Friday, May 21, 2010

Essay assignment: Describe your favorite vacation

I don't want to go home. I've been here a week and have barely scratched the surface of all there is to do and see. I used one of my deposited time-share weeks for a unit at The Ridge in the Village of Oak Creek. It's a lovely time-share property, with units that go beyond nice to down-right luxurious.

Photos here: Sedona Trip

To begin this adventure, I drove 1200 miles from Houston to Sedona, taking the southern route on I-10 through New Mexico, Tucson, up through Phoenix and then to where I am right now. On the way I stopped near Anthony TX for the night and stopped in Tucson to have lunch with a couple of MTF friends at a most excellent restaurant called El Charro.

I arrived at the resort, checked in, unloaded my stuff and then went back out the nearby grocery store and stocked up for the week. Fruit, cereal, coffee, steak, shrimp, salad makings, water, wine...

I was pretty tired and was ready to call it quits for the night. The long 2 days of driving plus the 2-hour time difference made 9 PM feel like midnight or later.

But then, of course....of course...the ridiculously early sunrise - 5 AM - had me awake at 5:15 AM! Sunlight streaming in the windows, birds chirping, dry mouth and nose, and the need to pee got me out of bed and made it difficult to go back.

My ambitions for this trip are to stay active running, hiking, visiting as many state and national parks as humanly possible, all in the space of 6 days. So, first order of the day was to put on running gear and head out for a run. Looking at a map, I could see a pretty decent route of about 3 miles, with the only two possible difficulties being 4500 foot elevation and hilly terrain.

I was gasping within the first 100 yards! A very steep initial grade of 15% (yes, there's actually a warning sign with this information!) had me walking for about 0.1 mile, but it leveled off momentarily and then catapulted me down the other side. Once beyond that initial hill I managed to endure running one mile of gentle uphill grade followed by 1/2 mile of flat, turn around, do the 1/2 flat, coast down the one mile gentle grade which is now downhill, then walk up the 15% grade and run that last steep downhill to the finish. Yay! I survived it!

Breakfast and a shower later, I was ready to get out and explore! This first day I decided to drive over to a trail head that would take me to a pretty view of Cathedral Rock, with Oak Creek in the foreground. But first I headed south a mile or so to the Red Rock Visitor center, where a little time spent with a state park ranger, some brochures and some maps, and I was able to get a good overview of the area, and start to formulate some plans. He answered some questions I had regarding the hiking trails and it was from him that I learned about the trail to Cathedral rock and the red rock loop. The road to get there was great - North Red Rock Loop. The trail is picked up at Red Rock Crossing and winds along the banks of Oak Creek for about a mile where it opens up with a fantastic view of Cathedral Rock.

Back at the car, I continued on North Red Rock Loop to where the pavement ends and continues as an unpaved road of dirt and gravel until it connects with South Red Rock Loop. I drove past the entrance to Red Rock State Park, considered spending some time there, but decided it was getting hot and I was getting hungry, so I returned to Village of Oak Creek and my beautiful timeshare condo. There was a little shopping center at the entrance to the resort, so I walked back down the hill to check out the offerings. One little cafe in particular caught my fancy, so I had a small bowl of minestroni and a prosciutto panini and purchased some jelly, a jar of roasted red peppers, and small box of gray salt chocolates to take back with me.

By now it was blazingly hot, so the sensible thing to do was relax in the comfort of the timeshare unit, while forming up plans for the next several days' sightseeing and hiking.
Monday night a sirloin steak, wild rice, and a salad for dinner, followed by a few pieces of that gray salt chocolate. Interesting...
Tuesday morning and another 5:00 AM wake-up! Sheesh! Today would be a good day to drive up Oak Creek Canyon, visit Slide Rock State Park, and continue up to near Flagstaff where the road exits the north end of the canyon a couple thousand feet higher in elevation than where I started in Sedona.
Slide Rock State Park is just a few miles north of Sedona on 89A. Here I ran into my first challenge, where the entrance fee is $10, and all I have are $20 dollar bills. The drill is this: Go park the car, walk about a half football field distance back to the entrance gate, take an envelope out of the little plastic box, fill it out with car description (license plate #, state, name, address, etc), put the money in the envelope, and then drop it through a slot in a concrete pillar. Well...first of all, I had to stand there and wait for someone else to show up and then ask that person if he had change for a $20. Boy, did that sound like a flim-flam scam or what?! He was very nice and was able to oblige without leaving himself without $10 for his own entry fee. Then I had to walk back to my car to get the license plate number. I keep this info written on my motorcycle insurance cards but for some reason didn't do the same for the car. Back to the entrance station now, to drop my sealed envelope into the slot and I was now free to proceed onto the trails that would take me up to the ridge overlooking the slide rock area of Oak Creek, and then down into the Oak Creek canyon itself. I offered to take a photo of two couples and they reciprocated in kind, offering to take my photo. Turns out the gentleman who took my photo was a professional photographer with his own studio. He loved my Canon EOS camera!

Back in the car, I continued north on 89A where the road began a steep ascent by switchbacks to the top of the canyon. It was wonderful! At the top, not too far south of Flagstaff, is a pull-out view point with large parking lot, restrooms, and a trail that hugs the top of the ridge giving fabulous overlooks of the canyon to the east and to the south. A Native Indian arts and crafts show was being held on the grounds and on my way back up the trail from the overlooks, I stopped to chat with one of the vendors. To participate in this and other shows held on state park properties, the artisans join an organization that maintains the master schedule of the shows. This particular vendor does 2 or 3 a month, alternating between this one at Oak Creek Canyon, and another near Flagstaff.

After spending some time in the cooler air of the higher elevations, I began my drive back south on 89A toward Sedona. Along the way I overtook a man on a giant painted horse headed in the same direction. His horse was loaded with saddlebags, bed roll, and other on-the-road paraphenalia. He was dressed in chaps, jacket and cowboy hat...I sure would have like to know who he was and where he was headed but this stretch of road was narrow and twisty with nowhere safe to pull over. Oh well, I can let my imagination fill in the blanks.
Tuesday night I decided to have jumbo shrimp, a salad and wild rice. Nice! Then it was time to settle in front of the large flat-screen TV to watch The Biggest Loser.
Wednesday morning I headed out again for another run, re-tracing the same route I did on Monday. It was a little easier this morning, perhaps because I was getting acclimated to the higher elevation. I know that the cooler temps were helping a lot. It's been in the high 50's in the mornings.
This day, after getting a run in, having breakfast and then showering and getting cleaned up, I plan to drive down to Montezuma Castle, Campe Verde to visit Fort Verde State park, and then do the winery tour. This general area, just to the south and west of Sedona, has been discovered as a good wine growing region. Apparently the soil, climate, and exposure are perfect for certain grape varieties. There are more than a dozen wineries in the area, several of which have visitor centers and tastings. I had picked up information and a magazine devoted to the wine cultivation in the area, when I stopped at the Red Rock Visitor Center. I selected three that were near each other on Page Springs Road near Cornville.
With an early start toward Montezuma Well, I arrived there early, while it was still comfortable temps and not crowded. The trail to the top of the well and then down into the bottom of the natural well provided numerous photo opportunities. The well fills from underground springs at the rate of 1.5 million gallons of water a day. From inside the well, one can see where the water exits - a swallet -then climbing back up the natural walls of the well to the top, I could follow a trail that took me down the other end of that swallet, where the water exits the well and flows down a hand-dug channel created by indigenous indians in the area hundreds of years ago.

Leaving Montezuma Well, I continued south on I-17 to Montezuma's Castle. Walking the short trail to the base of the cliff in which the castle is built, I took some photos and then returned to my car to then head to Ft Verde where Captain Crook and his army established a base to protect settlers from indian attacks. The visitor center was closed, but I was able to see and photograph the reconstructed buildings of the fort.

I crossed I-17 and headed toward another national park: Tuzigoot. After walking through the ruins, I settled into a shady place and had lunch before continuing north and then through the cute town of Cottonwood toward 89A and then north to pick up the north end of Page Springs Road.

Driving south on this really scenic and twisty road I first came to Leaping Boar winery and tasting room. The adorable little building, rose gardens and display vineyards were enticing. But once inside the cramped little tasting room I was pretty much ignored while the sole staffer - a woman - chatted up a gentleman who apparently owns a locally reknowned restaurant and was tasting his way through their offerings. After standing there for about 10 minutes with not a flicker of acknowledgement from the staffer, I left the winery and continued just a few yards further south to the next winery: Oak Creek Vineyards.

There was a very nice tasting room, with a small selection of accessory snacks like crackers, chocolates, and the like. The woman staffing the tasting room was outstanding! Two other couples arrived while I was there and she managed to handle each of us with individual care and attention. One could taste 3 wines for $5, but she gave me a fourth at no extra charge. I purchased two of the more unusual wines.

Leaving this winery I continued about a mile down the road to Page Springs Winery, another very nicely set-up tasting room with a beautiful deck off the back with fabulous views. The woman staffer was very helpful and attentive and I tasted two different wines before chosing one to purchase. I also bought a jar of unusual jelly while I was there.

It was an excellent day of sightseeing and wine-tasting!
This night I would have the other sirloin steak, more salad and rice, with a glass of wine to go with.
Thursday morning and yet another (but not quite so early) early rising with the sun high in the sky and I had breakfast, got showered and dressed, packed a lunch, and then got back out there to explore more of Sedona.
I was told that the views from the airport are excellent, so I had that on my agenda, along with Red Rock State Park, and the Chapel of the Holy Cross, built into the side of one of the buttes near town. This was my first stop, as I headed north on 179 toward Sedona and 89A. The road got narrower and narrower as it wound its way up to the chapel, where I parked and then walked the last steep little bit to get to the chapel. It's an architecural feat, for sure, built by an architect who was once a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. On my way back down the road, I pulled over to get a photo of the chapel from the front looking up at it...the best view.

Now to 89A south toward South Red Rock Loop and the entrance to Red Rock State Park. I read somewhere that this park was going to be closed in late June. Arizona is in a cash-crunch and has closed nearly all of the rest areas on the interstates. Can this rumor about the park really be true? It sits right in the heart of the Red Rock tourist area, so this is a surprise to me.

I entered the park, parked and walked to the very nice visitor center where a volunteer gave me advise on trails. I did not have sturdy hiking boots with me so her suggestion would give me a good 2 mile hike on level trails that followed along Oak Creek.
The trail started from behind the visitor center and was in open sandy terrain until it crossed Oak Creek via a lovely wooden pedestrian bridge. Then I turned right onto the trail and followed it for more than a mile as it alternately disappeared into heavily wooded alluvian terrain along the creek and emerged into open sandy lands rimmed by red rock cliffs. At one point, as the trail came up against the cliffs, small waterfalls were visible working their way down stairstep rocks in the cool shade.
The trail crossed back over the creek on a primitive wooden plank bridge and then continued in the other direction along the creek. The volunteer told me where to look for some pictographs along this part of the trail and I think I found them, and took a photo. A longer lens would have been useful here.

An hour later I was back at the visitor center, where I settled in under a picnic pavilion and had a small picnic lunch. The pavilions were positioned perfectly to catch cooling breezes and the contrast was startling between the coolness of the pavilion and the blazing heat under the sun.

Leaving the park I had one more stop to make before returning to the condo. Returning back up 89A before reaching the center of the town of Sedona, the road to the airport heads off to the right and immediately climbs up to the top of a butte. The views were lovely! a nearly 360-degree view of the entire red rock area. Chimney Rock, Coffepot, and many others.

I need to hurry, because I had an off-road jeep tour scheduled for late this afternoon.

I was picked up at the resort at 5:00 PM by Red Jeep Tours. There was supposed to be another person on our tour but he/she was a no-show and the driver wasn't sure he'd be able to proceed with only one passenger, but I lucked out! We proceeded back up toward Sedona then south on 89A where we soon turned off to the right and shortly arrived at the trail-head.

This was awesome! I'd never been in an off-road jeep and since it was only the two of us, the driver was able to take a few more risks and we even went deeper onto the trail for a ways before turning around and heading to the first of the designated stops on the tour. This was an area called Seven Apaches Pools, a naturally formed series of circular pools created by boulders swirling and twirling in the rampage of water run-off through this narrow gorge.

After some hair-raising climbs up slick rock with narrow passes and steep fall-offs on either side, we arrived at a giant sink hole, one that first formed in the 1950's and has had additional cave-ins with another one imminent.

Along the way, the driver pointed out some interesting nature phenomena including trees struck by lightning, trees killed by borers, a cactus serving as a "closet" for a pack rat.
Before he returned me to my condo, he took me up to the airport overview and pointed out some formations and sights I wouldn't have known about otherwise. He shared with me all sorts of information about trails, a monks sanctuary, restaurants, and other things that have convinced me that I definitely need to come back to Sedona!
Friday morning and one more opportunity to go for a run in the thin, cool air of Sedona. This day I decided to go further and make a large loop that would bring me up to 89A in the center of the village and let me run downhill on 89A to a little coffee house near the condo. It was the best run of all, as I had clearly acclimated to the altitude and it was magical to be running along deserted roads with views in all directions of red rock formations. Too soon I was at the coffee shop where I ordered a decaf latte and a pastry and carried it all back to my condo unit where I sat out on the balcony, feet up, and enjoyed the treats.
I spent the rest of the late morning assembling my belongings and doing some preliminary packing. Today I would drive down to Prescott to meet up for dinner with a group of women riders, all fellow members of the Rumble Sisters, who have ridden in from other locations in AZ and from UT and CA. We have reservations for a private dinner at a restaurant in downtown Prescott AZ.
Saturday was a lazy day with no plans and plenty of time to do nothing. I walked down to a little mexican restaurant at the bottom of the hill and then stopped back in at the coffee house to see what they might have for dessert. Beyond that, I did nothing else all day, but relax and savor my new and fresh memories of a great week spent in the red rock region of Sedona.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Round Tuit

I've never been one to procrastinate. Generally, one of my mottos is "Don't put off 'til tomorrow what you can do today." I've learned through the school of hard knocks that usually if I don't do something, if I keep putting it off, one of two things will happen.

Sometimes good things will happen because putting something off has actually resulted in a fortuitous break or outcome. For example, like putting off a purchase for no apparent good reason except laziness and then having that very item go on sale. I like to attribute my delays in these cases to... ahem...having a good sixth sense or premonition.

But more usually, bad things will happen because putting something off has actually resulted in the situation or circumstances growing worse. Like not making that purchase for no apparent good reason, but really needing to make that purchase, and then having a catastrophic failure of the item that the new purchase would have replaced. Now it's possibly an emergency repair or replacement. Never a good thing to be behind that eight-ball, as it usually results in costing more money. In these cases I kick myself for procrastinating.


Now, what does all this have to do with today's Blog entry? Well, here's the story...

When I run, I chew gum. The longer the distance and the hotter the temperatures, the more important this is to me. It keeps my mouth from getting dry, which happens from all the mouth breathing that goes on when running, and it helps to delay or eliminate all together the need to take water breaks.

I ran the Flying Pig half marathon in Cincinnati last weekend and stocked my bag with gum - Trident to be exact, my favorite. Two wrapped pieces went into that wee little zippered pocket on my favorite running shirt as part of my race preparations. Also in there went my hotel room key, my drivers license and my health insurance card.

I was "packing" two pieces because this would be a long run - 13.1 miles - and sometimes (not always) I have chewed the life out of the first piece of gum and like to replace it with a fresh piece. Especially if the run is not going well and I'm desperate for any change or diversion that will distract me from my misery.

At the start line of the race I took out my first piece, unwrapped it, and popped it in my mouth just minutes before the gun went off and we were surging toward the start line.

Trident Original Flavor is my favorite. I'll take Trident Spearmint in a pinch. The original flavor will last me a very long time, a couple of hours of serious gum-chewing at least.

When I reached mile 7 or 8 I took a Power Gel break, and removed the gum from my mouth temporarily while I sucked the gel from the little foil pouch. Then I debated whether to pop the gum back in my mouth or throw it out in favor of a new piece. I reflected on this for a moment then decided I hadn't masticated all the life out of this current piece, yet, so stuck it back in my mouth and continued on.

So...when I crossed the finish line I still had that unchewed, still-wrapped piece of gum in my wee little zippered shirt pocket. When I made it back to the hotel room, I emptied the pocket of the little zip lok bag that contained my room key, driver's license and insurance card but forgot to remove the gum. While taking a shower I remembered it. "I must remember to remove that piece of gum," I thought.

Out of the shower and dressed, I then turned my attention to packing my bags, dealing with the sopping wet running clothes and juggling everything through the room door and down the hall. I forgot the gum.

Once to the car, I put my bags in the trunk and spread the wet running clothes out across my luggage so that they could dry. And I forgot the gum.

Driving to the restaurant in Erlanger KY for lunch, I remembered the gum. But when I got there it was raining, so I dashed into the restaurant, vowing to deal with the gum later. Lunch and visit with MTF friends over, back on the road, driving to Bowling Green KY where I'd spend the night, I still had forgotten about the gum.

Putting my small tote back in the trunk the next morning, the gum was the furthest thing from my mind. Even stopping in Memphis to visit with a friend's mom, take her to dinner, spend the night there, I was not thinking about that gum. Nor was I as I drove from Memphis to Houston and home.

But when I unloaded the trunk of the car, I scooped up the now-dry running clothes, brought them into the house and piled them onto the washing machine along with my dirty clothes from the trip. Then I remembered the gum, and reminded myself to be sure to remove it from the wee zippered pocket on that running shirt before I did the laundry. But I didn't do it then because I had other things to deal with, like an overly full kitty litter box, phone messages, mail to sort through, cat hair to vacuum up, and suitcase contents to put away.

Two days later I got around to doing those loads of laundry. I did the "light" clothes first, which included the running clothes. Into the washer for a full cycle. Into the dryer for a full cycle and, when dry, remove, fold, put away.

That's when I noticed the dark spot - rather, a stain - on the side of my favorite running shirt. The sudden realization hit me! Oh no! It's that gum!! Quickly I unzipped that wee little pocket and found the gum glued to the bottom. I could peel away much of it, but quite a bit of it remained on both interior sides of that pocket.

That ol' round tuit has struck again!

The old ice cube trick came to mind, so I tried it. I'm here to report that it really doesn't work. Well, maybe for one nanosecond it does. Then I remembered something I'd learned a couple of years ago, from an equally brain-dead blunder I'd made. I purchased a couple of UnderArmour shirts but didn't notice they had stickers on their fronts before I threw them, brand new, into the wash. When they came out of the dryer they had a sticky mess where those stickers were. It was then that I discovered that paint thinner would remove the sticky residue quickly with no side effects.

Paint thinner to the rescue of that favorite running shirt! Gum is gone, stains are gone. Another cycle through the washer and dryer and it's like new.

One would think that we'd all learn our lessons from that pesky ol' round tuit. But I guess not.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Post-Race Cincy chili

About a month before the Flying Pig marathon, I started looking into the possibility of calling a Ride-to-Eat (RTE) somewhere in the greater Cincinnati area. I posted the idea at the MTF forum, looking for suggestions and ideas from folks who were familiar with the area.

A few ideas were tossed about, including finding a chili parlor where I could try a uniquely local dish called "Cincy chili." A little bit of Googling and I found some likely candidates. One was a Skyline Chili restaurant in Covington. It looked interesting but when I went to their website I found that they were closed on Sundays. I checked the websites for a couple of the other Skyline Chili locations but they were also closed on Sunday.

Another option was a place called Dixie Chili, located in Erlanger KY. It was a good location and looked like a nice place to meet. So a RTE was called at this location for Sunday, May 2, at 1:00 PM.

In my Googling research I also searched for a bakery where I could buy a cake to take to the RTE, sort of a "celebration" of finishing the race...and admittedly to satisfy my sweet tooth. Lucky me! There was a cupcake shop right next to the Hilton Hotel. I purchased a dozen cupcakes and stowed them in my car trunk Saturday afternoon.

With a successful run completed, showered and dressed and checked out of the hotel, my next stop would be Dixie Chili in Erlanger to experience Cincy chili.

Frank Butler was the first MTF member to arrive just moments after I got there. He rode over from Cincinnati on his GL1500 in the rain. He and I grabbed a nice large round table and as we sat there visiting,

Bob and Pam Moore from Paducah arrived soon after, as did John Sauer from Louisville, riding his dual-sport. Don Kime arrived very soon afterward, having just finished up teaching an MSF class on the north side of the city.

I was hungry so Frank and I went up to the counter to order our food and he and the store manager helped me select my meal. It was explained to me what a 3-way, 4-way, and 5-way are. I went with a child's portion of a 5-way, which was plenty for me! Frank also felt that I needed a Coney dog to go with what the heck!

Okay, so what's are these??

3-way: spaghetti, chili, shredded cheese

4-way: spaghetti, chili, beans, shredded cheese

5-way: spaghetti, chili, beans, onion, shredded cheese

And then there's even a 6-way, which includes chopped garlic

Here's what a 5-way looks like:

Here's what the Coney dog looks like:

The store manager wanted to make sure I ate the dish correctly. Don't twirl the spaghetti on my fork he said....cut the spaghetti up into fork-sized servings so that I get the full experience of all of the ingredients. I have to say that it truly was a unique and different taste experience! The onion, beans, and cheese all add their own distinctive flavors to the overall taste. And that hint of cinnamon! Like nothing I'd ever tasted before. And I liked it!
Thanks to everyone who came out in the rains - some of it heavy - to celebrate with me and witness my first experience with Cincy chili!

Race Day! Cincinnati Flying Pig

Pre-race jitters had me asking myself, "What have I gotten myself into?" The Flying Pig race route is notoriously hilly in the first 9 miles, a fact that had me spending an inordinate amount of time convincing myself it would be okay, no big deal, just walk the hilly parts and don't expect a good pace or PR.

Then there was the weather forecast. It wasn't looking good at all. Forecasts were for as much as 12 inches - A FOOT - of rain Sunday, beginning in the early morning hours and continuing until late afternoon. Looking at the upside of this, it would keep the temps cooler than they would be if the sun was out. I don't mind running in the rain; the only concern for us runners would be blisters and chafing from the wet clothes and shoes.

A wake up call, the clock alarm, and my watch alarm were all set for 5 AM. Clothes, shoes, socks, race bib, watch, hat were all set out. Room key, ID, medical card, chewing gum were all in a small zip-lok bag tucked into the little zip pocket on my running shirt. Now I had to hope I could calm down the pre-race anticipation enough to get at least a few hours' sleep.

The wake-up call rang in concert with the thunder that rumbled outside. Flashes of lightning illuminated the room before I had a chance to turn the bedside lamp on. The forecasters were correct. A peek out the window of my 17th floor room confirmed that it was raining. I got dressed, had a cup of Cheerios and banana, and then put my cap and jacket on and headed out of the hotel toward the race start line area.

The Flying Pig marathon had been on my to-do list for several years, but in January I noticed at the Runners World website that they were including this race in their Runners World Challenge this year. This convinced me that this would be the year to do this race! I subscribe to Runners World magazine and frequent their website almost daily to read the on-line articles, the editors' on-line blogs, and to use the on-line workout log. Signing up for the Runners' World Challenge would not only get me registered for the race but would give me access to a private area on their website for a training program, advice, forums, running articles, not to mention access to a pre-race and post-race VIP area on race day. This in itself would be worth the cost of signing up.

So on race day morning my destination would be a suite inside the Cincinnati Bengals stadium, where we had access to nice comfortable seating, a light breakfast buffet, dry and warm bathrooms (not porta-potties). It was just steps away from the start line.

Once inside and out of the rain, I could relax a bit and not think too much about what lay ahead on this hilly route. I met several more of the editors of Runners World and had my photo taken with Bart Yasso, then settled in with a cup of hot water and chatted with Peter, one of the editors who would be doing his first marathon (he's a cyclist).

As the 6:30 AM start time neared, we all began moving toward the door and the start line. It was still dark outside - no doubt because of the heavy cloud cover - and several of us stumbled a bit on the low curbs as we tried to get ourselves oriented to the start line. As we stood there, huddled up against the increasingly heavy rains, we watched as distant lightning lit up the skies. We also watched as 6:30 AM came and went with no race start. There was an apparent delay, perhaps weather-related, perhaps due to the lightning. In the meantime, the rain turned to a heavy downpour. Well, we couldn't get any wetter than we already were!

Once the race started, it was a slow start-and-stop walk as the crowd inched its way toward the start line. I had no idea where I was in the pack, but apparently it was pretty far back, judging from how long it took me to reach the start line and cross the electronic chip mats. I pressed 'start' on my watch as I stepped on the mat and began to move forward at a slow jog. We're underway!!

The mile-by-mile route narrative displayed at the Fitness Expo listed highlights of the route, things to look for as we ran through the miles. The first mile ran us away from the Bengals stadium and up and around the Reds stadium as we headed for the Taylor-Southgate bridge which goes over the Ohio River and into Covington KY. A couple of miles along city streets on the KY side and we then crossed the Clay Wade Bailey bridge back over to Cincinnati. As much as I wanted to keep a lookout for some of the historic or other interesting sites along the way, the dense running pack on the narrow streets, the potholes and dangers in the roadway, and the rain were all deterrents to looking anywhere but at the road in front of me. Somewhere along the early miles I managed to plunge into a deep puddle and my feet and socks were now soaking wet. This will put the Glide I used on my feet to a good test.

The crowds along the sidelines were spotty at best, no doubt deterred by the heavy rains earlier. Nonetheless, on the Cincinnati side, just after crossing the Bailey bridge, an intrepid fan stood alone along the side of the road loudly cheering us on. He is most memorable for what he was telling us. All of us runners really hate to hear those misguided folks who will say something like "You're almost there" when we're anywhere on the route that's not a mile from the finish line. But this fellow definitely had the best and most original motivation of them all: "I heard that it's sunny just ahead. Just keep running until you get to dry pavement." Now this really made us all laugh and was truly a bright point along the way!

The route took us west for a ways then turned us back east onto 7th Street through the downtown, where we were greeted by onlookers cheering us on. The heavy rain had let up and was now a steady light rain. Runnng out of the downtown area I knew that in just another mile I'd be getting to the hilliest part of the course. Looking back at the previous 6 miles, which included the approaches to two very large bridges across the Ohio River, I realized that I really didn't struggle as much as I feared on these inclines. So there was some hope that I would do better than I thought as the route took us up through Eden park, a gain of over 400 ft elevation in less than 2 miles.

The incline was particularly steep as we made the turn to go up the hill and into the park, too steep for me to maintain my running pace, so I slowed to a fast walk, knowing that I could walk this faster than I could run it. I walked for less than a half mile and was able to break into a run again when the grade eased up to a more manageable slope. The park was lovely and the road took us up to the top of a bluff where a parking lot turnout presented a gorgeous overlook of the Ohio River and miles of view beyond. Our route took us through this little parking lot loop so that we could enjoy the view before the route turned back toward the road that would continue up the hill and out of the park.

A couple more very short stretches of walking for me, interspersed with running, and I finally reached the peak of this longest and steepest of the hills at about mile 8 and I could once again establish a steady running pace. I had the long 3 mile downhill stretch to look forward to...I love running downhill and do it well.

Very soon I could feel the tilt of the terrain and sense the gravitational pull as the course very subtly started its descent back into the downtown. I've learned that the best way to deal with downhills is to just relax, let gravity take over, don't try to put on the "brakes," and just go with it.

It was liberating! I was flying past many runners and walkers. Three miles of this!! I felt confident that I was making up whatever time I may have lost with the brief sections of walking. Somewhere along the way, after going through Eden Park, I had shed the long-sleeve shirt. My intention was to wear it only for the first mile or so and then discard it into the piles of abandoned clothing along the route. But the heavy rains were a bit chilly for me and I never felt I'd be comfortable in just the short-sleeve shirt I was wearing underneath. But somewhere near mile 9 or 10 I was starting to get warm so took it off and tied it around my waist. It was water-logged and weighed a ton! But I didn't notice it too much running down the hills.

I will admit that I was not paying attention to many of the mile markers and had little sense of where I was. As I descended these hills and arrived into the downtown area again, the stadiums were clearly visible over the tops of the buildings and I realized that we were nearing the finish line. But how close were we? What mile marker?

The route had a U-turn in it and we were now running past each other, heading in two different directions. I looked over the median at the folks heading the other way and spotted the mile 12 marker. 12 miles! We were almost to the finish line - just one more mile to go - and yet I felt very strong! that I was on flat ground, the waterlogged shirt tied around my waist was starting to feel very heavy! I thought multiple times I should just untie it and toss it away. But the frugal side of me couldn't bring myself to do it.

So the shirt flapped against my thigh as I ran that last mile, feeling like dead weight around my waist! Finally, one last turn and I could see the finish line about 200 yards ahead, right in front of the Reds stadium. Or, rather, I should say the Swine Line. As I got near the finish mats I checked my watch one last time and was really happy with my time. As best I could remember, it would possibly be my best time ever for a half marathon. It was definitely faster than my time in this year's Houston half marathon. Wow! And with all the hills on the Flying Pig route, too!

Volunteers were standing just beyond the finish line, ready to put our finisher's medals over our heads. We were funneled into a tunnel along side the stadium, where volunteers handed us space blankets and tables were filled with bottled water. But I had a warm dry destination waiting for me inside the stadium and had to push my way through the throngs of runners and run the gauntlet of folks crowding the tables of post-race foods until I could find an exit that would let me double-back to the designated entrance to the Runners World Challenge private post-race party. Here I would be wisked up by private elevator to a private skybox, where Runners World had smoothies, cold and hot drinks, and a nice finger food buffet set up for us.

I was greeted by several of the magazine staff including Jennifer Van Allen, who had also run the half marathon. She's clearly a much faster runner than I am, since she was looking dry and composed and dressed in after-race warm-up clothes. I had my photo taken with her and then browsed the buffet and had a fruit smoothy, while sitting with a woman who was there with her son and daughter-in-law and their two adorable children.

The skybox had a fabulous view of the baseball field and I could only imagine what it would be like to imbibe and network while enjoying this skybox during a Cincinnati Reds game.

As pleasant as it was, being in that comfy and relaxing skybox, I was eager to get to my hotel room, take a warm shower and get into dry clothes. Besides, I had a date with a Cincy chili 5-way and a coney five-way later at the Dixie Chili restaurant in Erlanger, KY.

As I write this, I am still on a "high" thinking about what a fantastic experience this race has been. The pre-race Fitness Expo, the fun event staff and volunteers, all of the fun touches and attention to the details made for a memorable experience. I would definitely do the Runners Challenge again and will look forward to seeing their 2011 schedule.
My stats:
Race time: 2:44:30
Place: 14th out of 113 in my age group.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon Day -1

I'm in Cincinnati today and it's cloudy and spitting rain. I'm here to learn the answer to one question and one question only: Can pigs fly??

The pre-marathon fitness expo, held downtown at the Duke Energy Center convention center, was filled with flying pigs! So it must be true: Pigs really can fly!

I have always wanted to run in this marathon, just couldn't fit it into my schedule or my plans. It has EVERYTHING going for it: Looped route that finishes where it starts, downtown start with plenty of hotels, all activities right there, within walking distance to each other including the fitness expo, pasta party, start and finish lines, hotels.

There have been so many really cool details and touches to this event, I'm just so impressed!

Check out the volunteer shirts!

Check out the cookies at the pasta party!

The pasta party was great! They had a tent set up in fountain square right downtown and less than a block away from the Hilton where I'm staying.

The volunteers working the event were all wearing really great t-shirts and the band - a local band, all volunteers who donate their performance earnings to charities - was really excellent! They were putting on a great show for us. I sat with a couple from St Marys, FL and a couple of women from Akron OH. The FL couple do a different marathon each year, one that takes them on a vacation trip. They were telling me about doing this year's Disney marathon, doing what they call the "Goofy" event which is a half marathon on Saturday and a full marathon the next day. Wow! This is their first time doing the Flying Pig and they were appropriately attired.

What an outstanding fitness expo! The organization and layout of the hall put Houston's to shame. Lots of giveaways, too!

Those of us who registered through the Runners World Challenge had our race packets waiting for us at the Runner's World booth, so no standing in line at the packet pick-up or t-shirt pick-up areas. How cool was that?! At the Runners World booth I got to meet two of the editors - Jennifer and Katie - and saw the legendary Bart Yasso. I'll be attending a reception hosted by Runners World later today at which Bart will be saying a few "words of wisdom" about tomorrow's race.

Who knew there could be so much fun with the Flying Pig theme? Everywhere I looked in the exhibit hall the theme of "pig" was played to the max. The official event merchandise store was outstanding! Lots of quality ASICS brand gear with the Fying Pig logo, and in a wide variety of colors besides the ubiquitous "pig" pink. And accessories?? Oh my! Stuffed pigs, pig kites, pig lightcatchers, pig ponchos, pig hats, pig glasses, pig mugs, pig decals, pig keyrings, pig fridge magnets...

Throughout the exhibit hall the vendors were giving out freebies: premium and full-sized products, not trinkets or small samples. I picked up my race packet on Friday and made the rounds but went back on Saturday morning to make the rounds again...and pick up more stuff. And spend more money.

Along one wall in the exhibit area was a mile-by-mile narrative of the race route, along with large maps of the route, the start, and the finish areas. It was a really great touch!

I drove here from Houston, believing it would be the lesser of the two evil ways of getting here. The other, more evil way would have been to fly. It's gotten so that I really hate flying and if I can get there by car then, by George, that's how I'm getting there. Or by motorcycle, if that's a viable option.

So, with running gear, food, and supplies packed in one duffle bag and my clothes and personal effects packed in a wheeled bag, I hit the road Thursday morning at 6:00 AM, avoiding most of the Houston rush hour traffic and finding good open roads much of the way.