Tuesday, April 29, 2014

I Took a Gamble...

Beautiful if windy weather Saturday gave way to dire weather forecasts for race day Sunday...will it be a gamble to run the Gambler's Half Marathon in Council Bluffs, Iowa?

The National Weather Service had the column of states from Iowa and Nebraska all the way down to Texas under a Severe Weather advisory.  Indeed, the entire mid-section of the United States was painted red and orange on the weather map.  The forecasters were giving dire predictions of large hail, tornadoes, strong winds, heavy rain.  It all was looking mighty grim!

I got up early Sunday morning and immediately logged in to the National Weather Service website to get the most up-to-date hourly forecasts.  It was currently cloudy, but looked like it would start to rain about midway through the race.  I was torn as to what to wear.  The temperature was 60 degrees and was supposed to reach high 60's by the time I crossed the finish line.  This called for shorts but what to wear up top.

Remembering how chilled I got in the Go Girl Run half marathon in Columbia MO, I chose a long-sleeve shirt.  At that Go Girl race, I had on a short sleeve shirt and even though the temps were low 60's, as soon as the rain started and I got wet, I got chilled.

So out the door of the hotel I went, and immediately turned around and went back inside.  It was already raining and the wind felt sharp and chill.  I went back to my room to put on my Brooks running jacket and headed back outside and toward the start line for the race, just an easy walk away.

I didn't have to wait long before the gun went off and we were on our way.  I had no idea how many folks had registered and how many didn't show up because of the weather forecasts.  But there didn't seem to be very many runners at the start line.  The first couple of miles were on the street until we picked up a very  nice paved trail along the river.  We stayed on this trail for two or three miles, then picked up a wide sidewalk and followed this to the turnaround point in a very pretty park on a beautiful lake.

Route data from my Garmin watch.  An extra 0.6 mile squiggle at the end as I walked back
to the hotel, squiggle being the result of my Garmin watch not turning off when I pressed the stop button.  

Up to this point the rain had been intermittent, but as I exited the park I began to hear thunder.  Then I began to see lightning in the clouds.  But still off in the distance, judging from the time lapse between lightning and thunder.  Then the rains came in earnest!  It was at about mile 7 or 8.  Earlier in the race I had removed my jacket and tied it around my waist but putting it back on sure felt good as the temps seemed to drop a few degrees.

At mile 9 a volunteer on bicycle was riding the course, stopping to tell each of us that the course was officially closed due to lightning but that we could continue at our own risk.  In for a dime, in for a dollar I always say!  Besides, I was nearly 3/4 of the way there, and I'd still have to work my way back to the finish line near my hotel, so why quit now?

Police cruisers and volunteers in cars frequently checked on us, making sure we were okay, offering rides to the finish if we didn't want to continue.  They weren't pressuring us to quit, just being courteous.  It was very reassuring to know that they were checking on us.

The word "slog" is an apt descriptor of how those last 3 miles felt.  The rains were heavy and continuous now, and the lightning was right overhead.  The puddles were deep and at some points covered the entire running lane.  There was no avoiding the ankle deep water!

In the last mile I was begging for it to be over, begging for the finish line to magically appear in front of me.

Earlier, I Had chatted with a woman at the start line while we waited. Throughout the race she was either in front of me or just behind me, as we played leapfrog with each other.  By the turnaround point, she stayed in front of me, sometimes getting 100 yards ahead and sometimes I'd come within a few feet, getting ready to pass her when she'd pick up her pace.  But as we got to within 1/4 mile of the finish line, I caught up with her and we stayed together the rest of the way.  I really wished she would have let me catch up with her earlier in the race, because we actually motivated each other in those last few hundred yards to the finish line.

We crossed the finish line together and then parted ways.  I've now learned to never walk away without first checking to see if I'd placed in my age group.  The crew were actually packing much of the race gear away and had to dig in the back of an SUV to find the trophies to give me my 3rd place in the 60+ age group.  I could see quite a few trophies sticking up out of boxes, which led me to believe that the turnout for the race was hampered by the weather and/or folks rushed to their cars upon finishing, without bothering to wait for the awards ceremony to collect their bling.

Definitely the truth

I was very pleased with myself for having finished this tough race...and placing 3rd.  There were no doubt others who saw the forecast and chose not to do the race.  Heaven knows, I've done the same thing.  2013 Houston Half Marathon, to be exact.  The forecasts were for cold rain, possibly sleet.  I didn't need to do that race that badly.  But this Gambler Half Marathon reminded me a lot of my adventure in the Galveston Mardi Gras Half Marathon in 2012.

I walked back to the hotel, where I dripped my way up to my room.  I was so wet that I had to peel everything off before I could sit down, which I so desperately needed to do at that point.

I jumped into a hot shower, collected my things and checked out of the hotel.  Packing the car to go home, I draped my soaking wet running clothes, socks, jacket, hat over the mesh cargo net to dry on the way home.
Soggy wet running clothes everywhere!  Shirt, shorts, socks, jacket, cap, shoes

Another free Marriott Rewards room awaited me in Wichita and I had every intention of having a wonderful steak dinner and glass of wine - maybe two glasses of wine - before calling it a day.

Rib eye steak, rice pilaf and a split of Frexeinet

The finisher's medal and age group award:

finisher's medal and 3rd place in the 60+ age group

State #35 - the state of Iowa - is now done!  What the 50 States map looks like now:

50 States-50 Half Marathons map with Iowa colored in

Coming up next:  A trip back to Cincinnati this coming weekend to run the Flying Pig Half Marathon, my 4th running of this race.  Yes, it's that good of a race!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Don't Laugh: I'm In Council Bluffs, Iowa

Seems like an odd and random place to spend the weekend, I know.  I spent an equally odd and random weekend across the river in Omaha NE last September.  Even drove the exact same route to get here, pretty much.

You see, it happened this way.

I was pretty much resigned to the fact that Iowa would have to wait until 2015 if I wanted to color that state in on my completed 50 Half Marathons map.  There didn't seem to be many choices for races.   The small handful that I could find conflicted with plans I'd already made for other parts of the country.  And maddeningly, I couldn't seem to connect an Iowa race with a race in a neighboring state to improve my travel efficiency.  So I just said, "Screw it" and decided to worry about it next year.

But then....I happened to be browsing the list of upcoming races at the Runningintheusa.com website and saw this race in Council Bluffs....The Gambler Half Marathon on April 27.  I can do this!  I have no conflicts on the calendar to speak of.  It's a fairly easy 900 mile drive (a day and a half away).   I can do it in one long weekend.  The best part is that it meets all of my most desired criteria:  Loop or out-and-back route; hotels within walking distance; flat course; 3.5 hour or longer time limit.   Okay...I'm in!


As boring as the drive might seem to others, to me it's not so bad.  I don't get up this way very often so I still find the drive interesting.  And once out of Texas, there's very little traffic so the drive is easy.  I've wearied of the drive east on I-10, having done it so many times, and I've come to hate the drive northeast out of Texas on US 59, for how painfully slow it is going through all those towns...but it's the only route out of Texas if I want to head to the Northeast.

I cashed in some Marriott points and stayed at a Fairfield Inn near Wichita, the same place I stayed on my last trip (and I'll have a free room waiting for me on my way home, as well).  And from my previous trip up here, I knew there was a big Walmart Superstore in Nebraska City where I could stop to buy Cheerios and bananas and a few other odds and ends.

Strong winds were the order of the day along my route.  I was wearing a headband at one of my gas stops and then suddenly I was no longer wearing that headband!  the winds were whipping my hair and suddenly they ripped that headband right off my head and sent it careening across the parking lot, dashed and broken.
So while at Walmart I browsed the hair accessories aisle and picked up several options, purchases that were long-overdue.  My hair has gotten long enough that I need to get serious about ways to tame it into submission.  Headbands, larger barrettes, and large jaw clip to pull my hair up into a loose french knot.  I may need someone to give me lessons!
Rib tips, beans, corn muffin at Famous Dave's

So now I'm in Council Bluffs at a very nice Springhill Suites hotel with several restaurant choices within walking distance.  But there's not much else to do here.  I had dinner my first night here at Famous Dave's BBQ near the hotel and the next morning had Cheerios, banana and coffee in my room before heading over to the Harrah's Casino to pick up my race packet.  It was a short drive, so while out and about, I decided to drive over to the Lewis and Clark Visitor Center just south of the interstate, along the river.

Lewis & Clark pictorial

Replica of Lewis & Clark conveyance

I watched the film then browsed the exhibits.  I've been to several museums and visitor centers dedicated to Lewis & Clark.  In my IBA National Park Tours, I've stamped my way across the western half of the U.S., all the way to Oregon, picking up national park stamps along the way and watching a variety of films and reading several books about these two explorers.  The film here at Council Bluffs was a unique twist on an oft-told story.  It ran two parallel story lines:  That of Lewis & Clark and that of a modern family taking a road trip.  Very unique and very interesting.  Where we have all modern conveniences available to us along the way, they had nothing but their grit and determination.

I parked the car back at the hotel and walked over to Ruby Tuesday's for lunch.  On my way, I passed the back side of the Mid-America Center Arena, where the race will start and finish and  I could see them setting up the start line and getting ready for us!  Now settled in front of a movie in my room, then tomorrow....race day!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Easter Bunny Found Us

My son and daughter-in-law have good friends who are now living in San Antonio.  They were classmates of my son's at Texas A&M and spent their years - like my son - traveling and living around the world, compliments of the military.  They've even been stationed nearby my son at one point in their careers.

So with the grandkids out for Spring Break, they decided to go visit their friends in San Antonio.  My house just happens to be a comfortable distance in between.  A good 6 hour drive (about the limit with small kids) from my son's home in Louisiana, and just 3 or 4 hours from San Antonio.  Daughter-in-law would drive, son would fly (due to work schedule).  

With great anticipation, I prepared for their arrival this Easter weekend.  I ordered candy baskets from Russell Stover from their website and eagerly awaited their arrival on my doorstep.  When they did, I was shocked at the amount of chocolate in each basket for such a modest price.  Yikes!  It was definitely appropriate to open the baskets and remove a whole bunch of that candy.  I also swapped out the stuffed bunnies: white bunny for my granddaughter, the brown bunny for my grandson.  I then hid them (barely) for when they arrived.

It was so much fun having them here!  I miss seeing them!  The original plan was that they would arrive Friday and leave for San Antonio the next day.  So in that spirit, we let the kids find the baskets as soon as they arrived and let them eat their fill of chocolate.  I had put baby back ribs on the smoker earlier that afternoon and had makings for a nice salad, so there was no real hurry and no real plan for when we'd eat....just whenever everyone was hungry.  

When they arrived that afternoon, I could see that my granddaughter wasn't feeling well.  She was wan and glassy-eyed and the real clincher was the fact that she totally ignored the contents of the candy basket.  She wasn't even up for the confetti egg shenanigans!  I'm still finding bits of confetti in the house in the oddest places.  No doubt tracked there by tiny feet - and adult feet, too!

As the afternoon progressed, she sank deeper and deeper into a "not feeling well" funk.  She barely touched her dinner.  Passed up all offers of candy, ice cream, or any other food that a child would normally gobble up.  

After dinner I noticed that she felt warm and was probably running a fever.  Sure enough, the next morning shortly after breakfast, she threw up.  She still felt hot, and was definitely not feeling well.   She napped pretty much all day, rallying only briefly mid-day but quickly fading after lunch.  My daughter-in-law made the decision early in the day that they would stay one more night and then make a decision whether to continue to San Antonio on Sunday or to turn around and head for home.  

Poor little thing!  She was so cranky; clearly wasn't feeling well. 
Beyond distraught!

Mom trying to calm down a very distraught little girl.

It's all about the skirt...where's my skirt?  I want
to wear a skirt! (the skirt was in the laundry)

I made a quick run the store to buy more milk and some juice.  I cobbled together dinner for Saturday, defrosting some chicken and putting it in the crockpot.  While Mimi napped, Trevor was so good!  He stayed quiet and amused himself, first with a Disney movie, then with some puzzles.

Hooray!  She woke up from a very long afternoon nap and was a totally different little girl!  The fever was gone and she was chipper and chatty.  She ate a bit of dinner - certainly more than she ate the night before - and by bedtime, she was rambunctious and playful, goading her brother and running through the house shrieking and laughing.  Thankfully!

Some time during the night the Easter Bunny visited my house yet again.  Another basket for each child - these filled with toys more than candy - and there were brightly colored eggs scattered about the back yard for an Easter egg hunt.  

Easter egg hunt booty

Then they packed up and too soon they were backing out of my driveway on their way to San Antonio.  I always hate how quiet the house is when they leave...

A relaxing afternoon watching the kids on
their scooters.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Spring Has Arrived With a Bang!

Suddenly my gardens have exploded with color!

The earliest harbingers were the purple fringe tree, the indian hawthorn, the sweet olive, and the pretty but unidentified succulent.

Soon after, the roses budded out and went into their first flush of the season:

The totally predictable and reliable yarrow and clematis:

The azalea looked better than they have in a couple of years:

Happy Spring!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Spending Time on the "Joisey" Shore

So there's this little white spot on my 50 States-50 Half Marathons map.  It's surrounded by blue, blue signifying states in which I've completed a half marathon and are therefore checked off the list.  But this little white spot sticks out like a sore thumb.  I need to get it colored in.

I found the perfect race to accomplish this:  The April Fool's Half Marathon in Atlantic City.  It's put on by the new and very upscale casino/resort, Revel, and will run 2/3 of its distance on the Boardwalk, starting at the northern end and running south until the boardwalk runs out and we're dumped onto Atlantic Avenue for a couple of miles.

I booked my room at the Courtyard by Marriott, just a few blocks away from Revel, and then cashed in some frequent flier miles with United to fly into Philadelphia.  Rental car and 65 miles heading SE will get me to my hotel.  Some Google map browsing found a grocery store not too far off the tollway where I could stop to buy some bananas, fresh berries, crackers, cold cuts and cheese, Gatorade, and some cookies to have in my hotel room.  A little more Google searching found a Subway sandwich shop just a few blocks from the hotel, right on my route, where I could buy a foot-long sandwich - half for lunch that day, half for lunch the next day.
Boardwalk view from the beach access ramp

Steel Pier - closed for winter, but opening later this month

Boardwalk deserted; cold and windy!

Once I got checked into the hotel and had eaten some of my Subway sandwich, I braved the dreary damp weather and cold winds to walk the several blocks to Revel to pick up my race packet.  There was no fitness expo - just packet pickup - so it was a long cold walk for very little return.  But I did stop at one of the shops along the boardwalk and bought myself an inexpensive sweatshirt to wear on race day morning.  It was going to be colder than I'd anticipated - or packed for - and the worse part of any cold race-day morning is standing around shivering, waiting for the race to start.

Not much was happening on the Boardwalk.  It's apparent that it's still the off-season and many of the shops and restaurants are closed.  But judging from the billboards promoting big-name acts coming to town, the season starts to crank back up after Easter.  I'm a little disappointed in that, because I booked my hotel and flight assuming I might see a show on Sunday night before heading home.  That's not going to happen...there aren't any acts appearing here in town on Sunday.

Another Google search yielded a Starbucks in the lobby of the Showboat Casino/Resort next door to Revel so a stop was in order!


What a difference a day makes!  Gorgeous
on the Boardwalk on Saturday
Saturday morning I had breakfast in my room - fresh berries, Cheerios, banana, coffee - then headed back out into a glorious day, much better than Friday!  My first stop was the Starbucks a few blocks north of my hote, then I headed south down the boardwalk at a leisurely pace.  The boardwalk had a totally different look and feel in the sun and, even though the temperatures were still chilly, the sun made a big difference on the boardwalk, where the buildings blocked the winds coming from the NW.

I found a bench and just sat there, enjoying the sun and my cappuccino while I people-watched for awhile.  At one point a couple of gals wandered by, pausing to take each others' photos with the ocean and sand behind them.  I offered to take their photo and they quickly agreed to let me.

A little further down the boardwalk I found another bench and continued my people-watching.  Then I realized that right across from me was Fralinger's Taffy shop, an historic institution on the boardwalks of Ocean City and Atlantic City.  So of course I had to wander in and browse a bit before buying a small box of mixed salt water taffy.  

I was surprisingly disappointed, as the taffy was dry and stale and had no flavor.  It was a far cry from what I remembered buying and eating at the beaches of my youth.

By mid-afternoon I knew it was time to head back to the hotel, put my feet up, and find a movie on TV, get everything laid out and ready for race day morning, and set my smartphone alarm for 6 AM.


Race day morning!  Sunny, but about 5 degrees colder than forecasted the night before.  But not a big deal.  The sun is out and winds are calm.   A good contingent of Half Fanatics are running this race and a time was discussed on the Half Fanatics Facebook page for a photo meet-up at 7:45 AM, 15 minutes before the race start.  I timed my departure from the hotel to arrive at the start line a few blocks north in time to join in on the group photo.

Originally I had planned to wear the cheap sweatshirt at the start of the race and remove and discard it as I warmed up, but on the lee side of all the buildings on the west side of the boardwalk, it became apparent pretty quickly that I wasn't going to need the sweatshirt.  I removed a safety pin from my bib and tore off the bag-check tag from the bottom of my bib and, pinning the tag to the sweatshirt, I quickly turned it into bag-check to be retrieved at the end of the race.

We got our photo, and then I weaved my way through the runners in the starting chute to work my way toward the back of the pack with just a few minutes before the race started.

National Anthem and then 3-2-1 and we were off, crossing the start line.  I was surprised at the size of the race...bigger than I'd imagined it would be.

The first 4 miles were on the Boardwalk, running from its start to the north to its terminus to the south.  The next 2 miles were on Atlantic Ave heading south, then a turn-around and retrace our steps heading back north, back onto the boardwalk and then toward the finish line.

Race route (data from my Garmin GPS watch)
Another HF took this photo me at around mile 5; I was outbound and he was inbound on the out-and-back loop.

They had a real-time results tent set up at the finish line and before heading back to the hotel I checked my time and age/gender place to see if I'd won anything.  I didn't, but still managed to come in 6th in my age group.  I had $10 tucked into the small zippered pocket on my running tights, with every intention of heading toward the Starbucks at the Showboat Casino next door to Revel.  I handed the soggy money over to the cashier in exchange for my Vente cappuccino, which I gratefully sipped as I walked back to the hotel.

Crossing the finish line
A great race, well-organized....beautiful route with the novelty of running a fair bit of it on a world-wide famous boardwalk, and cool finisher's medal!

Cool finishers medal!

So now I have that little white spot colored in on my 50 States-50 Half Marathons map.

I'll spend one more night in Atlantic City, then head toward Philadelphia and my flight home.

Next up:  A weekend visit from the grandkids and then a week after that, I'll run a race in Iowa and color in another state.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Spur-of-the-Moment Trip and Race

A friend of mine lives outside of Austin - in Round Rock - and I decided that he needed a "kick in the pants" to get himself back on track to losing weight and walking/running.  You see, he's lost over 100 lbs so far and somewhere along that weight loss journey of his, he actually trained for and ran the Tulsa Half Marathon with me in November 2012.  But he still has a little ways to go to get into a healthy weight range and he's not been running at all - and walking only intermittently.

So a week ago Friday I called him early in the morning and said, "Let's do the Biggest Loser Half Marathon next Sunday.  I'll walk it with you...it's very walker-friendly, has a 5 hour time limit."  He said he'd think about it and call me later in the day to let me know.

That call came and he said, "I'm in!"

So together, with our phones on speaker, we registered on-line and then posted our registration badges on Facebook for all to see.  One good way to hold ourselves and each other accountable!

We then made a plan for the weekend.  Friday night a very good live band, Newsboyz, was playing at Steiner Ranch on Lake Travis.  A most excellent venue, with good dining, beautiful outdoor patio with fire pit and a view.

Saturday morning a Meet-up group of his was meeting at Ski Shores Cafe for brunch.   Then Saturday evening he wanted to take me to a restaurant that he likes in Georgetown.  And on Sunday, of course, we'll do the half marathon together.

On the way home from the brunch on Saturday, we stopped at the fitness expo to pick up our race packets.

A couple of the race-packet pickup volunteers

Saturday evening, I disappeared into my friend's guest room to read and wind down.  Early to sleep was in order after a late night at Steiner Ranch.  And I had my alarm set for 5 AM as we needed to be out of the house by 6 AM for the 30-40 minute drive to the race venue.

Up and at 'em, we actually got on the road about 6:10 AM but there was absolutely no traffic and we made it to the race venue by 6:35 AM!  It was still dark and it was cold so we sat in the car for a while, both with our noses in our smartphones checking emails and then posting nearly identical check-in posts on Facebook.

At 7:10 AM I met up with some other Half Fanatics for a group photo.  This really makes doing destination races fun!  Nearly all of the time, I'm traveling by myself and know no other runners, so meeting other Half Fanatics, even running with them is a real treat. I've stayed in touch with a couple that I've met, with plans to meet up again at races in the future.

I paid the extra $25 for VIP amenities (a real bargain!) which got me parking in a lot close to the start/finish, access to a VIP area with its own porta-potty, and a nice pre-race breakfast spread and after-race luncheon buffet.   I'd pay 4X this much for these benefits!

We were let go in waves, and my friend and I managed to get let loose in the third wave.  And we were off, walking at a very good pace.  In the beginning we were being passed by runners, but by the 3rd or 4th mile we were beginning to reel in other walkers.

We kept a good 15-minute per mile pace the whole way and reeled in a whole lot of other walkers - even some slow runners - on the race route.   .  I stopped at mile 9 for a porta-potty break and told my friend to go ahead, not wait.  So then my objective was to catch him before we reached the finish line.  As a result of this incentive, I maintained a 14:30-minute per mile pace and caught him just yards before crossing the finish line!

I lost sight of my friend in the finishers' chute and with no hope of finding him, I wandered over to the stage area to get my photo taken with the Biggest Loser celebrities and to get some food in the VIP area. On the way there, I met up with my Half Fanatic friends, where one wanted to get a photo of the two of us with our finisher medals.  Munching on fruit and cookies, I waited for the awards ceremony to start.

With Elizabeth Ruiz from season 10, Marie Pearl from season 15
and Vinnie Hickerson from season 12 of Biggest Loser

I was pretty certain that I'd placed in my age group based on my recent past performances and on the size of this event.  My friend was still nowhere to be seen.  And sure enough, when the announcer got to the 65-69 age group in the walking category, my friend's and my names were announced at first place.  I collected both of our awards and then headed to the car, figuring that by this point he was probably waiting for me in the most likely spot.  My friend was incredulous!  He was having a hard time processing the fact that he placed 1st in his age group.
Another medal to add to my collection.

A stop at Starbucks on the way to his house and then, still in my running clothes, I packed my car and hit the road for home.