Saturday, April 27, 2013

Runners and Race Horses

The Kentucky Derby Festival half marathon is in the books!  And to make it really special, I got to run with Robin Hood!

The city of Louisville has built a multi-faceted Festival around the Kentucky Derby horse air balloon races, a night-time balloon "glow," fireworks, just to mention what was happening while I was in town.  And then, of course, the Marathon/Mini-Marathon race on Saturday.

I knew that the race was a good size but I had no idea just how big it is!  over 16,000 runners!  I was assigned to corral F, which sounded awful until I got to the start line area and realized that the corrals went up to the letter "I."  So 3 corrals behind me and 5 corrals in front of me.  Nearly 16 minutes to cross the start line.  It was cloudy and about 51 degrees at the start, with a chance of rain in the latter hours of the race.  I wore gloves but quickly shed them within the first couple of miles.

My Garmin GPS track in red.

The race route formed an "L" shape for the half marathon runners.  We ran west on Main Street for a few miles then turned south for a couple blocks then headed back east by way of a couple of zigs, to nearly downtown, before making a right turn and running south.  A nice diversion took us around the lovely Central Park in the Old Louisville section, with its big beautiful old homes and mature trees arching over the road.

But the best part - the very best part of the route - was the turnaround point at mile 8.  We ran into Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby!  They routed us under the bleachers, through a tunnel, and then out onto the infield area, the race track encircling us 360 degrees! 

My Garmin GPS track in red, showing our route into
Churchill Downs and around the interior of the horse track.

There's a paved road that parallels the racetrack and this was our route around the interior.  We could see horses warming up, taking off along the back straightaway, seemingly floating along effortlessly as their tails streamed out behind them.  With graceful ease they slowed to a canter as they neared the start of the curve, preparing to execute a balletic u-turn for a good run in the opposite direction.  It was breathtaking to watch and I was actually glad that I was walking so that I could appreciate this experience.

As we neared our exit tunnel, recorded race coverage was playing on loudspeakers along our path.  Nice touch!!  We were funneled into a long tunnel under the track and then sent out an exit gate and onto the street again.  9 miles  down, 4 to go!

Just boring and straight from here to the finish line!  I was walking, no longer running at this point, but still reeling in the other participants one by one with only the rare person passing me.  And Robin Hood?  He pretty much stayed with me the entire way, running at a very slow pace equal to my walk pace.

The finisher's medal:

And the 50 States-50 Half Marathons map updated to show Kentucky colored in.  Major update!   Kentucky connects the completed North states to the completed South states.  The gap has been bridged!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Nashville, Indiana in the Rearview Mirror

A "boil water" directive in Nashville, IN?  Really??   I learned of this as I was walking into the McDonald's in town, looking forward to a nice hot latte to start my day.

Thursday morning I awoke early with an ill-defined yet uncontrollable need to get on the road to Louisville.  I'd already packed nearly everything into the car the night before, including my coffee and Cheerios.  In truth, I had no need to get on the road so drive to Louisville was less than 80 miles. 

I know!  I'll stop for breakfast at McDonald's on my way out of town.  Get a Sausage Egg McMuffin, a large hot Latte.  Eavesdrop on the Spit & Whittle clubs that occupy nearly every table at this particular McD's.  I couldn't help but notice the popularity of this McD's with the local senior citizen population when I stopped here on Tuesday during my morning run. 

But that's where the plan came to a screeching halt.  What's this?  Signs were posted EVERYWHERE at this McDonalds - inside and out - declaring the Boil Water situation.  No fountain drinks, no water, no iced or hot tea, and no McCafe products.  The heavy rain from earlier in the week was creating some flooding problems in central Indiana so, apparently the water supply in town was in jeopardy.  Well, darn!  I ordered a regular coffee instead, but it just wasn't the same. 



Louisville is one of those cities (like many on my half-marathon quest) that I've traveled through on the interstate but have never spent time visiting, never been downtown.  Thankfully the Hampton Inn let me go ahead and check in very early - as in, 11:00 AM early. 

The start line for the Kentucky Derby marathon races is 3 or 4 blocks north and east of the hotel, the fitness expo 2 or 3 blocks west of the hotel.   But first things first....I never did get that hot latte.  The substitute coffee was dreadful, not even drinkable.  Starbucks is two blocks away at the Marriott hotel across from the convention center.  That was my first stop.

Suitably caffeinated, my next stop was the nearby Subway shop for lunch and then on to the Fitness Expo at the convention center.

packet pick-up counters in background

Official race logo-wear

Kentucky Derby Marathon pace car


Even with a nice tourist map in hand, there just didn't seem to be much to do or see downtown within walking distance.  Louisville has a "low density" downtown area, my way of describing a downtown area with mostly free-standing buildings, surface parking lots, and vacant lots.  The restaurant choices in the immediate area are mostly fast-food joints and some dubious asian restaurants.  All this to say that, with not much else to do on Friday morning, I walked to Starbucks and lingered over a latte and a piece of pastry.

Near the hotel is a White Castle restaurant.  I've never had a White Castle 'slider' before.  Let's see what all the fuss is about. 

White Castle - yuck!!
It was noontime and the place was packed!  Lines at the counter, people waiting to order, people waiting to pick up their orders.  I got in line, placed my order and by the time I'd filled my drink cup with water, my order was ready.   I brought it to a table and sat down, hungry and ready to dig in.  But....yuck!   I pulled one of the sliders out of its little box and it was disgusting!  The bottom of the bun was soggy and I needed a magnifier to find the tissue-paper thin "hamburger" hiding between the layers of soggy bun. 

It was totally inedible.  I dumped the entire tray contents into the trash bin and walked outside, at a bit of a loss as to where to go to find lunch.  I remembered seeing a Papa John's a few blocks away, near the Marriott, and a small pizza came back to my hotel room with me. 

So a very uneventful and boring couple of days in Louisville, as I wait for race day Saturday morning.  Weather is still questionable, regarding rain.  I have a few wardrobe options and will lay everything out tonight to get ready for the morning.


Canada Geese are so cool! 

Silly goose!
While I was at the hotel in Carmel IN, I noticed that the Canada Geese were everywhere, walking in the streets, mingling in the hotel parking lot.  When I drove back to the hotel after the race, my way into the parking lot was blocked by two loitering Canada Geese who just refused to move over.  Two other geese were flirting with each other next to a VW Jetta, pecking at each other and at the rear bumper of that car. 

Later that day, when my sister and I were walking to my car to go for lunch, we noticed a goose sitting right in front of a glass door about 30 yards away from the main entrance of the hotel.  Intrigued, we walked over to get a closer look.  He was just sitting there, peering in through the window.  No...that wasn't what he was doing!  He was looking at his own reflection in the glass!  I crept up on him, getting just 20 or so feet away and snapped a picture.  He was unfazed by my presence, as he gently pecked and softly quacked at his own image.  Silly goose!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Cloudy Tuesday

Gray.  Damp.  Chilly.  That pretty much says it all about Tuesday morning in Nashville IN.

My legs were restless all night, telling me they wanted to go for a run today, so I complied!  I jumped out of bed, ate a yogurt cup, then pulled on some running shorts, a long-sleeve running top, socks, running shoes, pinned my room key to the little inside pocket of my shorts, and tucked a $20 bill into the little back pocket and I was out the door.

It was definitely a little chillier than I thought...guess it was the damp and grayness that made 46 degrees feel so much colder. 

I headed down the main drag of Nashville with no real route in mind...I just "winged" it, exploring the town, running down roads that I had no idea where they went or even if they were paved around the next bend.

I took a right turn onto one promising road and got about 1/2 mile down before the pavement ended and the gravel path shot straight up the side of the hill.    Okay...not going there!  So I turned around and started zig-zagging my way south on side roads, the McDonald's a mile down the road calling my name!

Hot latte stop at mile 2, then home the last mile to my cozy suite at Hidden Valley Inn.

It misty-rained all afternoon and I was content to stay inside.  I went back out only to return to Big Woods Pizza to pick up an Italian sub and a different beer - this time the Hare Trigger IPA - to bring back to my room for dinner.

Tomorrow is supposed to be a rainy day....we'll see what the day brings.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Nashville, Indiana and Ice Cream

The Carmel Half Marathon is done, so what's next?

With a little research, I found the perfect place to chill out for the week before continuing on to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby marathon.

The cute little historic town of Nashville, Indiana sits nestled in a crease deep in the Blue Hills of south Indiana.  It's a tiny and historic town, just a few blocks long and fewer blocks wide, but these days its galleries and shops are a tourist draw during the spring and summer months.

I found the perfect place to "park" myself for four days, Hidden Valley Inn, a very nice all-suites lodge on the north end of the main thoroughfare, within easy walking distance of everything.  It's a one bedroom, one bath unit with separate living room with fireplace, a kitchenette and table/chairs and a beautiful wrap-around deck facing the hills and the sunrise.

Getting here from Carmel IN entailed some pretty flat and uninteresting highway but then, suddenly, the road went from flat farmland to twisting, forested road that climbed up into the Blue Hills and offered a terrific view off to the west as it gained elevation.

There's a basic, no-frills IGA grocery store at the south end of town, so when I got into town I paid it a visit and picked up some bare necessities like coffee, cereal, fruit, and Oreos!   Everything I need!

Now there's lots of exploring to do!   I walked down to the Visitor Center and the wonderful volunteer was very helpful, going over a map of the town with me, making notations on the map of the things that I expressed interest in seeing.  Laden with a bagful of maps and brochures at this point, I went off in search of food.  Big Woods Pizza Company captured my fancy for dinner.  Spaghetti and meatballs, a Greek salad, and a 22 oz. bottle of their Big Woods Brewing Company Busted Knuckle Ale.  Fantastic!  And I have enough left over of all of this for another meal!


Monday morning dawned cold, with temperatures in the high 30's, but it promised to warm up into the 60's later in the day.  I got a much-needed sleep-in this morning.  I was more tired than I thought, apparently.  Waking up very early for Saturday's race then running over 13 miles in very cold temperatures.  Then staying up visiting with my sister Robin that evening and getting up very early with her on Sunday morning so that we could spend some more quality time over Starbucks coffees before she needed to get on the road to drive home to Grand Rapids, MI. 

It was almost noon before I gave up the cuddly warmth of the bed - mostly only because I'd finished the last of the morning's pot of coffee - and got showered and dressed and out the door to explore the town in more depth.

Van Buren Street, the main thoroughfare through town
I had my eye on a few of the shops mentioned by that visitor center volunteer.  One of those shops is the textile studio of Barb Davis.  It was on the second floor of a neat old building on Main Street.  She makes toss pillows and other small decorative accents out of recycled wool.  She washes and sometimes even re-dyes the wool...or felts use in these items.  I bought a beautiful green accent pillow and can't wait to bring it home and find the perfect place for it.

A cute dog sculpture outside one of the many galleries

And since I skipped lunch, I decided to go straight to the dessert at Miller's Ice Cream House, buying myself an apple butter ice cream cone, served in a homemade waffle cone.  Delicious!!

The 1880's era old log "dog trot" style building, found and reconstructed
in the 1930's
Ice cream consumed and cute little 17 month old girl flirted with, I headed off in search of The General Store and possibly some homebaked goods to bring back to my room for later.  Lots of great historical sites along my route:

The Nashville General Store was everything I hoped it would be!  Funky and fun, tacky yet exactly what I hoped it would be!

Mission accomplished - two frosted brownies and a slice of apple caramel nut pie came home with me - I made one last stop, this one at Muddy Boots Cafe to peruse their menu for a future dinner this week and then bought a double-shot latte to take back to the room and enjoy out on my balcony. 

Tomorrow, maybe a little morning run followed by a muffin and cappucino!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Carmel Half Marathon Race Day!

Two alarms set for 5:00 AM.   Running gear and miscellaneous "stuff" laid out the night before so I wouldn't forget anything.  Breakfast food awaiting me...Cheerios, a banana.

The cellphone alarm went off first, and it was race day morning!   I ate my breakfast while snuggled under the down comforter in bed, putting off as long as possible the inevitable.  But at 6:00 AM it could be put off no longer.

The things I'd laid out the night before include the usual running gear - capri tights, jogbra, long-sleeve shirt, socks, running shoes (timing chip already attached).  But then there were the cold-weather items to add to that wardrobe - gloves, kerchief to wear around my neck, Brooks windbreaker jacket.  I agonized between wearing that jacket or wearing a lightweight half-zip fitness fleece pullover.  I reasoned that with the "feels like" temperature being so much lower than actual, much of that chill would be due to those winds, so the jacket won out over the fleece, which provides  no protection at all from cold winds.

Then there was all that other miscellaneous crap I needed to remember:  Car key on a lanyard, drivers license and insurance card to tuck in the car console, room key protected from demagnetizing via a paper slipcase, two sticks of Trident gum, two PowerGel pouches, two Puffs tissues neatly folded and put in the jacket pocket, the special blue and yellow ribbons commemorating the Boston Marathon event pinned to my running cap.

I think I'm ready!  So out to the car, push the unlock button on the driver's side door, and pull the handle.  Some cracking noises and with more than the usual effort, the door groaned slowly open.  I immediately recognized those noises, though I hadn't heard them in more than 23 years.  Those were the sounds of a car door that is frozen shut.  Then I saw the windshield, covered in chunky, crusty ice and the windshield wiper blades embedded in a huge pile of this crusty ice.  Damn!!  We'd had freezing rain overnight!
I so needed this Saturday morning!!

The race starts in 45 minutes, I'm a mile away from the parking lot which is a 15 minute walk from the start line, and I don't have anything in the car that I can use to chip away the ice!  The rear windshield is in the same sad state but at least there's a defroster coil so I immediately turned that on and directed my attention to the front windshield.  I tried using my driver's license to scrape away the ice - a time-tested solution in an emergency - but the ice was just too thick and too solid.  Remarkably, only the front and rear windows were iced; the side windows, thankfully, were relatively clear.

In the end, I gently freed the front windshield wiper blades from their icy prison and then squirted significant amounts of windshield washer fluid onto the mess, knowing the alcohol content would help melt the ice.  Occasional swipes with the wipers and I eventually opened up a hole big enough to see through.  I only had a mile or so to drive to get to the parking lot and felt I could manage this while peering through this tiny opening.  I thought about abandoning the car at the hotel lot and walking the 1.5 miles to the start, but quickly reminded myself that it was 31 degrees out there, I was scantily dressed and furthermore, I would be faced with that 1.5 mile walk at the end of the half marathon.  Not a good idea.

With great caution, I drove out of the hotel parking lot and onto City Center Blvd toward Guilford Street where the parking lot was.  It was already well more than 3/4 full of other cars and there were many runners working their way on foot toward the start line.  I joined them and arrived with less than 15 minutes to spare.  Even though I didn't need to, I got into one of the very long lines for the porta-johns.  It helps the time go by while waiting for the race start, and sometimes I am able to strike up a conversation with a person standing near me.


I positioned myself in the self-seeding corral toward the back, near the 12-14 minute pace sign.  This was in front of the walkers, I assumed.  Never assume!  The race began, we worked our way toward the start line and then we were off.  For the next 3 or 4 miles I kept a steady 12.5 minute mile pace and passed huge numbers of walkers!  Clearly these folks put themselves toward the front of the pack at the start line.  I've never understood this!  In a chip-timed race, why do that?  They gain nothing, but they create an enormous nuisance for the runners who are trying to get past them.

The first few miles were mostly flat, just slight rolling hills.  Carmel is not that big and within a couple of miles we were out in the country!  It was a really pretty course.  A diversion into a pretty subdivision at around mile 2 and then we rejoined that main road and then did a U-turn at around mile 4, while the marathon runners continued straight.

It was a lovely, well-planned course.  Pretty scenery, enough turns to keep it interesting but not so many that it felt frenetic or disorienting...I always knew where we were in relation to the finish line.  It had a few hills, but none that were steep, just gentle and rolling.  The original course was supposed to take the half-marathon runners onto a couple of the trails for several miles, but heavy rains the day before had created a lot of flooding, so the course was changed at the last minute (probably was already a contingency course map out anyway) to eliminate the trails, which was my only disappointment about the race.

We ran through two or three housing subdivisions, beautiful homes on well-manicured lawns.  At one point we ran past a home that had a crew of lawn care workers unloading fresh, steaming bark mulch from a trailer and the strong pleasant aroma greeted us as we ran past.

Turnaround point, near mile 4, heading west.
The occasional home had one or two or more family members standing out front, cheering us on.  One house had three little boys with their parents.  Two of the boys looked like twins and were about 6 or 7 years old.  A runner in front of me veered over to them and gave them "high fives."  This prompted squeals of delight from the boys, as they jumped up and down with excitement.  You'd think they'd just encountered their favorite action hero!!  It never occurred to me up 'til that point to do something as simple as that to brighten these boys' day!  The next time I saw a small child standing with parents, I did the same and elicited nearly the same excitement and response!!  How uplifting!  I'm a mom...I'm a grandmom!  How could it not have occurred to me to do this?!

The last couple of miles took us through the nifty little "downtown" area of Carmel.  It's a cute re-created "Main Street USA" area with new buildings designed to look old.  There were many life-like statues along the sidewalks - an older woman in coat and kerchief carrying a bag of groceries; a man an woman huddled together under an umbrella, the wind seemingly blowing their scarves and coats; a bicyclist, a man sitting on a bench reading.  When I spotted the first statue, I did a double take.  That's how realistic they are.  Be sure to click on the link to see these amazing sculptures!!

The crowds through here were encouraging us, as there hadn't been too many spectators and no entertainment along the course prior to this point.  But that all changed here.  We only had a mile to go, and a couple of turns before we were approaching the finish line.

And then....there it was!  The Finish Line banner ahead, and then I was running across the finish line mats!

Medal around my neck and banana and chocolate milk in hand, I walked back to my car, drove back to the hotel, got to my room and saw a text message from sister Robin..."Are U here?"

I immediately called her and learned she was in the parking lot of the hotel waiting for me....perfect timing!!


I had called a lunch get-together at a fun restaurant called Moe & Johnny's about 6 mile south of the hotel.  Responses indicated there'd be maybe 6 or 7 folks there.  I got cleaned up and then Robin and I drove to the restaurant, where Dana, Kendra, Alan and his wife Brenda with their grandson Bailey were waiting for me.  We had a really great visit.  I was pleased to introduce my sister to some of my friends and to introduce Dana and Kendra to Alan, who is a very accomplished rider.
Dana and Kendra, pointing to my medal!

Me and my sister Robin

During it all, Alan had opportunity to tell everyone about one of his motorcycle adventures- the trip to Copper Canyon Mexico a few years ago.  I told everyone about the book that Alan has written which detailed his trip around the circumference of the U.S. and Canada, and Brenda immediately went out to the car and brought back 3 copies, which Alan autographed for Robin, Dana, and Kendra.

We had a nice long visit, but I knew that Dana and Kendra had a long drive ahead of them, so we all said our goodbyes and Robin and I headed back to the hotel.  Celebratory champagne was in order!  We needed to toast my completing another half marathon and adding another state to my 50 States Quest and having a wonderful visit together!

What the 50 States-50 Half Marathons map looks like now, with Indiana colored in:

Coming up  next:  Kentucky Derby Half Marathon on April 27, but first....a few days relaxing in the cute little town of Nashville, Indiana!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Carmel, Indiana Rolls Out the Marathon Red Carpet

I'd never even heard of Carmel, Indiana and here I was, in town to run the 1/2 marathon portion of their "Carmel Marathon Weekend."  A friend who lives in nearby New Castle even made sure that I knew how it was pronounced...CAR-muhl.

I arrived Thursday afternoon, skirting severe thunderstorms and got checked into my very nice room at the Renaissance Hotel.  The weather was really crummy for the rest of the day so I was perfectly content to stay put in my room getting caught up on two days' worth of emails, forum messages, Facebook posts, and then ordered room service for dinner:  Minestrone soup and a Greek salad.  The on-site restaurant is way above average!

My sister was considering driving down from Michigan to stay with me for the weekend and I was pleased to receive a text message from her, confirming that she'd be coming.  She said she'd get there probably a little before noon, after I'd finished the race.  Perfect!  She'd be able to join me and some of my friends for a post-race lunch get-together.

Friday morning I lolled around in my room then finally forced myself to get up, get dressed, and get out into that cold wind and dreary dampness to drive over to where the Fitness Expo was being held.  It's a gorgeous community park, with a huge and very-well appointed community center, lush grounds, jogging!  Carmel is a "planned community" with beautiful streets, large homes on lush lawns, a cuter-than-cute "downtown" that fits the pattern of those "life-style malls" that are becoming so popular.  Made to look like old-style Main Street USA, but totally new and modern infrastructure.

Evidence of the upcoming race were everywhere:  Big signs were placed along all of the streets in town, displaying the marathon logo and date; the street where my hotel is located had already been "coned" for the next day's race route.  The Expo was small, not much to look at or to shop for, so I collected my race packet, including my race bib, my timing chip, and my event t-shirt, then got back in the car.  I turned on my cellphone and asked it to find me a grocery store.  There was a big Meier store not too far from the hotel so I headed in that direction.

At the top of my shopping list was some kind of tape or bandaid that I could wrap around my right big toe.  The night before, I noticed that the nail had a split starting at the top edge and angling toward the side, creating a triangular chip that was very close to falling off.  If it did, it would uncover a small part of the nailbed, which could be painful while running.

Next on my shopping list was some superglue or crazyglue.  While fumbling to get the key-card into the slot on my hotel room door, my laptop case slid off my shoulder and hit the floor, a corner of the case making that initial contact.  As a result, the bezel around the screen cracked and got displaced.  I was able to snap it all back into place, but the crack, right there in the corner, would probably cause the bezel to become displaced again, hence the quest for superglue.

And then I needed to get bananas.  So with these three items on my shopping list, I went into Meier's and got that task accomplished.  I found a Subway nearby and picked up a sandwich to take back to my room for lunch.

When I got to the room, the first thing I did was work at getting as neat a glue job as possible on my laptop bezel.  It's not perfect, but not bad, either.  At least the pieces are "welded" together now.  A little bit rough along the mated edges. 

So I was sitting there with an open tube of superglue, a cute little one-time use size, and thought to myself, "Hmmm.  I wonder if I could use this to weld together my cracked toenail.  Worth a try!"  So I experimented a bit to find the best way to hold the triangular nail chip in place, then went for it!!  And by golly, it worked!   I think I found the fix!

Now it was time to take it easy, rest my legs, vegetate in front of some good old movies on TV!

Room service again for dinner Friday night - crab cakes - and then I laid out all the things I'd need for the race tomorrow morning.  It's going to be very cold and not warm up:  31 degrees at the start with a "feels like" temperature of 26 degrees, and not getting above 37 or 38 degrees by the time I cross the finish line.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Not Quite....But Almost

On my way to Indiana and I'm potentially in harm's way.  A band of strong storms stretches from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and is moving east.  The challenge is to stay ahead of it all the way to Indianapolis.  Can I do it? 

Not wanting to get pummeled by hail or picked up by a funnel cloud and dropped several miles away in a muddy corn field somewhere, I checked the weather forecasts along my route and calculated that I'd need to leave the hotel in Poplar Bluff, MO no later than 7 AM.

6:45 AM departure?   Check.
Lunch meet-up in Moonshine canceled?  Check.
Gas fill up before getting on the road?  Check.

Okay.  The race is on.  Heading east on US 60 is heading in the right direction.  Heading north on I-57 is not.  Time was lost by stopping at two, count them, two different McDonald's before scoring a hot latte.

Fifty miles south of I-70, I lost the race.   The sky was black and rains had reached me.   Heading east on I-70 was at least traveling in the right direction again.  A quick gas top-off in Casey IL and then back into the frey.  Terre Haute IN gave me hope.  There were glimpses of lighter sky ahead, visible beneath the dark rolls of clouds.

The respite was brief, only long enough to find the hotel, pull my luggage out of the car, and walk to the front door.  Soon after, the storm line caught up with  me.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston Marathon Tragedy

I'm sitting here this morning, reading some of the follow-up stories and viewing the photographs that have been posted by the news media, and the tears start anew with each horrifying glimpse of what went terribly wrong at yesterday's Boston Marathon.

Yesterday morning I woke up excited, eager to log into the live streaming coverage of the race at the BAA website.  I love watching this race...I watched the live coverage for years while I lived in Massachusetts.  Then I watched it whenever I could find coverage, now that I live in Texas.  For the last few years I've watched it through Universal Sports live streaming coverage but now that they've gone exclusive with Dish Satellite, I had to look elsewhere.  Fortunately BAA offers live streaming coverage at their website. 

I got nothing else done for the next two hours.  The route covers ground and passes through towns that I know well.  Watching the live coverage, seeing the glimpses of the towns as the runners passed through, and then seeing the Boylston Street finish line, so close to Copley Square, brought back memories. 

A few years ago I accompanied my former running coach to Boston when he ran the Boston Marathon for the first time.  I took full advantage of my knowledge of Boston, of surrounding towns, and of the MBTA system promising him I'd take care of him, get him to the start line and get him back to the hotel after the race was over.  For convenience, I chose a hotel on 128 just an exit or two away from the Riverside station terminus of the MBTA.

Race day morning I drove him to one of the shuttle bus pick-up locations on the outskirts of Hopkinton.  Then I drove to Natick to my ex-husband's house, where I parked my car and visited for a bit before walking the two blocks to the marathon route.  I knew my running friend's pace and estimated when he would pass by that location, which is at about mile 9.

Sure enough, about 30 minutes later, he ran by.  Despite my yelling his name, he did not see me.  Darn!  I jumped in my car and headed for the Green Line terminus, the Riverside Station, off of 128 near the Mass Pike interchange.  As I drove up 128, I could see the long ribbon of runners as they ran across the Washington Street overpass.   I parked my car at Riverside and jumped on a train, and then got off at the very next station, Woodland.  I walked the short distance to Washington Street and didn't have long to wait before my running coach and a giant throng of other runners passed by.

I got back on the Green Line T and then considered whether I had enough time to get off at the Reservoir station to catch him again.  I wasn't sure, because I had to wait for a bit to catch the next train out of Woodland.  I decided it was safer to just continue on in to the city and then find a good spectator spot along the last mile or so of the course, near where it makes its last turn onto Boylston Street.  I could see the runners approach and then make the turn, which gave me more time to scan the packs of runners for my friend.  

He ran by, I worked my way to the finish line, and found the gear check retrieval area, our pre-appointed meet-up location.  He was toast!  It was an unusually warm year and he suffered for it, his time more than an hour off his usual finish time for a marathon.  I got him to the T-station, got him onto a train (after kicking some teens out of their seats to let the "old man runner" sit) and we rode back to Riverside where my car was parked. 

But getting back to this year's race....I watched the male and female winners and runners-up cross the finish line, I watched the finish ceremonies for the winners, I watched the last little bit of live coverage, showing the runners and then the show was over.  I moved on to other things:  Getting dressed, getting some housework done, doing a little bit of yardwork, and starting the process of packing for my upcoming trip to the Carmel Marathon in Indiana.

I was just walking through the kitchen when my phone rang.  It was my friend Steve.  But his cell signal kept breaking up and I could only hear a word here and there, couldn't make out what he was saying.  I hung up and soon I heard the characteristic "ding" from my computer, telling me I had a message on Facebook.  It was Steve, telling me that there'd been the bombing at the Boston Marathon finish line.  I immediately turned on my TV and there it was in all its realism.   I was glued to the TV for the next few hours.

The images were horrifying.  Blood everywhere, panic and chaos.  And then quickly there was order from that chaos as support staff, volunteers, medical staff, police, even some runners sprang into action.  Video footage from the cameras that were there to cover the race was played and replayed.  News of the injuries and deaths began to make its way to the airwaves.   I was teary-eyed with shock and disbelief. 

It sickens me to think that the perpetrator(s) of this act of terrorism is sitting somewhere watching this coverage and probably gloating, feeling smug, maybe feeling proud of himself.  I only hope that his ego gets the better of him and he brags about it; and I hope that whoever hears it has the good sense to turn him in to police.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Just...Odds and Ends, Part II

I'm back and still clearing out more of those "bouncing ping pong balls" from my brain.

The Recycling Incident
The other morning I headed out for a short run, pausing as I headed down the driveway to put my trash out at the curb.  Now that our "unincorporated" neighborhood has been annexed to the city, things have changed.  We've kept the two trash days a week schedule but we now have recycling, with Mondays being "recycling" day and Thursdays being "heavy trash and brush" day.

The Waste Disposal Company delivered green recycling tubs to our homes in preparation.  So on this morning, as I ran along my neighborhood streets, I had a personal - almost too personal - glimpse into my neighbors' lifestyles. 

The first thing I noticed is that many neighbors had only recycling trash, no bagged trash.  This means that their trash accumulates in their pantry or garage for 7 days instead of 3 or 4 days.  What a major step backward!  But who am I to say anything bad about recycling?

The next thing I noticed - and speaking to that "too much personal information" comment earlier - was the large quantity of booze containers in those recycling bottles and cans, wine bottles, hard liquor bottles.  Ahem....I'd prefer to keep my private sins - you know, those empty cookie boxes, ice cream containers, candy wrappers, and yes, the occasional wine bottle - hidden from view in a heavy-duty opaque trash bag.

Another thought on this topic... our little gated community survives and thrives on huge amounts of volunteerism, with committees in place for many of the maintenance issues, such as pool maintenance, landscaping, structures maintenance, fencing, golf course.  It really helps keep our HOA dues way down in this really beautiful community by doing much of this maintenance through volunteer committees.  Over the years, the landscape committee has been funded by money earned from paper recycling.  We have four huge dumpsters permanently located near the golf club overflow parking lot just for paper recycling.  But now that we have the little green recycling bins, folks are putting their paper waste into these bins and taking funds away from our landscape committee.  Despite pleas each month in the newsletter, folks are STILL doing this.  I noticed tons of paper trash in the recycle bins along my run route.

So, with being entertained by peering into folks' recycle bins on this run, the miles went by fairly quickly.  Then I came to the next distraction...

The Muscovy Duck Incident
Same day, same run, I came up upon a Muscovy duck standing in the front yard of a house that backs up to the ninth hole of the golf course.  It's not unusual at all to see these ducks out and about around the neighborhood.  They live by the dozens along the banks of the water hazards on our golf course and on the shores of our large lake near the Carriage House.   They even cause the occasional traffic jam as they try to cross the road, stringing out in a long row across the roadway. 

But this little guy looked like he was standing oddly, like something was wrong with a leg.  So I stopped running and walked toward the duck, moving slowly so as to not scare it off.  He stood his ground and let me get so close I could have touched him.  I couldn't see anything wrong with his leg but he turned a bit and I could see that he was limping a bit.  I could also see a gash on the back of his neck when he turned.  It didn't look too serious - no gore, just a gash with a bit of blood - so I concluded that he'd be okay.  Or maybe it was a she?  Maybe an injury acquired during mating?

I continued on with my run and later, when I headed out to the grocery store, I drove past the house and didn't see the duck so I assumed it went on about its business.  And so did I. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Just...Odds and Ends, Part I

Where has the week gone??  It's been just one thing after another since I've returned from my last trip.  I've accumulated a bunch of thoughts and experiences, each too tiny to warrant putting together a blog entry, but now they've accumulated to the point where if I don't put them down in writing, they'll continue to bounce around in my head like so many ping pong balls.  Here's the first installment:

The Running Shoes Incident
This was the top incident on my mind when I got home from my trip to SC and GA.  You see, I love Brooks Ravenna shoes.  They are the most comfortable and best-fitting shoes I've ever covered a few miles in.  They fit my feet like a glove.  They don't give me blisters or black toenails.  They feel as good when new as when "broken in" with a few miles on them.  So imagine my state of mind this past summer when I learned that they had made some changes to the design in the next generation of Ravenna shoe.  I did what any sane-minded long-distance runner would do:  I scoured the internet and scooped up a few pair of the old style at clearance prices.  Yep!  I'm a hoarder!
My hoarded stash!
This past July I broke out two new pair from my stock-pile and started putting miles on them.  I designated them "Orchid I" and "Orchid II" with little Magic Marker marks on the sides of the heels so that I could tell them apart and keep the miles equal on the two pair.  All was going well until I did a longish run in pair Orchid II and felt some pain in the balls of my feet for the first time ever.  It started to hurt after about 5-6 miles.   I just chalked it up to something simple like bunched socks or the laces too tight. 

It happened again on other long runs over the next couple of months, but it seemed to me to just be random and not connected to a particular pair of shoes.  So in my naivity, and by luck of the rotation schedule, Orchid II came with me to Wichita to run the Prairie Fire Half Marathon in October.  And guess what?  At around mile 5 or 6 I began to feel that very same pain in the balls of my feet...just like the pain I'd felt on other long runs.  It became excruciating and resulted in my only being able to walk - not run - for the rest of the race.   I was beginning to think that I was developing a Morton's Neuroma.  But investigating this further, I came to the conclusion that the pain was in the wrong location to be a neuroma.  It was right at the base of my big toes, at the sesamoid joint.  

I was truly scratching my head on this.  Then, by reviewing my running log, I put it together!!  The foot pain was totally coinciding with doing longer runs in Orchid II!  (Yay me, for religiously keeping detailed running logs!) I confirmed this by making sure I wore Orchid I for my 10-mile run a couple of weeks later and by bringing that pair with me to run the Tulsa Route 66 half marathon a couple of weeks after that, in November.  No pain!

Okay.  I've got this figured out.  I decided to wear only Orchid I on all my long runs, and Orchid II on my shorter training runs.  This kept the overall mileage on each pair of shoes pretty much equal, since I'll do one long run for every 2 or 3 shorter runs.

The ill-fated new pair of Orchids,
and the other new, unworn pair
So fast-forward to early March, 2013.  I broke out two more pair of new shoes from my cache of hoarded Ravenna's.  Both Orchid I and II were getting a little long-in-the-tooth and a little tread-bare and it was time to retire them.  I concentrated on wearing only one of the new pair, to get them ready for my upcoming races in SC and GA.  But there was a major problem!!  Within 2 or 3 miles during a run, the balls of my feet were hurting....big time!!  Just like that previous pair...Orchid II.  I made several attempts to wear this new pair, thinking the foot-beds just needed to be softened up and molded to my foot.  This just wasn't going to happen!!  So I ended up bringing my good old trusty pair of Orchid I's with me to run the SC and GA races. 
Soles of Orchid I...beyond the "wear bars!"

When I got home from the trip, I had time to put more thought into this problem.  What did these shoes all have in common?  First of all, they're all the same color:  Orchid.  Second of all, by removing the insoles, I could see the manufacturing date imprinted on the shoe last.  The perfectly comfortable shoe, with 250 pain-free miles on them, had an 06/08/10 manufacture date.  So did the shoe that was comfortable for about 5-6 miles before becoming painful.  The new shoe that hurt after just 2 miles was manufactured on 06/10 of the same year.  The other new, unworn pair of shoes has that same 06/10 manufacture date.  I'm afraid to even try them!  So now I have two pair of brand new running shoes that I can't or won't wear. 

But...the good news is that I have four more brand new pair on the closet shelf:   One of those four pair are blue, another pair are pink.  I took the blue pair out for a test run of about 3.5 miles this week and they were so comfortable...just as I remembered these shoes should be, right out of the box.  I took them out again a couple of days later and they're still wonderfully comfortable and cushy.  I expect the pink pair will be the same.  I've had previous pairs in these two colors and had no problems with them.

I'm now suspecting a manufacture problem with the Orchid shoe.  the soles are molded to color-match the shoes' uppers, so it's quite possible there's a Quality Control problem with that lot of soles.  But since these shoes were manufactured more than 2 years ago and have been discontinued for more than a year, I doubt I have any recourse with the manufacturer.  I'll just write this off as a risk I take for hoarding discontinued shoe models.

Which now brings me to my next little story....

The Socks Incident
As part of my investigation into the "feet hurt" problem in that new pair of Orchid shoes, I took a look at the socks I was wearing.  

Backing up a little bit here...I have come to love the SmartWool PhD ultra-light running sock.  I have several pair in the "Mini" style, which is a short crew-style, coming above my ankle by about an inch or so. 

I've never worn what are called "micro" sock style, since I've always been afraid the sock would creep down my heel.  But all of these PhD style socks are so form-fitting I convinced myself it was worth buying a couple of pair of the PhD Ultra-light micro style and trying them. 

When I received them last fall, I really liked the look of them.  They're trimmer and less "frumpy-looking;"  I've always felt that the mini-crews made my ankles look fat.  Silly vanity, I know!   Well, I started wearing them without looking back.  Of course, this nearly perfectly coincided with my pulling out those two pair of new shoes last fall, which really complicated things, when it came to identifying the cause of the ball-of-the-foot pain. 

I remember that, aside from the ball-of-the-foot pain I was experiencing in Orchid II, I was also noticing that the entire soles of my feet were starting to feel a little more beat-up after longer runs.   I even blogged about it, saying that the soles of my feet felt like they'd been smacked with a board after completing a particular half-marathon.  Then, after running the Columbia SC Half Marathon and Georgia Half Marathon in March, I had some blisters on the balls of my feet and big toes that I've never had before.  These were both hilly courses and running the downhills no doubt caused some foot slippage in my pretty-much worn-out shoes at that.   But I just never put this together with the fact that I'd changed sock style.

Left to right:  "New style Ultra-Light" in Micro model;
Old-style "Ultra-Light" in the Mini model;
and "Light" in the Micro model
So in my quest this past week to sort out the problem with that new pair of Orchid shoes, I left no stone unturned.  I took a closer look at those socks.  I pulled a pair of the newer PhD Ultra-light micro's out of my sock drawer.  And I pulled a pair of those much-worn and trusted PhD Ultra-light Mini's out as well.   Fingering them side by side, I immediately noticed a major difference in the thickness of the knitting in the toe and heel areas.  How could I not have noticed this difference before??  Turning them inside out, it was obvious the huge difference!

Left to right:  New-style Ultra-Light which has no cushioning;
old-style Ultra-Light, which had chunky-knit cushioning;
Current "Light" which has terry-loop cushioning
While the old-style "ultra-light" socks had a chunky knit in the toe and heel areas, the new-style "ultra-light" had absolutely no extra thickness.  they are as thin from heel to toe as dress socks would be.

 Silly me!  Thinking maybe I'd just ordered the wrong style, or that I was remembering wrong about what style my tried-and-true Mini's are, I got on-line to my favorite sock store,  The Sock Company, and ordered a couple more pair of the Micro's only this time ordering the "Light" not the "Ultra-Light."  They arrived a few days later and to my immense disappointment, they are much thicker than anything I have in my running drawer! 

When I put my running shoes on with these new socks, the fit is very snug...too snug?  Last time I wore cushioned socks like this - many years ago - I got a black toenail on my big toe.  Took nearly a year for the black to grow out!

Now I was really confused!  Confused enough to pick up the phone and call SmartWool directly.  I was feeling like Goldilocks and the three Bears!  Only instead of "too hot, too cold, just right,"  my problem was "too thin, too thick, just right." 

I got a very nice young man on the phone in Customer Service and laid out my whole sad-sack story of confusion and poor memory.  When I was done, he thought about this for a moment or two, and then figured it out, telling me that they'd re-designed the Ultra-Light knit last summer, making them thinner and, in their minds, better than ever....just about the time I'd ordered those new Ultra-Light micro's.    Arggghhh!!  But at least this little mystery was solved. I wasn't losing my mind or my memory. 

I have several pair of those PhD Ultra-Light mini's, all in very good condition, so I guess I'll be wearing them for the indefinite future.  Or until I get up enough nerve to try those thicker, more-cushioned PhD Light micro's.  But not before I get one of these new pairs of shoes more broken in.

Onward we go!!  But those Orchid I shoes will be spared the donation bin for a while...I'm not quite ready - or convinced - that I can let them go.  Not just yet.