Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sandy Hook Memorial Half Marathon

In memory of those who lost their lives in Newtown CT. 
The Sandy Hook students and faculty will not be forgotten.

A husband and wife team living in Florida were so moved by this senseless shooting that they took their race organization skills to the internet, putting together a "Virtual" Half Marathon fund-raiser event.  Word of this made its way to Runners World Magazine's website with a link to a Facebook page.  The event very quickly sold out!  They designed a race bib that we could download, print out, and wear on our runs.  They designed a finisher's medal for all those who participated.  Traffic on the Facebook page was heavy as participants posted their photos, talked about the group runs they'd organized, the event shirts they'd designed and worn on their run.

More than 1500 runners signed up, made their donation, and pledged to run a half marathon or 5K or any distance in between, in memory of the Sandy Hook children and faculty.  We could run the miles anywhere we wanted, all at once or in chunks throughout the month of January.  Many who signed up ran many more miles.  I ran two half marathons in January - 26.2 miles, or one mile for each of the victims of the Sandy Hook Shooting - and ran a total of 70 miles for the cause.

This is my most-cherished finisher's medal.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Cold and Hilly Half Marathon in Birmingham


I'd leave it at that, but there's more to tell.  I mean, really, there's got to be a story about 24 degrees at 6:30 AM, standing at the start line, shivering in the cold, waiting for the race to start.

I watched the weather carefully the week leading up to the race and was actually feeling a bit of horror as the forecasted temperatures inched lower and lower all week.  Living in south Texas, I don't own a lot of cold weather running gear, don't even have much experience running in cold weather.  When temps are forecasted to be below about 40 degrees, I know I need only put off that run for a day or even a few hours and it will soon warm up.  So watching as the forecasted temperature for this race crept down into the mid-20's, I was starting to panic a bit.  I actually had some misgivings signing up for this race, worried that it would be cold.  Birmingham seemed a little far north to be holding a marathon in mid-February.

Needless to say, more than half my suitcase was filled with "contingency" running gear.  Long sleeves, heavier long sleeves, capris, long pants, even a pair of shorts.  Two pair of gloves.  Two different lengths of socks.  I even made a quick trip to Walmart the day before leaving to buy a cheap but heavy sweatshirt I could wear at the start of the race and then discard as I warmed up.  As I was cramming all of this into my suitcase, it was sunny and in the mid 60's outside in my home town.  Hard to imagine what mid-twenties was going to feel like. 

The night before the race I made my decision on what to wear and laid it all out.  I decided to eschew the throwaway sweatshirt for my heaviest long-sleeve, funnel-neck running top with a tank bra under it.  On race day morning I pulled on all of those clothes that I'd laid out the night before:  long pants, tank bra, heaviest long-sleeved running shirt I own, gloves, kerchief around my neck, running cap.  And then I braced myself as I walked out the door of the hotel and the cold air hit me. 

It wasn't too bad at first, but as the cold seeped in around the edges, insinuating itself in between the layers, I began to shiver.  And I shivered all the way over to the start line area where I found my place in the corral.  It was a long 20 minute shivering wait as, first the wheelchair entrants were started and then, 10 minutes later, the front of the running pack was turned loose.  By the time those of us in the back of the pack inched our way up to the start line, my hands were so cold they hurt and I was stiff with cold.  I felt like the Frankenstein monster as I tried to break into a run!

My Garmin tracks

But after about two miles, my hands stopped hurting and my gait loosened up and I could enjoy the race and the Baltimore scenery that was surrounding me.  We ran a big square going north of the downtown, then headed back through the downtown and south.  We ran past hospitals, past a new stadium under construction, then started heading uphill through 5 Points South and peaking in the Country Club Historic District.

Course Elevation graph from my Garmin watch.  Over 900 feet of total elevation climb

Then a nice curvy downhill section began and this is where the full marathon lead runner lapped me as he headed back toward the downtown area on his second loop and to the finish line.  While it reminds me of just how old and slow I am, it is always a thrill when the route is designed in a way that we get to see the lead runners.  They're like poetry in motion.  Not a single wasted movement, not a single ounce of extra fat on their lean, thin legs. 

My self-assessment of my performance is based on how much time has elapsed when I pass the 9 mile marker.  If it's under two hours then I know I'm on track for a sub-three hour half marathon time.  As long as I can continue to turn in sub-three hour times, I know that I'm staving off old age and decrepitude.  At my age, I know that sub-three hours will put me well into the top half of my age/gender group and I'm happy with this.  I'm years beyond setting a new personal best time so at this point it's just about not getting slower if I can help it. 

Crossing the finish line
By mile 10 we were out of the hilly section and it was mostly flat all the way to the finish line...well, except for a little rise heading up toward Linn Park.   Then it was across the finish line, into the finisher's chute to get my finisher's medal, and past the table holding bottles of Powerade, orange slices, and bananas. 

As I started to exit the finish line chute area, a female volunteer said, "don't forget your hat."  I had no idea if she was talking to me or even what she was talking about.  I still had my own hat on my hat, so she must be talking to someone else.  But then a fellow grabbed my arm and pulled me over to the side, where he looked down an me, smiling, and said, "You almost forgot your hat."  My finisher's hat!!  I did not know about this additional bit of swag!!

I walked quickly back to the hotel, got showered, dressed, jammed my dirty clothes into a bag and stuffed it into my suitcase and checked out.  I'd called a Ride To Eat and friend Don Norwood selected the restaurant - Diplomat Deli - south of the city.  It would take me about 15 minutes to get there and I knew I'd be one of the last to arrive. 

I grabbed a large Latte at a nearby McDonald's before pulling into the Diplomat deli parking lot.  I was thrilled to see a number of BMW's of various models sitting outside. 

A big bowl of gumbo for me and I was a happy camper!!  Then it was off to Mandeville to spend a few days with son and grandkids!


The finisher's medal:

What the 50 States-50 Half Marathons map looks like now:

Coming up next:  The Famously Hot Marathon in Columbia SC and the Publix Marathon in Atlanta GA.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Birmingham...Pretty, But Cold!

It was a long but uneventful drive to Birmingham AL yesterday.  I managed to get out of the house by 5:30 AM and to make good time on the road.  But I will say that I'm getting disenchanted with McDonald's lattes purchased on the road!

You see, the two McDonald's near my home - the one on FM 518 at Cullen and the other on FM 518 at Business Center Drive - execute the "large hot Latte with no flavor, no sweetener" - with absolute perfection.  But these last few trips, it's been a little rough finding perfection on the road.  The latest of a string of disappointing java's:  yesterday's Latte, purchased at McD's in Orange TX was 95% milk, and just enough coffee to turn the milk an off-white color.  Yuck!  Another latte, purchased in Crowley LA, made it all better, though.

In Birmingham, finding the historic Tutwiler Hotel-Hampton Inn right in the center of the city was extremely easy and I was soon checked in and depositing my luggage in my room.  I snacked on a banana I'd brought with me and then headed across beautiful Linn Park to Boutwell Auditorium where the Mercedes Marathon Fitness Expo was being held.
It was a small, compact Expo but had everything that is important.  Race logo clothing, a good selection of running accessories and a large central area occupied by the local running store, Running Shak, and selling everything a runner might need or might have forgotten to bring.  They had the packet pickup area up on the auditorium stage.  This was a really cool idea because as we came back down the stairs after getting our packets, we crossed a cool "finish line," chip reading mat and all, and there, right in front of us on a big screen, we could see our name, city/state, and bib number.  A very elegant and fun way for us to ensure our timing chips were working. 
Of course, it being the "Mercedes Marathon/Half Marathon" and all, there were two Mercedes cars on the floor of the Expo.
Pretty!  But out of my price range.
There was a really cool running shirt with a very appropriate saying on the back, but I talked myself out of buying.  I have more running shirts than I could ever wear in a lifetime!  I certainly didn't need this one.  Although it was very apropos...
My kind of running shirt!

I walked about a bit, enjoying the city center.  Linn Park frames Jefferson County Courthouse beautifully on the east side, and City Hall on the west side, with fountains and reflecting pools in the center sending water down courseways to the bottom of the hill.  I was enchanted!
View of City Hall across Linn Park

Jefferson County Courthouse

Fountain in Linn Park
City Library
  I was getting hungry so I headed back toward the hotel and had an early dinner at the Century Restaurant and Bar.  While I was sitting there, a very well-dressed African-American woman came in, sat at the bar and from her conversation with the bartender, is clearly a regular.  He anticipated what food she was going to order and while waiting, she showed him some diagrams and photos of new historic plaques to be mounted somewhere downtown.  Eavesdropping on this conversation, I quickly deduced that she was either a council member or similar position in Birmingham.  Her demeanor and polished appearance would certainly confirm that.  She was soon joined by one man and then another, all equally as well-dressed and professional.  Soon I found myself sitting in the middle of an insider conversation of politics and goings-on in the city, much of which I could not cypher, being an outsider.  But all interesting, just the same, especially since I'd just spent some time photographing a few of those plaques - Civil Rights Heritage Trail - in Linn Park.


A cold Saturday morning in Birmingham...but I have nowhere to go, nothing to do today.  By 8:30 AM I could hear amplified loudspeakers coming from Linn Park where Marathon-related events would be happening today.  I showered, dressed, and headed outside, with a nearby Subway my destination.  But along the way, I happened upon the start of the 6-year-old starters of the Kids Marathon!  How Fun!!!  They released the kids in waves spaced about 15-20 seconds apart to prevent crowding.  There must have been at least a hundred 1st graders starting as I was walking by the start line on Park Place, so I stopped to watch and take some photos. 

 Their route took them around the corner onto 20th Street so I followed along and found a spot on the median to watch the kids run down the turnaround point and return back toward Linn Park.  The kids were thoroughly enjoying this!   The nearby military installation was represented by men and women working security on the route and the two men standing near me on the route,looking totally put together in their starched Class B's, were doing a great job high-fiving the kids and spurring them on to the finish line.  I think one of them was an Aggie because when a little boy ran by wearing an A&M sweatshirt, he said "Go Aggies" as he high-fived him.

I stood in line for my foot-long Subway sandwich - half for lunch, half later for dinner - and headed back to the hotel.  Feet up, TV on, still undecided on tomorrow morning's race wardrobe.

Friday, February 8, 2013


It's been a crazy-patchwork-quilt kind of month so far....odd and eclectic tasks occupying my days and mixing in with my running.

The weather has been just crazy!  We had a very brief, cold winter, lasting all of maybe two weeks and giving us a few frost-coated mornings to help kill the mosquitos and drive the pesky black ants into hibernation.  But now we've had a week of unseasonably warm, spring-like days and plants are starting to come back to life.  My daylilies are sending up new growth and my many roses are sprouting leaf buds.  So today - a good three weeks sooner than usual - I got out just before lunch and cut back all of my rose bushes.  It always "pains" me to cut off canes that have significant new growth, even a few rose buds, and today I even saved a Maggie rose in full bloom, brought into the house and put in a vase.  But the pruning needed to be done before they leafed out too much.

Earlier in the week I made a big crockpot of bean soup.  I had a few hunks of ham in the freezer, left over from Christmas, so I defrosted some of it, chopped it up, and threw it in with the beans.  The soup was delish!!  It's a soup mix I found at the grocery store a while back, 15-bean soup, with dried beans and peas, and a flavor packet.  It was nice to come back from play rehearsal to a good hot bowl of bean soup and even better to be able to freeze the rest into several 2-serving sized containers.

The inspection sticker on my Yamaha FZ6 expired the end of December and this caused me no small bit of guilt and shame.  Me, the one who's usually got the inspection sticker on the vehicle within the first few days of the month in which it expires; me who gets her car and motorcycle registrations renewed and decals pinned to the fridge more than a month before the old ones expire.  This was so totally out of character for me that I was beginning to worry about myself. 

So this past Tuesday I pulled on my riding gear, backed Fuzzy out of the garage and headed over to the Harley Davidson dealer located near the Beltway and Fairmont Pkwy in Pasadena.  Easy to get to, fast and friendly staff.  Another customer was waiting on new tires for his Harley and he discreetly sidled up to me to point out the fact that any quick lube place could have done my inspection sticker.  I knew that.  I have even gone to the one near my house in the past.  But as I pointed out to him, it was a gorgeous day, I had nothing else to do, and coming the 20 or so miles to this dealer gave me a good excuse to take a little ride, warm up the engine, charge the battery.  Fortunately the tank was only half full when I left the house so by the time I got near home, the tank was sufficiently empty to let me fill her up with fresh gas before parking her in the garage.

Pulling Fuzzy back into the garage, I considered taking the BMW out for a little spin, but I opted instead to eat a quick lunch and then get to the grocery store for some badly needed provisions.  Maybe later this week.  I like to get my rides done in the morning, but I also need to get some runs in this week.  And then there's those play rehearsals.

We're in rehearsals for our next play production, a silly mystery-comedy entitled Losing Patients.  I'm doing sound for the play, and have spent the last couple of weeks sourcing the various sound effects - thunder, telephone rings, clock chimes, music box tune, to name a few - and getting them edited, spliced where necessary, and loaded onto the laptop.  There are also a number of voice-overs, and I had each of the actors over to my house and got these recorded and edited, as well.  The rehearsals are every weekday, mornings on Mon and Fri, late afternoons on Tuesday through Thursday.  So everything I do must be worked in around the rehearsals.  But they're fun and it's only for six weeks, then it'll be over after the performances the first weekend in March and I can set it all aside until the next production. 

The Mercedes Marathon/Half Marathon is coming up next weekend, so my running has ramped up a bit after a couple of easy weeks post-Louisiana half-marathon in January.  I try to get out every other day and then do a longer run on a weekend day.  But I've been a bit slack on this, the end of January.  Time to get it back on track.  I did 6 miles on Sunday and 3 miles on Wednesday.  This morning I did just under 4 miles and hope to get an eight mile run in on Sunday.  Forecast is for thunderstorms Sunday so I'm sure to get wet.

Yesterday morning I decided I'd start up the BMW after a too-long languish and take her for a ride.  FZ6 had her chance earlier in the week, now it was Zooty BMW's turn.  I really had nowhere to go, had already eaten, so there was no sense setting a breakfast spot as the destination.  So I decided to just ride down 288 to 1462, head to Rosharon, and then come back up FM-521.  A decent 45 mile loop.  I stopped at the Chevron station (to get that Techron in the injector jets) and then returned home.  Too short a ride, I know, but I had some things to do before rehearsals that afternoon. 

Next week:  We go to full off-book rehearsals, running through the play non-stop...Act I and Act II.  This phase of rehearsals always brings some levity and frivolity to the process.  It's when lines get muffed, and ad-libbing goes viral.  We all get some good laughs out of this and it should be a fun week. 

Also next week:  I'll do a couple a shorter taper-down runs on Tuesday and Thursday and then it will be time to get on the road on Friday, heading to Birmingham AL for the Mercedes Marathon/Half Marathon!