Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Half Fanatics Unite!

I belong to this crazy organization and its name says it all.   Half Fanatics.  It's for runners who can't let it rest at just one or two half marathons.  No....it's for folks who are, well, fanatics about running this distance.  There's an even crazier organization of crazy folks who like running full marathons...Marathon Maniacs. 

I learned about the Half Fanatics from a friend who is a Maniac.  She knew I'd already run in a few full and half marathons and suggested I look into joining these two groups.  Well, I no longer run full marathons, so there's no chance I'd qualify as a Maniac, but looking at the requirements to join the Half Fanatics, I easily qualified.  In fact, I joined the group and my completed races at that point immediately put me into "Saturn" moon level.  Now, a year later, I've earned a few more "moons" and am now at "Earth" moon level, qualifying for that level by having done at least 16 half marathons in 16 different states within 365 days. 

So anyway, as I travel about, running these half marathons in different cities, I meet other Fanatics who are readily identifiable if they're wearing their Half Fanatic running shirts or visors.

Well, here's the story.  On Sunday I ran the Turning Stone Half Marathon in Verona NY.  It started and ended at the Turning Stone Resort, taking us out into the countryside on a big loop that brought us through the tiny little town of Sherrill.  Actually, Sherrill bills itself as the smallest city in New York. 

The weather was spectacular for a race!  Low 50s at the start, low humidity, clear blue skies.  It was a small and relatively youthful race field and when the pack took off at the gun, I was quickly left behind at the back of the pack.  As we left the resort grounds and headed out into the countryside, I spotted a woman ahead of me wearing one of those Half Fanatics shirts.  She looked to be walking with a limp but still moving along smartly. 

I pulled up along side her and asked if she wanted company.  I was willing to slow to a fast walk, having no need to kill myself doing this race.  She most gratefully accepted the company.  She said that she had started out too fast and quickly was pulled up short by a pulled muscle or a cramp in her calf.  So we walked together for a couple of miles and I think that our lively chatting took her mind off the pain. 
Las tres amigues - we three Half Fanatics ran much of the race together -
Marissa from CA, Andrea from RI, me from TX

After a couple of miles, she said that the pain had eased off and we broke into a run and stayed together for the entire rest of the race.  She's from Rhode Island so along the way we compared notes on what races she's run in the New England area and I got lots of advice and tips for what races to choose as I continue my 50 States quest.  As it turns out, she ran the Maple Leaf Half the same year I did.  So our paths crossed once before, we just didn't realize it.

Turning Stone Half Marathon Route - tracks from my Garmin GPS watch

We "brought it home" together, crossing the finish line just seconds apart and we thanked each other for being each other's "rabbit" and keeping each other going. 

The race was small but it was definitely not small on detail, being put on by a very rich resort casino, so we were treated to an incredible pancake buffet breakfast afterward.  We sat with a couple of other Fanatics that she had met earlier. 

It was a very enjoyable race!!  And despite the couple of miles' walking early in the race and some walking near the end, I still had a decent finish time, under 3 hours.

My finisher's medal:
Very nice finisher's medal
The design is very clever.  Three tablet-like stones, made to look
like fanned out cards, each representing one of the different race distances
offered during the weekend. Runners doing each distance received
a medal with the card representing that distance on top and with
a different colored ribbon.  Finisher's shirt artwork was the same.
What my 50 States-50 Half Marathons map looks like now:

Next up:  Omaha NE Half Marathon in September.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

So Much Better. Then On To The Best

Oh, yeah.   Hilton Garden Inn in Erie PA.  So much better!

The timeshare at Lakeview Resort just wasn't cutting it for me.  There's a tipping point for me when it comes to comfort and amenities, or lack thereof.   Even when the lodging is "free" (and really... a timeshare is not free; I've paid the annual ownership fee for my home resort before trading it for another location) there is definitely a lower limit to my tolerance for austerity, lack of cleanliness, or low-end quality .  So...no, Lakeview was not really "free."  And, no, it did not meet my minimum expectations.

I left a couple of days "on the table" by checking out early and moving on.  I chose a very nice, new Hilton Garden Inn off I-90 in Erie PA.  Before checking in, I continued on into downtown Erie, to the harbor area, to visit the Maritime Museum and see the U.S. Brig. Niagara, a tall ship moored at the museum.  Well, unfortunately Niagara was away playing with the other tall ships in Penetanguishene, Ontario this weekend, so I didn't get to see her.
Empty berth where US Brig. Niagara should be

I continued to the hotel, checked in, had dinner at the Cracker Barrel next door, and then had the best sleep I'd had in a few days.   Nice!

The good thing about moving on to Erie is that it brought me in closer proximity to a planned lunch get-together with friends near Buffalo NY.  I ate a leisurely breakfast before packing up and continuing north toward Buffalo.  A friend from MTF called a lunch get-together at Smokey Bones, conveniently located right off I-90.  I arrived way too early, but unbelievably a motorcycle pulled in right behind me, circled the nearly empty parking lot, then took off.  I had purchased some really cute New York post cards, so sat in the car addressing them to my grandkids then located a nearby post office on my GPS.  That would help kill some time before lunch.  Just as I started to pull out, the motorcycle returned so I pulled up alongside and greeted the rider, Jim from Canada, here to join us for lunch. 

I zipped over to the post office and by the time I returned, another rider had arrived...Rob from eastern PA.  As we stood there chatting, John and wife Linda arrived by car, and then right behind them came Sal, also in his car.

Some MTF friends for lunch at Smokey Bones in Buffalo
(Photo, courtesy Jim McPherson)

We had a great lunch and it was so much fun to see Sal again and hear bits and pieces of his experience riding the Iron Butt Rally last month.  So many stories, so little time!!  Dave, coming from south-central PA arrived late, joining us at the table.  So good to see him, as well!  Haven't seen him in over a year.


After lunch we said our goodbyes and I continued east toward Syracuse and then on to Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona.

I decided to go ahead and pick up my race packet at the Fleet Feet store in Syracuse rather than wait and get it at the resort on Saturday.  The store was easy to find and soon I was back on the road again, driving the short 12 miles east on I-90 to the Turning Stone exit.

The approach to the resort is simply stunning!! Gorgeous, landscaped grounds, winding drives, and a huge complex of beautifully designed buildings.  A little disoriented, I turned into the circular drive that took me to a sweeping valet parking area.  Wrong entrance!  This was the VIP casino entrance...not what I wanted.  But the very friendly and helpful uniformed valet directed me back to the main drive and to the next turn to the main hotel registration entrance.  Wow!!  This place is huge!  And so gorgeous!

Two valets swooped down on me and had my luggage out of the trunk onto a cart and my car was whisked away.   My laden cart was handed off to a bellman inside the lobby as I checked in.  Very impressive lobby and common areas!  I asked the bellman to give me a tour as we took the long way to one of the banks of elevators and he gladly obliged.  This place is huge!  And luxurious!  And did I say...this place is huge?
Atrium area in the massive lobby

When I made my reservations at their website I was presented with several different lodging options, from the top-end Lodge suites, the next-most expensive Tower, the Hotel, and then the budget-minded Inn.  I selected a room in the Hotel and when we arrived and I opened the door, I was not disappointed.  Very beautiful room, high-end furnishings, lots of nice touches.  Gosh!  I wonder what the Tower or the Lodge rooms look like?  

I got my things settled into the room and then headed right back out again to explore!  I wanted to check out all of the different restaurants, choose one for my pre-race dinner the next night.  I bought a Starbucks cappuccino at one of the two different Starbucks venues(!) and wandered about in awe.  In addition to the several sit-down restaurants, there is a food court with half a dozen national fast-food chains represented.   A bakery/sweet shop; a florist; jewelry store; clothing stores.  A sundries shop, tobacco shop...it's a city under one roof! 

I have no interest in gambling, but poked my head in briefly, just to take a look.  Several halls and game rooms, some non-smoking, all busy with the electronic noise of the gaming machines.

The resort is totally state-of-the-art!  LCD panels scattered throughout the common spaces on the first two floors;  excellent and free Wi-Fi everywhere; OpenTable reservations system for all of their restaurants.  I sat in the atrium area next to Starbucks and made my dinner reservation for Pino Bianco for Saturday night, using the OpenTable app on my cellphone.  Cool!

A piece of oreo chocolate cake from Opals Confectionary came back with me to my room for dessert Friday night. 

Tomorrow:  Explore the resort grounds a bit.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Running and Hiking Today...Then Headed Further North Tomorrow

To take a little liberty with Newton's Law of Gravitation...

What goes down must come up.  At least that's the case here in hilly West Virginia.  And assuming runners don't move fast enough to go into hyperbolic orbit, . 

I got up this morning and felt like taking a little run, my first since doing the half marathon on Saturday.  The problem is, where I'm located up here on a ridge overlooking Cheat Lake, there's nowhere to run but downhill.  A steep downhill, at that.  It's exactly a mile from my timeshare condo to the main road and every inch of it is slanted.  Fun to run down, but what goes down must come back up. 

So 2.25 mile run finished, I thought while I was still in running attire I'd hop in the car and drive the few miles east on I-65 to Coopers Rock State Forest and do a little hiking.  There's an old iron smelting furnace deep in the woods that I'd like to see and what should be a fabulous overlook at Coopers Rock.

Once in the park, I took a right turn to get onto the road that goes to the Henry Clay Furnace trailhead.


Yes, in case you noticed, that trail heads straight downhill.  It was steep and rough, with big rocks and knarly roots jutting out of the ground, which were made difficult to see by the dappled bits of sun and shade on the trail that dove deep into the woods in places.

Heading down the Henry Clay Furnace Trail

The hike was worth it, however, as the old furnace was fantastic!

History of the furnace

Henry Clay Furnace

The furnace was built in the early 1800's and a little community of dwellings and stores sprung up in the area.  It's been abandoned for over 150 years and today only the furnace remains standing.  Hard to envision a community so deep in the woods!

Going back up hill!

Now I had to hike back up the trail to the trailhead where my car is parked.  The trail dropped 165 feet in elevation in the first 1/4 mile.   Getting back up will be like climbing 16 sets of stairs!

Henry Clay Furnace Trail
From the trailhead I drove back to the main park road and continued deeper into the park to the namesake Coopers Rock, where there's an overlook of the Cheat River and Morgantown beyond.  

Trail approaching the overlook

A short trail leads to Coopers Rock, a giant granite shelf, beyond which the land drops away to the river below.  It was spectacular!  Just as I approached the rock a hawk soared overhead. 

View from the edge of Coopers Rock overlook

Coopers Rock ledge

Cheat River down below
There's a gift shop and canteen near the Coopers Rock overlook so I stopped inside and chatted with the ladies working there.  Cute place, filled with cheesy souvenirs and snack foods.  Of course I had to buy a refrigerator magnet for my already over-magnet-ed fridge!

And this guy was saying "come back soon" as I walked back to my car:

A big bear, made entirely of branches and twigs

I've decided to leave this timeshare resort tomorrow - a day early - and move up to Erie PA.  I'm unhappy with this place for a number of reasons.  It's a bit run-down and shabby and lacks amenities that are standard at most other resorts.  I'm craving a bit of luxury again.  I'll stay Thursday night at a Hilton Garden Inn then continue on toward Verona NY on Friday, meeting friends along the way for lunch and picking up my race packet as I pass through Syracuse.

So for now I'm taking advantage of the washer and dryer in the timeshare unit and getting ready to pack up for my departure tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Packing Up and Moving On

Race is over, a relaxing post-race evening behind me, and Sunday morning it was time to pack up and check out of the lovely Blennerhassett hotel and drive to Elkins WV to meet some friends for lunch.

My GPS has been a real pill on this trip.  So in keeping with this trend, she routed me onto Highway 47 all the way to Elkins.  In my mind, I was thinking that this wasn't right...even turned around and drove back to I-77 thinking I should be on US 50, not on highway 47.  But being unsure and not able to zoom out on the Garmin to get the bigger picture yet retain any road detail, I let the GPS take charge.

I'm here to say that Highway 47 is torture on wheels!!  I'm sure it's a terrific motorcycle road on a sunny day, but in a car in the rain, it was agonizing.  By the time I got to Elkins, I was so tired of that road!

My arrival at Scottie's restaurant was timed perfectly.  Mike and Joanne were there waiting, and Brian and Donna rode in just seconds behind me.  We had a very nice lunch and good visit at Scottie's before we all went our separate ways.

Next stop for me was Lakeview Resort on Cheat Lake just north of Morgantown.  I traded one of my deposited timeshares for a 2 bedroom-2bathroom unit here at the resort.   I had a little bit of a wait for my timeshare unit to be ready but soon I was humping my luggage up the narrow wood stairs to the front door.   I was a little unimpressed by the exterior appearance, which seemed a little shabby, and so didn't expect much once inside.  It's certainly not up to the quality of the timeshares that I own, and definitely not luxurious, but it's free (trade through Interval International).

A quick check of the coffee pot to see what kind of filters it takes and a look at the pillows to see if I needed to buy a better one (I do), and I got back in the car and drove the 7 miles to a Super Walmart on I-68 to buy groceries - and a pillow - for the few days I'll be staying here.   Walmart carries a Beautyrest pillow that is my go-to pillow if I must buy one on the road.   I can't sleep on stiff, pancake-flat foam or polyester fill pillows!  I like a pillow I can scrunch and mold!

I spent much of the next day - Monday - just relaxing and getting caught up with my reading and blog entries.  But that afternoon a friend from Virginia drove over and joined me for dinner.  We had a chance to discuss some issues and the future of an organization that we both belong to.  It was a very enjoyable visit!  She had booked her own room in the hotel section of the resort which gave us plenty of time to visit without worrying about her getting back on the road. 

Tuesday morning I slept in.  As I ate breakfast, I did a little research on the internet, looking for places to visit in the area.  Several good options came up, including a winery not too far from the resort. 

Right after lunch I put the route to the winery in to my Garmin and headed out.  It was very close - just a few miles away and easy to get to.  The winery is Forks of Cheat Winery and sits up on top of a hill with a spectacular view in all directions. 

The tiny lot in front of the tasting room was full so I drove down the steep narrow drive to the overflow parking and then walked back up to the winery.  Along the way I made friends with a pretty gray tabby cat and paused to admire the wild berries and the beautiful landscaping surrounding the outbuildings of the winery. 
Forks of Cheat Winery tasting room

Lots of container garden plants - peppers, tomatoes of several varieties - and lush flowers and coleus were everywhere!  It was spectacular!
View of event pavilion below and valley beyond

I browsed the selection of fruit wines and red grape wines and also noted that they also distill grappa.  I was mightily impressed by that!   Too bad I'm not in my own car!  I would take several bottles, different varieties, home with me if I were in my own car.

A beautiful deck next to the tasting room was very inviting, giving a great view of the valley below.

Another view of event pavilion below

A couple of bottles of wine left the tasting room with me: a Cabernet and a red table wine blend that had a very nice texture and taste.

And then wouldn't you know it!  There was a country store prominently advertising ice cream right there on my route back to Lakeview!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Parkersburg Half Marathon is Done!

There's good and there's bad about a race that starts a little later in the morning.  The good, of course, is not having to wake up so darned early - as in o'dark thirty early.  The bad is that a later start means a later - and therefore warmer - finish under a sun that's well up in the sky.

The race starts at 8 AM, so I was up at 6 to give myself time to eat and digest breakfast and then get ready.  Cheerios, a banana, check my email and the forums, and then start to get ready. 
Start line

Local bank encouraging the runners
The start line is just a block over and a block down from the hotel so I didn't need to walk out of the hotel until 7:50 AM.  The national anthem was played by a live band at 7:55 and then we were sent off by a gunshot at 8:00 AM. 

While waiting at the start line I struck up a conversation with a young woman who was wearing her Half Fanatics t-shirt.  It's a great conversation starter, both for those who have never heard of the organization and for those of us who are also members.  After the race was over, I logged into my Half Fanatics account to enter my race results, and took this opportunity to look her up.  Turns out she's also doing the 50 States!!  This race was her 22nd, and was my 25th!

The first two miles of the route took us through downtown streets and through the beautiful and very historic Julia-Ann Square Historic District.  We finished this little loop and then headed out over the river across a steep uphill bridge and ramp.  From here we ran through some semi-rural countryside for the next 9 miles.  It was rolling hills, nothing too steep, just nice reciprocating gentle ups and downs.

Course elevation

Race route

We ran back across the river and into town, through a different portion of the historic district, up a very steep but thankfully short hill, and then onto Market Street and down to the finish line.  The streets were lined with cheering spectators waiting for the parade to start but giving us great encouragement as we neared the finish line.
Finish line.  Street permanently painted to mark the spot!

I collected my icy-wet towel (wonderful!!) and my medal, grabbed a mini-bagel and a sports drink and then walked the short 3 blocks back to the hotel.  Great race!  My time wasn't one of my best, but it was still a very enjoyable and very-well organized and supported race!

2013 finisher's medal

I slowly worked my way toward the shower and got cleaned up to return to the finish line for the pizza party at the St. Xavier Center and then afterward, around the corner to an historic theater for the awards ceremonies.  Such a cool thing to do!  Give folks a chance to clean up, eat, and then hold the ceremony in a comfortable venue where we could sit while waiting to hear the awards.

On my way to the pizza party, I paused to take in the Homecoming Festival parade.  Small town parades are so much fun!  Little Misses and Queens of this and that, representing every nearby town or county, high school marching bands, junior drill teams and little league teams, karate clubs, fire trucks...so much fun not only the parade but the excitement of the little spectators as well!

I met a young couple at the pizza party and we sat together at the awards ceremony, held at the old, but nicely restored Smoot Theater.  He thought he might have come in 3rd place in his age group.  I knew that he had to be a very good runner because, at his age, that would be a very large field to compete against.  Sure enough, when they worked their way up to the 35-39 male runner age group, he came in 3rd.  

Historic Smoot Theater - runners waiting for it to open
for the awards ceremony
As awards were given, folks would leave, either because they'd collected their trophy or because they didn't "place."   By the time they got to my age group, which was next to last, only a handful of runners remained.  In my mind, the older runners deserve the applause just for showing up and finishing the race, never mind earning a trophy.  Maybe one of these races, they'll reverse the order of awards age-groups.

So, female runners, 65-69, third-place goes to:  ME!!

My 3rd place trophy!
I was thrilled!!  As I stepped down off the stage, the older couple who sat with me at the spaghetti dinner the night before were sitting down near the front and they waved their arms and clapped loudly for me.  He wasn't sure how he'd done but he would soon find out as they began announcing the male runners, 65-69.  Unfortunately he did not place in his age group.

I was elated as I walked back to the hotel!  I stopped in the hotel lounge and ordered a glass of sparkling wine to celebrate!

Hunger is usually hit-or-miss for me after running a race, and this was one of those times where I was just craving junk food, nothing healthy.  At the farmer's market the day before, I bought some designer cupcakes, so stayed in my room and ate three of them for dinner!

Another state done...another medal to add to my collection.  West Virginia is now colored in on my "50 States-50 Half Marathons" map:

Coming up next:  Turning Stone Half Marathon in up-state New York.