the race website, registered for the race and then booked my hotel room through their lodging site. I was, quite honestly, surprised that there were still rooms available at such a late date. And a hotel room just two blocks from the start line at that!

That friend's motivation for contacting me was that he couldn't get into Austin from NYC cost effectively, but he could get into Houston for a very low airfare. I agreed to get him at the airport Friday night and then give him a ride to Austin Saturday morning. It was a win-win situation.

His flight arrived at Houston Hobby just before midnight Friday night and picking him up went like clockwork. I had us at my house before 12:30 AM.  As we drove to the house, I confirmed two things: what time did he want to get to Austin Saturday; and was Starbucks okay for breakfast.

Getting Starbucks breakfast before heading to Austin

We were both up, showered and dressed by 8:30 AM so we got onto the road early, stopping at my favorite neighborhood Starbucks for coffees and breakfast. Then we headed west on I-10 to US 71 northwest toward Austin. Along the way we chatted about races we've done, races we'd like to do, and compared travel notes.

We arrived in Austin by noontime, turned my car over to valet parking, and I let him stow his luggage in my room until he could pick up his race packet and meet up with the friend he'd be staying with for the weekend.
Race expo in Austin

The race expo was a fairly good size, but I wasted no time getting my packet and my race shirt and then going off in search of something for lunch. I found a Thai restaurant nearby and had a pretty good shrimp and noodle dish. It was a short walk back to the Starbucks next door to the hotel, so I stopped and grabbed a smoked caramel cappuccino and sat at one of the nearby tables and sipped my drink while getting caught up on my emails. I considered taking a walk over to 6th Street and just seeing the sights, but I was tired. having gotten only 5 hours sleep the night before, and the lure of my comfortable room and the TV was just too much to overcome.

I laid out my things for the race the next morning, set the alarm on my smartphone, and then ordered room service for dinner. It was an early night for me; I could hardly keep my eyes open watching a movie on TV.

When my alarm went off the next morning, I was still so groggy I momentarily considered just rolling over and going back to sleep. But I couldn't do that. I needed to do this race. I needed to stay on track for my 100th half marathon goals.

So I got up, started getting ready, and ate some breakfast. Remembering the difficult time I had with last weekend's race, I made a point of hydrating before leaving my hotel room. At 6:45 I headed for the elevator, got down to the lobby, and walked out the door of the hotel and toward Congress Street and the start line.

Once the gun went off to start the race, it took me about 10 minutes to shuffle my way up to the start line. It was a large field of runners and we were trusted to seed ourselves within the corral based on our running pace. Once I crossed the start line, I began to dread the long, 3-mile uphill that faced us all right out of the chute. This was a very hilly course and the temps were already in the very high 60's with very high humidity. I slogged along, keeping a steady but tempered pace until we made the turn onto flat terrain at mile 3.

I knew we'd now have a nice 3-mile downhill stretch back into the downtown area. But as we made that turn, there was a water station and a bank of portapotties and the power of suggestion took over. I'd no doubt over-hydrated before the race, hoping I'd not have another episode like I had at the Mercedes half marathon the week before.

That business done, I enjoyed the nice downhill stretch into downtown. Once we crossed the bridge over the Colorado River, our route turned and took us along the river for several miles before it turned back toward the downtown area. There were hills and more hills, and steep hills between me and the finish line. But I kept plugging. I had to make two more portapotty stops before we got to the turn away from the river. Guess I drank too many fluids before the race.

Half marathon route, data from my Garmin GPS watch

At one point, when we were within a mile or so of the finish line, an older gentleman, probably about my age, began to catch up with me on the last, long steep hill. He said, "I'll give you 3 Gu's if you'll let me catch up with you and pass you." I turned and looked at him, and gave him a smile. He complimented me by saying how impressed he was with my steady, fast walking pace. He went on to say that I must walk a lot. That would be an understatement.

We made a few quick turns and then came up along the back side of the Capitol building, worked our way around the the side toward the front, then turned onto Congress Street and headed for the finish line.

Aside from having to make three porta-potty stops within the first 6 miles, I was pleased with my pace and my finish time. I did it and was now just one half marathon away from that benchmark of 100 halves (for the 100 Half Marathons Club) and within three half marathons from reaching the 100 half marathons award with the 50 States Half Marathon Club.

Half Marathon finisher medal

I walked through the finisher chute then down Congress Street, past the various post-race support tents, and then past the food trucks. I had some cash on me, thinking I might want to buy something, but as is my usual post-race routine, the food just didn't look appetizing at that moment.

So I kept walking down Congress to 4th Street, turned left, and walked the last two blocks to my hotel. I took my time getting showered and dressed, and then checked out of the hotel, retrieved my car from valet parking, and got on the road toward home. I know this route very well, having driven it many times, and knew there was a McDonald's in La Grange, the perfect post-race recovery food for me.

By 3:00 PM I was home. My cats were happy to see me,

Next up: Rehearsals for our next production and actors will be going off-script this week. I'll also be working on the promotional poster for another project I'm involved in: the inaugural 5K race in our little community.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Very Good Alabama Race Revisited

As marathon events go, the Birmingham Mercedes Marathon/Half Marathon event is pretty high on the list of must-do races. I first did this half marathon in 2013. It was bitterly cold at the start - temps in the low 20's - and I had considerably less experience with hilly marathon courses. But I did it, I finished the race, and filed it away as one that was worth repeating in the future, once I'd finished my 50 States quest.

So in 2016, as I was planning my 2017 race calendar, I took a look at this race again. A few of my running friends were planning to do this race, so I went ahead and registered for the half marathon on Sunday and the 5k on Saturday.

My calendar gets pretty full this time of year, with races and play rehearsals. If I wanted to do this race, I'd need to be home for rehearsals Friday morning before leaving for Birmingham that afternoon.

With a 2 PM flight departure from Bush Intercontinental in Houston, I was able to attend rehearsals that morning and also avoid the morning rush hour traffic. I arrived in Birmingham at 3:30 PM and had a delightfully charming cab driver take me to the hotel. He'd been a cab driver in B'ham for 30 years, so when we ran into heavy rush hour traffic backed up on the interstate, he whipped over to the exit ramp, took local streets only a cabbie would know about, and got me to the hotel minutes later.

Race expo at historic Boutwell Auditorium
I got checked into my very nice room at the Westin, then walked to the historic Boutwell Auditorium to the race expo and packet pickup. Then it was back to the hotel and to the adjacent coffee house to get a cappuccino.. I was hungry but was only in the mood for room service for dinner. I laid my things out for the 5k race the next morning, then enjoyed my dinner in front of the TV.

5k race day morning! I woke, ate Cheerios and some of the fruit plate I'd ordered the night before, then got dressed for the race and headed for the elevator. It was cool but very humid with chance of rain.

Fellow 50 Stater Kimara a the 5k start line.

I wore capri's, a long-sleeve shirt and a lightweight fleece pullover on top. And the cool superhero cape they gave each of us to wear. It was way too many clothes! I was sweating and hot within the first mile. By the time I had the finish line in sight, I was more than glad to be nearly done. How could I have under-estimated the "feels like" temps for this little 5K race?

5k race route, data from my Garmin GPS watch
nearing 5k finish line...super hero cape flying!

I received my finisher medal - a cute little superhero - then walked back to the hotel. A cappuccino sounded like a good idea. I lingered over my creamy, rich and very good cappuccino in the hotel lobby seating area, then made my way slowly back to my room to get cleaned up.

5k finisher medal and enjoying an excellent cappuccino

Tonight we had a 50 States Marathon Club dinner meet-up at a cool little cafe in the Five Points South area of Birmingham. It's always nice to see my fellow running friends, and this little restaurant was a real gem, suggested by one of the members who's local to the area. They took good care of us and the food was great! An Uber ride back to the hotel and I laid out my things for the half marathon the next morning and then chilled out for the rest of the evening.

Delta Blues restaurant on Cobb Lane in Five Point South.

Lovely patio and entrance to Delta Blues.

Our pre-race dinner group at Delta Blues

Half marathon day morning came too soon. I didn't sleep well, waking up frequently all night long. Ugh! I got dressed, left the hotel, and walked to the start line. I almost immediately spotted some of our 50 States club members and we all posed for a selfie.

A few of us 50 Staters at the start line for the marathon/half marathon

The half marathon route was nearly identical to the route when I did it in 2013. The big difference, however, was the weather. That year it was freezing cold, this year it was warm and muggy. I wore shorts but didn't bring a short sleeve running shirt with me, not expecting it to be so warm. Fortunately, my shirt was very lightweight and I could push the long sleeves up to my elbows. But still....
Half marathon race route, data from my Garmin GPS watch

Things were going well for the first half of the half marathon, but when it started to get very hilly, and I started to get overheated, the wheels started to come off for me. I struggled up the long hill mid-course, and then again at around mile 8 or 9, after the long downhill section. Several times I worried I wasn't going to be able to finish. My legs felt like lead, I was beginning to feel dizzy, and I couldn't catch my breath.

I realized I was experiencing an A-Fib episode. It had been years since I'd had this happen. Last time I could remember was during the Flying Pig Half Marathon in 2011. I continued to struggle along, pausing frequently to let my heart rate slow and hopefully normalize. Finally, at the mile 12 aid station, I spotted a cot in the first aid tent and headed that way. I knew I needed to get off my feet. I announced that I needed to lie down and then proceeded to do so.

One of the really sweet and very nice gals working First Aid immediately came over to me. I let her know that I was also a health care professional and that I was overheated and possibly hypovolemic, despite having made a point of regularly ingesting fluids along the way. I laid back, raised my legs to improve blood flow to my head. I ingested one of my energy gels and she brought me a cup of water. Within a few minutes I felt my heart rate slow and stabilize and the dizziness subsided.

Half Marathon finisher medal
Mercedes Half Marathon finisher1

I thanked her profusely for her help and continued on. The improvement was dramatic. I was able to resume my normal pace and make it to the finish line with no further problems. I collected my finisher medal and then walked back to the hotel without even stopping to take advantage of the free meal at the finish line. I'm never hungry immediately after finishing a half marathon.

Back at the hotel, I bought a cappuccino to bring back to the room, where I had food and snacks waiting for me. I'd arranged for a late checkout, so took advantage of that extra time to get my feet up and let my heart rate calm down. It was still erratic, still in a bit of A-Fib, but only sporadically at this point.
A sandwich and a Starbucks at the airport, waiting to fly home

I showered, dressed, and then checked out and waited for the free hotel shuttle bus to take me to the airport. I knew I'd be getting to the airport way too early for my flight, but also knew I'd feel more comfortable knowing I was at the gate in plenty of time. I bought a sandwich and a smoked butterscotch cappuccino at Starbucks and then kicked back with my Kindle Fire and relaxed while I waited for my flight.

Next up for me: A friend is coming in from NYC to run the Austin Half Marathon. He's scheduled to sing the national anthem at the start of this race and I'm excited that I have the opportunity to host him at my house overnight and then ride with him to Austin.

Monday, January 30, 2017

[Sigh] Marathon Gone Terribly Wrong

One thing about running full marathons as opposed to doing half marathons is that the training needs to be good and it needs to be maintained. With this in mind, I sucked it up big time and registered for three full marathons spaced out over three months in the first quarter of 2017.

I completed the first of those three marathons on New Year's Day. I wasn't fully trained for it, but did manage to complete it successfully. It would seem that from here on out, subsequent full marathons over the next three months would get easier to do, since I had a nice mix of half marathons sprinkled in among them to maintain training.

My second full marathon of 2017 was January 29, 2017. It was in the nearby city of Sugar Land, just 30 miles away. But because of the very early optional start time for the race, I went ahead and booked a room at the Hilton Garden Inn through the race website lodging portal. It gave me a very good room rate and still allowed me to collect Hilton Honors points for my stay. The hotel went above and beyond for those of us there to run the race. They had special welcome packets for us, a special pasta dinner the night before, early bird breakfast the morning of the race, and shuttle service to/from the race venue for those who didn't have cars or didn't want to drive. It really was a very nice touch, given that this is not an especially large race event.

I took advantage of the pasta dinner and then returned to my room, laid out my running gear, and set my smart phone alarm for a 3:15 AM wake-up (ugh!).

The next morning I got up, got dressed, ate my Cheerios, then left the hotel, grabbing a banana on the way out. It was just a short 2 mile drive to the race venue. I signed up for VIP parking and as I got into my car, attached the silly window flag they gave us so that parking attendants would know we were eligible for the VIP parking lots close to the start/finish line.

window flag for VIP parking. Interesting....

I got there plenty early and easily parked up close to the action. There were about 50 or so of us for the early start. This early start was provided for those who needed more than 6 hours to complete the marathon. It was dark and very cold at 4:30 AM! At the last minute I added a lightweight fleece jacket, thinking if I got too warm I could remove it and tie around my waist.

Soon we were crossing the start line, with a police car escort to get us out of the U. Houston campus and across a major roadway, through the Smart Financial Centre complex and then, 2 miles later, back across that busy street to the paved sidewalk on University Boulevard.

We ran 7 miles down University to a turnaround point then returned back the way we came. It was very dark, and we were advised to bring our own hydration, as the water stations would still be getting set up as we ran past. The sky began to lighten at around mile 9 and the water stations were fully open by about that same point. At about that same time, we saw the first of the normal start time participants coming the other way on the roadway. For the second 13.1 mile loop for us marathon runners, we would be heading back out on the now-closed roadway and returning on the sidewalk on the other side of the street. This explained the great distances between the porta-potties on our side of the street, a fact revealed only after daylight when we could see the other side of the roadway.

13.1 mile loop, data from my Garmin GPS watch

When I got to within a mile of the turnaround point at the start/finish line, I realized that I just wasn't up to the task of doing a full 26.2 mile marathon. I had that mile to give it serious thought and consideration and to weigh the emotional fallout of dropping out after doing only the half. This is "territory" I've visited twice before and successfully negotiated mentally while doing the Texas Metalsaw Marathon. I now realize that I'm better off not doing marathons that consist of multiple loops!

As I neared the timing mats at the finish line/turnaround point, I actually ran across the mats, and headed back out for the second loop, but within a few yards I decided there was no way I could head back out there. I stopped for a few moments giving myself one last time to talk myself into or out of it. It was so frustrating to be facing this mind-over-matter situation yet again. But this time I just couldn't continue.

So I walked back toward the finish line, carefully avoiding the timing mats, and approached the timing tent to let them know I was dropping out. I was disappointed in myself. As I walked back to the car, I considered returning to the race course and continuing, but just wasn't sure. Hem and haw, hem and haw. Ultimately I realized that if I was questioning myself this much, I needed to just walk away.

Nice finisher half zip top

The good news is that I did complete a half marathon, and I am happy about that. I have three half marathons in February that I'm looking forward to, The Mercedes Marathon/Half Marathon in Birmingham AL, a couple of half marathons in Texas (Austin and Baytown) and will have another chance at the full marathon in Little Rock AR in March.

Meanwhile, I just need to not beat myself up for crapping out on the full marathon this past weekend.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Earning Legacy Status at Chevron Houston

I've now run the Chevron Houston Aramco Half Marathon ten times! This qualifies me for Legacy Status! I'll never reach legacy status for full marathons since I'm no longer able to finish that distance within the time limits, but am happy to have reached this milestone with the half marathon.

The first time I ran the Houston marathon (26.2 miles) was in 2002. I was never a runner until the year leading up to that year's marathon. I cheered a friend at the 2001 marathon and saw the inspiration I needed to salve the grief of losing my husband. I trained for, and then ran the 2002 marathon, raising money for American Cancer Society (ACS). Over the next few years I continued to raise money for ACS through my running.

News article appearing in Houston Chronicle, 2003 (click here to enlarge).

Over the years since my first marathon, I've witnessed all of the changes that have taken place in the sponsorship and management of this race. The first year I ran it, the race was sponsored by Compaq and was called the Compaq Houston Marathon. The next year the sponsorship changed to Hewlett Packard. This began what I would consider the "dark" years of this race, when purse money dried up and the world-class elite runners stayed away.

2002 Compaq Marathon. Near mile 25 on Allen Parkway. Note the near
absence of any spectators. It's totally different today!

2003 HP Marathon, at mile 18.
2004 HP Marathon, mile 21

When Chevron took over as corporate sponsor, purse money returned - big money - and the world-class elite and Olympic runners returned. The race grew in size to the point that getting registered for the race meant sitting at the computer as soon as registration opened and attempting to get registered before the race sold out. This sometimes meant hitting the 'send' button repeatedly as the website was overloaded with runners trying to register. The race sold out within hours! The start of the Chevron sponsorship era coincided with my retirement from work and, at the same time, my decision to stop running full marathons.

It was in these early Chevron sponsorship years that I felt the race event had 'sold its soul' in order to attract the elites. All of the race event's efforts and promotion went toward catering to the elite runners, at the expense of the thousands of everyday runners like me. It seemed to be all about filling up the field, not about making the race experience itself enjoyable for the  'weekend warrior' runners. No doubt this was to attract the elites back to Houston after several 'no purse' years.

The demand for registrations became so great that the race went to a lottery system of entry. For the next few years, I was lucky to get in all but one year. The last year of the lottery, I had reached 5+ year early registration status which granted me early guaranteed registration. The next year they did away with the lottery. By that point there were so many other races to choose from, including an excellent full/half marathon held in nearby Baton Rouge on the same weekend, that the demand to get into Houston had eased up enough that, while the field does fill up every year, it's not a frenzy in the first few hours when registration first opens. This increased competition for runners' money and time was no doubt the reason the registration crush had eased, and for eliminating the lottery system.

But then something changed. It was noticeable immediately, and seemed to coincide with the major change to the race route. Gone was the dreadful start across Elysian Viaduct and through the depressing and shabby 5th Ward neighborhood of Houston. Gone was the sterile, near North Side section and then into the Heights, and gone were the dreadful out-and-back 4 miles on Montrose. The change to safer, more up-scale neighborhoods has meant large numbers of spectators now line the race route.

Chevron Houston Aramco Half Marathon route (data from my Garmin GPS watch)
Old portion of the route is in green.
Now the route departs downtown straight down Congress Street to Washington Ave. It's a start route that's along wide, open streets, through the revitalized Market Square Park area. It totally eliminates the stretch through The Heights, instead including a big section through the River Oaks neighborhoods, down to the Rice Village area and then over to the Museum District.

With this greatly improved route, the miles just seem to fly by. The last two miles down Allen Parkway are one giant party along the median, with all the local running clubs and their tents set up, the cheering, the beer! It's become a much better "user friendly" race than it ever was in those years when I was just becoming a runner.

The race organization got much better. Start corrals were instituted, the finish line organization was much more logical, and race swag greatly improved. The post-race feast for the finishers, put on by HEB inside George R. Brown convention center, is one of the biggest and best in the country.

Welcoming the runners to GRB in 2017

So here I am, in 2017, finishing my 10th Half Marathon, which qualifies me for Legacy status. It will give me guaranteed registration every year, a special racing bib, and other perks. As long as I'm still able, I'll always hold this weekend in January open for this race!

Packet pickup for Chevron Houston races

I drove to GRB convention center on Friday to pick up my race packet, shop the plentiful vendors, and then grabbed a Starbucks at the Hilton next door. The next day I packed my running things, grabbed a Subway sandwich to take with me, then drove back into town to the hotel where I've stayed for the last two Houston marathons.

Visiting the Route 66 Marathon staff at the Chevron Houston marathon expo

Really cool autograph wall at the expo

I got up the next morning, had breakfast in my room of Cheerios and a banana, then walked the mile to get to my corral at Preston and Caroline. It was a short wait before our corral was released to cross the start line. The weather was warm and very muggy, and the stark contrast between the weather and my shorts and short-sleeve shirt this weekend to the low 20's temps and layers of clothing in last weekend's race was comical.

Finisher medal for 2017 Chevron Houston Aramco Half Marathon

12 miles later, as I entered downtown, it began to rain....heavily! I couldn't look up because the rain was hitting my face so hard, and when I did try to peek ahead to check my progress, the rain was so heavy that visibility was only a block or two. Rain was pouring off the bill of my running hat as I crossed the finish line and walked through the chute to claim my finisher medal and work my way into the GRB to claim my very nice finisher shirt. The A/C was turned on full blast inside the GRB. Wet clothes, cold A/C = instant goose bumps! I thought about going through the food line but I was getting very cold and beginning to shiver a little. So I blew off the fabulous food just to get back outside where it was a little warmer.

I hurried to my hotel room, grabbed my bag, and headed to the car, driving home in my soaking wet running clothes. But it sure felt good to sit down, get warm and know that I was done and on my way home.

Another half marathon done! This makes 97 life-time half marathons, my 10th half marathon with Chevron Houston marathon. I am now a Chevron Houston Legacy runner!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Moving Along to Mobile AL

The Mississippi Blues race was cancelled in Jackson MS due to bad weather, but not discouraged, I left Jackson midday on Saturday and headed for Mobile AL for the second of the two weekend races.

I arrived at the Renaissance hotel in Mobile late afternoon, turned my car over to the valet, checked in, and then walked the easy distance to the small expo downtown. I picked up my bib and my back-to-back plaque handmade by the residents of L'Arche Mobile, and then chatted with some running friends who'd also come into town for the race.

Ran into David and Kevin at packet pickup in Mobile

I realized, after these last two very cold days, that I'd not packed a warm cap for the races. Fortunately, as small as the Mobile race expo was, there was one booth there selling running gear and accessories and I was able to purchase a bright red fleece cap for $7.00. Perfect!!

The really neat plaque made by L'Arche residents. 

Then it was a short walk back to the hotel, dinner and a beer in the lobby lounge, then I returned to my room, laid out my things for the next day's race and put my feet up in front of TV for the evening.

Sunday morning I was up early. I ate my breakfast of Cheerios and a banana, then started to get dressed. It was going to be cold at the start - in the low 20's - but dry and sunny, fortunately. By the time I had all of my running clothes on, I felt and looked like a fat red tomato. I had on my wonderful, new long Asics heavier weight tights, two long sleeve shirts - one of them lightweight, the other a heavier weight 1/2 zip with funnel neck and thumb-hole sleeves. Over this I pulled on a dense, heavyweight red fleece quarter-neck top, a neck buff, my new red fleece cap, and Polartec fleece running gloves. I was ready!!

The race start was just 3 short blocks from the hotel and I arrived just in time to hear running friend Jim Diego sing the national anthem. (click the link to see the video).  He's been "running" around the country singing the anthem at marathons and then lining up at the start to run the marathons.  He's one tough little running "cookie!"

I did this race last year, doing the full marathon. This year I was doing the half marathon. Same excellent, scenic first 8 miles and then the full marathon runners split off and we continued eventually heading back to downtown and the finish line.

The half marathon route for Mobile 1st Light, data from my Garmin GPS watch

As we started out and I began to find my pace, I found myself next to a young lady who was moving at about the same pace. We stayed together for the entire race, chatting and comparing race notes. She was from a suburb of Minneapolis but admitted she was cold. Of course, she was wildly under-dressed, wearing only a running skirt, long sleeve shirt and thin gloves. She didn't expect it to be this cold. I'm sure her drawers at home are filled with winter running clothes and that she was wishing she had some of it with her on this trip.

Having someone to run along with for the entire race made the miles go by quickly. Even when I managed to find that one little tiny patch of ice along the curb at around mile 12 and slipped and fell, she stayed with me. Later, after the race, we "friended" each other on Facebook and she checked in with me the next day, asking how my knee was.

Really cool, handmade finisher medal. So unique!

Really gorgeous but unfortunately unearned back-to-back medal
given to us at the finish line of the Mobile race. The center spins.

After I crossed the finish line and collected both my race finisher medal and the sadly unearned but gorgeous Back to Back medal, I made a beeline for the hotel, stopping first at the most excellent little coffee house near the hotel to pick up a cappuccino to bring with me back to the hotel. I couldn't wait to get into that hot shower and get warm!

Here I am, all bundled up, crossing the finish line

Once showered and dressed, I grabbed my cell phone and headed back to the finish line to get some of the very good post-race food and to wait for Jim and others who were doing the full marathon to come in. The food was so good....red beans, sausage, and rice and corn bread to go with.  There was free beer, as well, but who wants to hold onto a can of ice cold beer when the temps are in the 20's?

Finish line, waiting for a friend

I waited and waited for my friends to come in, but eventually decided that I must have missed them and headed back to the hotel. I was tired and very cold and eager to get off my feet for the rest of the day. Another half marathon done. And I had another one coming up the next weekend - Chevron Houston Aramco Half. I ordered room service and settled in front of the TV for the evening.

I stayed another night at the lovely Renaissance hotel, then got on the road early the next morning for the 450 mile drive home.  I love doing this little race and will definitely be back to do it again.

Next up: Chevron Houston Aramco Half Marathon the next weekend.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Real-Life Ice Capades

When I made my final plans to do a "double" race weekend (half marathons on back-to-back days) I never thought about the weather. I mean...these will be two relatively southern cities in two southern states: MS and AL. I've run races in these two cities in January in the past and extreme cold weather was certainly not an issue. The "double" consists of Mississippi Blues half marathon in Jackson on Saturday, and 1st Light half marathon in Mobile on Sunday.

But as my departure day drew near, and as I watched the weather for final packing guidance, it was apparent that it was going to be colder - much colder - than originally expected. But precipitation wasn't in the forecast, so no big deal.

The really cold forecast prompted me to make a last minute Amazon Prime purchase, a pair of Asics thermal running pants. I used to have a pair of heavier Brooks running pants, purchased many years ago, but they were sadly outdated and did not incorporate any of the newer, more convenient features such as flat waistband, zippered pockets, and the better fabric technology that is out there today. The pants arrived the day before I was to leave so I scraped together a small load of laundry so that I could wash them before wearing.

Bags packed, car loaded, gas tank topped off the night before, I hit the road Friday morning at around 6:30 AM. My plan was to drive east on I-10 to just east of Lake Charles, and then pick up U.S. 165 north toward Alexandria. From there my route was Hwy 28 to US 84 to Ferriday and then on up to I-20 and east to Jackson.

I was making good time, my GPS indicating an early afternoon arrival in Jackson. But then, as I continued east of Alexandria on US 84, and watched the temperature drop into the 20's, it began to rain and then the rain turned to freezing rain. Where the heck did this come from?! Rain was forecast for early morning and was expected to be out of this area by the time I was driving through, but it was now obvious that this front had stalled and was only now pushing through.

I stopped in Ferriday at a KFC for lunch and to steel my nerves, and then took the turn north on US 65 toward Vicksburg. The freezing rain became sleet and soon I began to notice that the sleet was accumulating on the road shoulders and in the fallow fields on either side of the road. The farther north I got, the worse it got, until soon it was starting to accumulate on the roadway. And worse, was beginning to pack up under the windshield wiper blades, rendering them practically useless.

Several times along this stretch of road I questioned the wisdom of continuing. It was a very lightly traveled road, with very few vehicles on the roadway to help break up and melt the ice. I kept convincing myself that if I could just make it up to I-20 and Vicksburg, I'd be okay. When I reached that interchange, I pulled into a gas station so that I could de-ice the windshield wipers, hopefully get them to do their job.

My totally ice-encased car!
Ice and gunk on my poor car!

I-20 had enough traffic on it to keep the lanes clear, with only icy strips between the tire tracks on the bridges and overpasses. Fortunately I didn't have too far to travel from Vicksburg to Jackson MS. Once I got into the city and off of the interstate, the roads were terrible. I crept along on the local streets, fortunately not having too far to go to get to the Marriott in downtown Jackson. I parked my car in their attached garage and then got checked in. I'd made reasonably good time, arriving only about an hour later than originally predicted.

Then I bundled up and ventured out onto the glare icy sidewalk to get to the convention center to get my race packet. It was a nerve-wracking three blocks to get there. Sidewalks and streets were solid ice.
Yikes! Sleet starting to accumulate in Jackson

As I picked up my packet and goodies, I asked about the status of the next morning's race. No one I spoke to seemed concerned or speculated on its being cancelled. I was surprised that no staff or volunteers were even considering this. No way was this ice going to go away or even get better in the next 16 hours.
Packet pickup for Mississippi Blues marathon. Hall was practically empty!

Part of our race swag includes these really nice running jackets

I had many running friends who were struggling to get to Jackson. All flights in were cancelled, and many were stranded at various airports around the Southeast. Some were trying to figure it out. If the race organizers had gone ahead and cancelled the race mid-afternoon, it would have saved many of these travelers a lot of angst and stress. And those that were planning to do the "Double" could have directed their efforts toward getting to Mobile instead. But that's not how it worked out for many of them as they struggled to get to Jackson any way they could.

The sidewalks and roads were even worse as I headed back to the hotel. Slippin' and slidin' and hoping the cars were able to come to a stop at the red lights before I stepped into the crosswalk. Yikes! Jackson is hilly and it was dicey navigating the sidewalks and crosswalks.

Mississippi Blues guitar logo and the nice jacket and medal on display

bands were rotating through and playing on this stage in the lobby at packet pickup

There was a club dinner the night before the race, but no way was I going to venture back out onto the roads. It wasn't within walking distance and I was frankly quite surprised that it wasn't canceled.

I laid out my running things for the next morning, still incredulous that the race hadn't yet been cancelled. But then, finally, at 9 PM I received the cancellation email from the race organizers. While I could totally understand their decision, I did not agree with the late timing of this decision. It needed to have been made hours earlier.

I have to admit that it was a bit of relief to finally get this message. Although I'd certainly have gone ahead and run the race, it wouldn't have been one of my better efforts. I was still in recovery from the full marathon the previous Sunday and I knew I had another race to run a day later. So the pressure was off.

Saturday morning I laid in bed, watching the local news channel, hoping for some road reports. I learned that I-20 west bound and the I-55 interchange, localled dubbed "the stack" was impassable. Live footage and reporting at numerous locations around the city showed roads in varying conditions, from fairly passable, to totally impassable. I also learned from the news coverage that the race directors were allowing the runners to pick up their medals, so I grabbed my race bib (as proof) and braved the icy roadways and sidewalks to walk the three blocks to claim my medal. Such a shame the medal is unearned! It's a really great, original medal! It commemorates the 10th running of this race. It spins, the backs of the little guitars are engraved with the dates of each of the 10 years' races.

10th anniversary medal, the dates of each of those 10 races engraved on the back
of each of the little guitars. Very clever design. Wonder if they'll reprise the 10th theme?

Really unusual and clever medal to commemorate their 10th anniversary.
The wheel with the 10 guitars spins!!

I delayed leaving, asking for a 1:00 PM checkout to let the sun get higher in the sky and the roads to clear up a little. Looking at a map, I determined that the best way to get out of the downtown area, avoiding I-55 and all feeder roads that lead to that interstate, was to leave the hotel and head west on Amite St to Gallatin Street and head south to I-20 eastbound. This route proved to be perfect. Roads were open, moving smoothly, with only a slight backup at the I-20 eastbound entrance ramp. But once on I-20, there was no traffic heading east. I could see that I-20 westbound was backed up and a virtual parking lot of 18-wheelers for as far as the eye could see. So glad I didn't have go in that direction!!

I stopped at a McDonald's for lunch in Magee MS, about halfway, and got into Mobile about 4:00 PM.

Next up: Mobile 1st Light Half Marathon!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

How I Spent My New Year's Day

I need to be careful. This could become a tradition. Or at least a very bad habit. Last year on New Year's Day I ran a local marathon called the Texas Metalsaw Marathon, getting back into the 26.2 mile marathon "game" again after a 12 year hiatus. I truly thought that, once I'd completed that race and a second one the following weekend to qualify for Marathon Maniacs, I would be ready to run that Rome Marathon, get that checked off of my bucket list, and then be done with the 26.2 mile distance. I'd retired from that distance 12 years previously, and thought I'd retire for good after Rome.

Famous last words, I guess.

I really enjoyed doing that New Year's Day marathon, so much so that I signed up to do the 1/2 marathon distance this year. But then I thought, "I really should do the full marathon, not the half." The fact that it was just up the road from home, did not entail any travel expenses, and had a generous completion time limit got me to thinking.  So I emailed the race director, changed my registration from the half to the full marathon, and then worried about how I was going to train for it.

Lack of meaningful training aside - I'd been staying with 13.1 mile races ever since I ran that full marathon in Rome back in April - New Year's Eve was suddenly upon me. I'd been watching the weather all week. In typical Texas fashion, the weather forecast for New Years Day - race day - was changing hourly. I had my clothes laid out on top of my dresser, but that pile changed three times as the forecast went from warm (shorts and short sleeve top), to cold and wet (capri's and long sleeve shirt), back to warm (bring the shorts out again).

Race day was indeed going to be warm and extremely humid. I set my alarm for 5:00 AM, giving myself an hour to dress and eat breakfast, then got on the road at 6:00 AM to make the hour drive up to the north side of Houston and the race venue.

I parked and then walked the 1/2 mile or so to the neighborhood park where the race starts/finishes and where packet pickup was being staged in the pool house. I put my purse into a zipper-top tote along with some extra power bars, sports gel, socks, a long sleeve shirt in case I'd miscalculated the temperature, and a windbreaker. This fit very nicely into the very nice duffel bag we're given as part of the excellent race swag, which also included a nice long sleeve shirt. This year's race theme was "portapotty" so there was a very large inflatable portapotty at the start line and we each were given a portapotty squeezy toy at the finish line, a cute little souvenir.

Very nice microfiber running hat with embroidered race name, and a very
well-made duffel bag with lots of pockets.

I tied pink ribbons around the handles of my duffel for easy identification, placed my zip tote inside, and then positioned it in the bag drop area, cordoned off but accessible to us at the race route turnaround point. This is a very nice touch, since nearly every other race have sequestered bag check.

A few of us from the 50 States Half Marathon Club were there, but we were having a hard time rounding them up for a club photo. We succeeded in only getting 3 of us into the photo.

Three of us at the start line. The cute, inflatable portapotty with Santa at the start line.

The race started at 8:00 AM sharp. The same 4 loops as last year, but in temps that were almost 30 degrees warmer and 96% humidity. It was going to be a very long 26.2 miles!

I got through the first two loops okay, the midway point at 13.1 miles, but just like last year, it was very hard to turn around and head back out for that 3rd loop, knowing that once I'd finished that one, I'd still have one more to go. And if I quit at the end of the third loop, I'd never be able to forgive myself for getting so close and quitting. It was a real struggle.

The race route, captured by my Garmin GPS watch. Four loops
on paved trails in Kingwood.
At the turnaround point at "home base" they had a tent canopy set up with lots of snack foods, several different choices for beverage - water, Powerade, soft drinks. I grabbed a cup of Powerade and a piece of banana and took the time to consume these, giving my legs a rest and my resolve a chance to fire back up.

Then I started that 3rd loop. It was harder than I remembered it from last year. I was really struggling at that point. And then in order to finish the second half of that 3rd loop I was REALLY having to psyche myself up. There are benches scattered here and there along the paved trail, so when I got to within a mile of the turnaround point, I sat down, pulled out a sports gel from my little pack and forced myself to consume it. I realized that I'd not been fueling enough for the marathon this year. I'd not been taking these sports gels at my usual pace (usually every 1.5 hours) and not consuming enough liquids for some reason. This little respite gave me a chance to remind myself how upset I'd be with myself if I quit after 20 miles, and didn't go the full distance.

This short little break and the little shot of calories really seemed to help. I no longer felt so heavy-legged and as I made that last turnaround to start the fourth loop, I was pretty sure I was going to finish it.

There was a drink station 2 miles out on the loop. We passed it going out and again coming back, passing it a total of eight times. As I neared it on the outbound leg of this last loop I was really starting to crap out again. A long-ago friend from the running club I used to run with was there chatting with one of the volunteers. He was also doing the race, but because he was also one of the organizers, he was taking his time, checking up on the various aid stations as he passed by.

I grabbed a cup of water and as I resumed, he fell in with me and chatted non-stop which was a God-send!! He totally took my mind off of just how miserable I was. I apologized whenever I had to slow down for a little bit, but he stayed with me. Even when I sat down on a bench briefly he sat with me. He said he was in no hurry, to just take my time. He was definitely my saviour!!

As we crossed the finish line together, I thanked him profusely for staying with me through to the end. His wife was one of the volunteers and she took care of both of us, getting us cold drinks with ice, offering pizza and cookies, which are part of the post-race food. I sat a bit, enjoying the cold soft drink and food, then gathered my duffel bag, now 3 lbs heavier with the finisher medal, and slogged my way the 1/2 mile back to where my car was parked.

My massive finisher medal, and my cute little squeezy portapotty

I crawled into my car, changed out of my running shoes and into a pair of sandals, and then just sat there and considered what I'd just been through, and congratulated myself for not quitting. I didn't quit! It was a very warm and humid day for a race, and I didn't quit!

Once again a Texas Marathon finisher!

I headed for home. My initial thought was to stop at Starbuck's near my house, but as I got to the freeway exit, and had to make the decision to turn right toward Starbuck's or left toward the house, the thought of getting out of these sweaty running clothes and getting into the shower easily won out over rewarding myself with a Starbucks.

Another full marathon done. Next up: trip to Jackson MS and Mobile AL to do a "double" - two half marathons in one weekend. Mississippi Blues Half Marathon on Saturday in Jackson, and First Light Half Marathon in Mobile, and a special "double" finisher medal for doing both.